Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Woodmont East II Meeting

JBG and Federal Realty presented their new plan for Woodmont East II tonight at a public forum in Bethesda sponsored by Councilman Roger Berliner (above) last night. In my opinion, the plan is a clear improvement over the original awful proposal, but still could use additional refinement.

Apologies for the fuzzy pictures of the plan here. The major improvement of the new plan is a public space along Woodmont Ave. This space is much closer to the urban park envisioned by opponents of the original plan.

The major drawback to the plan is that the alley between the new building and the existing building which contains Gifford's and Mon Ami Gabi has been narrowed by one-third--from 75 to 50 feet. The architect and the attorney insisted that this was just fine even though I recall the 75 feet in the original plan being barely sufficient to accommodate all the expected activity--and this doesn't even take into account the massive expected development in Bethesda as one audience member pointed out.

The new plan still envisions restaurant tables (or ice cream eating space) on both sides of the 50 feet along with the Capital Crescent Trail running down the middle. Oh, and movie-theater crowds will enter and exit and the same time. If the Purple Line is ever built, the alley would become a tail track. Twenty-five feet may seem like a small amount to dispute but this is also a safety and crowd-management issue, especially if one expects the Purple Line to ever be built. Advocates for kids and cyclists agreed on this even though they had radically different views about the appropriate speed of bikes in the space.

One other improvement over the original plan is that the connector between the two buildings has been moved further back and is now only two stories high. Nonetheless, the connector of the building over the alley will still block out sunlight in the area below it. (Holland and Knight Attorney Pat Harris advocating for the plan at right.)

The architect tried to sell the space in the manner of EPCOT at Disneyworld. One minute, it was the Piazza Navona; the next the bikes on the trail reflected Amsterdam. One person near me made me laugh when she said they could put an elephant or a camel there and say it was a bit of India or Arabia. Still, the architect ably defended his vision for the site despite being more evasive than I would have liked in answering questions about exactly how much space was between the building and the trail.

Bob Smythe, the head of the association for the Sachs neighborhood, had a major impact on the crowd. He received applause for his impassioned speech saying that the plan was better but that more green space was needed and that the developers shouldn't pat themselves on the back just yet--the right conclusion in my opinion.