Council Member Says Westbard Plan Should Allow Less New Housing than Proposed

In letter to 1,200 constituents, Roger Berliner says he’s working on proposal to ‘significantly reduce’ number of potential new housing units in area


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Rendering of proposed redevelopment of Westwood Shopping Center in Bethesda

Via Equity One

County Council member Roger Berliner on Thursday said the Westbard Sector Plan should allow fewer new housing units than proposed by the county’s Planning Board and that some proposed building heights should be reduced near existing single-family home neighborhoods.

Berliner explained his views on those and other facets of the plan in a letter sent to 1,200 constituents who have written his office about the controversial proposal.

Over the 15 months the county’s Planning Department worked on the plan, some residents opposed to major redevelopment in the area pressured Berliner to step in.

Berliner, who as the council’s District 1 council member represents the area, repeatedly said he would wait until the Planning Board sent its recommendations to the County Council.

That happened in December, when the Planning Board approved a version of the plan that would allow for significant redevelopment around Westbard Avenue and River Road, including the addition of up to 2,480 new housing units.

“They’ve done their work. I’ve been following it very very carefully and now, the ball is in our court,” Berliner told Bethesda Beat Thursday.

The County Council has final say on the plan and will deliberate into at least March.

In the letter, Berliner wrote he would withhold making decisions on specific issues until after the council’s Feb. 2 public hearing. But he outlined what he called “the principles that guide me with respect” to the plan.

One of those is that the up to 2,480 new housing units that could be built over the span of the 20- to 25-year master plan is too many.

“I will put forth a proposal to my colleagues to significantly reduce these numbers,” Berliner wrote. “I am working with my staff and Council to arrive at a more reasonable number.”

Berliner also said he recognizes that Westbard, which is almost two miles from the Friendship Heights Metro station and downtown Bethesda, “is not a transit-oriented development” and “is not downtown Bethesda and it is not Friendship Heights.”

He wrote that he will push for an expansion of the county’s Ride On bus service in the area “and the implementation of a private shuttle to the Metro to be paid for by the development.”

Berliner also said he supports reducing the 90-foot maximum building height proposed for the Westwood II Shopping Center site at River Road and Ridgefield Road and he’s opposed to mixed-use zoning for the Little Falls Library property.

Berliner wrote that he does support redevelopment of the Westwood Shopping Center, the suburban-style strip mall on Westbard Avenue that developer Equity One hopes to build into a 250,000-square-foot retail town center on a new street grid.

He also expressed support for the environmental improvements envisioned by the plan, many that could be made only during the course of redevelopment of private parcels. Berliner wrote he hopes to have more detailed projections of how many new students may come from new housing units and how they would affect already overcrowded schools in the Westbard area.

“If the Westbard Plan is approved, the area will no doubt go through a significant transition and that transition can be best managed by reducing the overall scale of the plan,” Berliner wrote.

After the public hearing, the council’s Planning, Housing and Economic Development Committee is set to hold three work sessions on the plan on Feb. 29, March 7 and March 14.

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