Monday, December 22, 2008

HALRB Still Questions Center's Redevelopment

It’s still too tall. And too close to Glebe Road. And Pershing Drive. And the police might not like their substation. And the project is 110 parking spaces short. And no one wants you to pave over grass on AHC property. And is there enough landscaping on the sidewalks?

Buckingham’s own Bernie Berne set that last question in motion at the Historical Affairs and Landmarks Review Board meeting Wednesday night, Dec. 17. The HALRB discussed the possible development of the Buckingham Shopping Center at the intersection of N. Glebe Road at N. Pershing Drive in which the commercial buildings on the CVS and Glebe Market corners would be razed and replaced.

Mr. Berne stood before the group and said that the zoning variance the developer, Georgetown Strategic Capital, is asking for regarding the placement of landscaping should be denied. The developer has asked to move some of the street-level landscaping onto a second floor terrace as part of a “green roof” for that level of the project.

Last month, Mr. Berne cajoled the Buckingham Community Civic Association into drafting a letter to the county board asking that they deny the change in zoning.

“It’s just not neighborhood friendly,” Mr. Berne said at Wednesday’s meeting. “I hope staff recognizes this.”

But the comments around the table indicated that people either didn’t know of, or did not notice the request.

“I don’t think we’ve heard that,” HALRB Chair Isabel Kaldenbach-Montemayor said. “I’m pretty sure that we’ve never heard that a portion of the open space would be on the second floor.”

“To be fair to you all, they [details of the landscaping] weren’t in any drawing but this,” said the architect, Scott Matties at another point. He indicated a plan from months ago, “But they were in this.”

In the other major hurdle to come up Wednesday evening, Jennifer Fioretti from the county’s transportation department said the project is 110 parking spaces short and she discussed some changes that could be made on the east side of Glebe, such as using the space behind the post office more efficiently, to make up some of the difference.

The plan had called for some extra street-level parking to come from Gates of Ballston property adjacent to the Glebe Market. However, that was shot down Wednesday, too.

“Planning staff cannot support this off-site parking,” said a county staffer at the meeting, especially given that some space has been freed up with the removal of the CVS and their requested drive-thru window.

County staff and the citizen board members also brought up issues with the height of the buildings which will have ground floor retail and apartments above. The buildings are still four-storey, flat roofed buildings, but the fourth floors have been pulled back, taking up space only at the centers of the buildings to avoid being quite so visible from the street. Some board members called for pulling the buildings even further back from the street.

Bob Moore, of Georgetown Strategic wondered aloud how they could pull back the buildings from the streets farther and make more parking.

“There’s only so much space,” he said.

In a story two weeks ago, Mr. Moore said his company was close to the breaking point on this project, that the changes were paring back the project so much it becomes economically unfeasible.

“We’d rather know now and pursue other things,” Mr. Moore said Wednesday. “If it’s [the project is] too problematic…we’d rather have a quick bullet than swing in the wind.”

Moments later he added, “We’ll try. We’ll come back and we’ll see what we can do about the green space.”

However, in a quick interview after the meeting, he did not wish to comment on whether they would return.

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