Apex Building replacement project revealed last night. Must hurry for ideal purple line/Capital Crescent Trail
The project’s location and size—at 250 to 290 feet, the three buildings could end up being the tallest in downtown Bethesda—would typically be enough to attract plenty of interest.
But many of the roughly 40 people at the meeting Monday were most concerned with the Bethesda Purple Line station set for the existing Capital Crescent Trail tunnel below the property.
Harris said the developer is working to get the Apex Building demolished in time for Purple Line construction, which, according to a County Council staff analyst in attendance Monday, could start as soon as late 2016 or early 2017 and last for five years.
Carr Properties will file a sketch plan and alternative concept plan with the county that assume the “optimal” Purple Line station design, which could also mean a new tunnel under Wisconsin Avenue for Capital Crescent Trail users that’s separate from the light-rail tunnel. It would also allow for easier access to a bank of high-speed elevators to Metro’s Red Line and more space for the light-rail station platform.
“It’s so much easier if it can be done in conjunction with the Purple Line,” Harris said. “It’s better for the building developer. It’s better for the Purple Line. It’s better for the [Capital Crescent] Trail.”
But challenges remain with timing, cost and the historic Community Paint and Hardware building at the southeast corner of the property.
Harris said Carr Properties hopes to appear before the Planning Board with the sketch plan by February and that, despite project approval processes that typically take at least a year, the board “understands the importance of a prompt decision” in this case.
The developer has also been in touch with the MTA. Last month, a spokesperson for the transit agency said the optimal Bethesda Purple Line station design is still possible even though the 16-mile light-rail project went out for bid with the “default” station design that includes only a 5-foot-wide walking path along the light-rail tracks.
Then, there’s the matter of who would pay for the separate Capital Crescent Trail tunnel. In 2013, MTA officials estimated the new tunnel could cost between $15 million and $30 million. At the time, it was assumed the county would pay for the tunnel.
Without the separate tunnel, bicyclists using the trail would likely have to cross Wisconsin Avenue at its intersection with Bethesda Avenue.
The county has already programmed almost $60 million in its capital budget for the bank of high-speed elevators to connect the Purple Line station to Metro’s Bethesda Red Line station about 100 feet below.
A county spokesperson said Monday that county officials hadn’t yet communicated with Carr Properties about the project.
Update: More here.
The Montgomery County Council approved a minor master plan amendment in February 2014 to facilitate potential redevelopment of the building, allow for a better Purple Line station beneath it, and to preserve space for a Capital Crescent Trail tunnel underneath Wisconsin Avenue.
Attorney Bob Harris, of Bethesda's Lerch, Early & Brewer, said last night that he believes two plans his client has developed will accomplish both of those goals.
A Capital Crescent Trail tunnel under Wisconsin was in both plans shown last night.
Glenn Orlin, Deputy Adminstrator for the County Council, was in attendance at the meeting, and assured residents that a 5' tunnel under Wisconsin will be part of the Purple Line facility regardless of whether or not the Apex Building is redeveloped. However, that tunnel has been strongly criticized by cycling advocates, as it would require cyclists to walk their bikes through the tunnel. Orlin said construction of the Purple Line station is anticipated to begin in December 2016.
[I have never criticized the tunnel. It was, after all, my idea (sort of)]