Church Hopes To Start Apartment, Community Center Development This Year


A church on Old Georgetown Road hopes to start construction later this year on a redevelopment project that would bring an apartment building, new church building and community recreation center to Woodmont Triangle. After years of controversy over rezoning at 8011 Old Georgetown Rd., the Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church is nearing the introduction of a project that would put a 107-unit apartment building on part of the site. The sale of that land to a yet-to-be announced developer for $19 million would help pay for the $25.4 million Bethesda Graceful Growing Together Community Center. Barry Lemley, the church's representative in the redevelopment process, testified last week at a hearing in Annapolis for a $250,000 bond from the state that would go toward building the community center. If approved, Montgomery County would grant a matching $250,000 bond. The remaining $6 million for building the center would come from other loans and a $1 million capital campaign, as detailed in the state bond bill. On Friday, Lemley said the church and developer will soon be ready to present a design for the apartment, church and community center project. The church hopes to have the community center portion of the project done by the fourth quarter of 2016, according to the state bill. The $250,000 bond bill was cross-filed in the House and has support from Montgomery County Senators Brian Frosh (D-16), Brian Feldman (D-15), Jennie Forehand (D-17), Nancy King (D-39), Rich Madaleno (D-18) and Jamie Raskin (D-20) as well as District 16 Delegates Ariana Kelly and Susan Lee. The church says the community center will fill a need for community recreation space in downtown Bethesda: Most available Bethesda land is currently being acquired as for-profit use with higher commercial and residential density that will result in increased demands on community space. This non-profit proposal specifically addresses that current and ever growing need. In other words this is a unique, community support opportunity that may not come about again in Bethesda's future. The planned six-floor, 64,000-square-foot community center will house a number of services the church already does, such as an election polling place, plus serve as a multi-purpose recreation, theater and assembly space that is open to community use. The proposal first came about in 2006 and put Christ Evangelical Lutheran on the growing list of churches selling portions of their land for development, allowing cash-strapped congregations to rebuild their own aging facilities in the process. But the idea of a 78-foot tall apartment building almost immediately made neighbors in single family homes nervous, which set off a long process of hearings and appeals in the church's eventually successful bid to obtain a required zoning change. The Church originally partnered with D.C.-based developer Bozzuto in 2006, but when the group’s first crack at a zoning change was denied in 2007 by the county hearing examiner, the church and Bozzuto went separate ways in 2009. Lemley said he anticipates presenting the project with the developer to the Woodmont Triangle Action Group, an advisory board of residents, business representatives and county officials. The church has raised $148,000 in private funds for the community center so far, according to the bond bill.

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