Westbard Residents File Suit Against County Council

Long-time opposition to neighborhood’s reconstruction also asks council to reject map amendment


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SaveWestbard protesters hold a sign at a protest outside the County Council Office Building when the council approved the plan in May.

AARON KRAUT

The SaveWestbard group, which is suing Montgomery County over the redevelopment plan for Bethesda’s Westbard neighborhood, asked the County Council on Tuesday to reject a procedural step that would allow the plan to move forward.

The group, with 33 plaintiffs, filed its suit in Montgomery County Circuit Court on Monday. The plaintiffs all live in or near Westbard, which has fought a new county land-use guide that allows development of a new high-rise, townhomes and apartment buildings, and reconstruction of an aging shopping center.

Monday’s request came during a public hearing for a “sectional map amendment” (SMA), which will carry out the zoning recommendations in the Westbard plan. The council’s agenda says members are expected to vote Sept. 27 on the SMA.

According to planning documents, Westbard is bounded by Willett Branch to the east, the Springfield community to the west, River Road to the north and Westland Middle School and Westwood Mews townhouses to the south.

The suit and the request to deny the SMA make similar points. SaveWestbard says the redevelopment plan should be voided and the SMA denied, claiming:

—the Montgomery County Planning Board failed to assess the plan’s effect on greenhouse gas emissions, as required by county law;

—the council failed to hold a public hearing on the plan; and

—a swap for increased building heights and densities for more affordable housing constitutes illegal contract zoning.

In May, the council approved the plan, which came after two years of study by planners. The plan allows developer Equity One to redevelop the aging Westwood Shopping Center and Capital Properties to build a high-rise apartment building.

Residents have fought the plan almost from the beginning.

The plaintiffs claim they will be harmed by the effects of the plan’s recommended changes because of:

—a loss of open space and vistas, which will be replaced by the significant massing of many buildings, some as tall as 160 feet and within close proximity to the adjoining plaintiffs’ homes.

—the increase in traffic congestion that will result from substantial additional density in an area with little public transportation.

—adverse economic effects caused by increased traffic, including increased greenhouse gas emissions.

The suit also says the 2,400 new residential units envisioned by the plan will harm plaintiffs with children in Montgomery County Public Schools. If the county adds school capacity, the plaintiffs say they will face higher income or property taxes.

The suit also alleges residents who live in the Sumner community and the Springfield neighborhood will be harmed by cut-through commuter traffic.

The new Intelligence Community Campus-Bethesda, at 4600 Sangamore Road, is slated to have 3,000 new employees by summer 2017, and the suit claims commuters will use Sangamore and Overlea roads, cutting through the Sumner community.

Plaintiffs also charge commuters will cut through Springfield on Cromwell and Springfield drives as they try to avoid congestion on Massachusetts Avenue and River Road, respectively.

 

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