Pooks Hill Apartment Towers Get First Approval

As featured in Bethesda Magazine

Pooks Hill Apartment Towers Get First ApprovalTwo towers that would hold up to 650 units are opposed by some neighbors because of narrow Pooks Hill Road in Bethesda

A project that would bring two 160-foot-tall apartment towers to the Pooks Hill neighborhood of Bethesda got an initial approval Thursday from the Montgomery County Planning Board.

But the project, led by Quadrangle Development Corp. of Washington, D.C., will likely have to provide proposed solutions to the area’s traffic situation when it goes before the board again for approval of a more detailed site plan.

The towers would bring up to 650 apartment units to what are now unused parking lots at the Marriott Bethesda at 5151 Pooks Hill Road.

John Palmisano, president of the neighboring Whitley Park Condominium Association, told the board his community is concerned that the extra traffic generated by the apartments will mean more congestion during the morning rush hour for an already congested Pooks Hill Road at its intersection with Rockville Pike.

Palmisano described the two-lane Pooks Hill Road at Rockville Pike as “the neck of the hourglass.”

“You can’t get too much traffic through there in the morning,” Palmisano said.

Because of cut-through restrictions during rush hour in the adjoining neighborhood of single-family homes, many current Pooks Hill condo, apartment and town home residents can only use the intersection of Pooks Hill Road and Rockville Pike to leave the area in the morning.

Before approving the project’s sketch plan, board Chairman Casey Anderson emphasized that a full traffic study for the apartments will be done when the project comes before the board again for its site plan approval.

Anderson also questioned if the developer should get full credit in its application for being in a transit-accessible area. Planning Department staff wrote in its report on the project that despite the site being 1.4 miles from the Grosvenor-Strathmore Metro station, it’s “unlikely that future residents will walk directly to the Metrorail station.”

Those who choose to walk the most direct route to the station would have to navigate a section of Rockville Pike without sidewalks that passes over the busy Capital Beltway. A safer pedestrian route via the Bethesda Trolley Trail and Grosvenor Lane would actually be 2.2 miles.

The Medical Center Metro station is about 1.5 miles from the site, which Anderson estimated would take 25 minutes to walk.

Chris Tharrington , from the Linden Terrace Homeowners Association, asked the board to deny sketch plan approval for the project, citing traffic issues and concern for pedestrian safety around nearby Maplewood Alta Vista Park.

However, Norman Knopf, an attorney representing residents of the next-door Promenade condominium complex, said residents there supported approval of the project at this stage. Quadrangle officials met with Promenade leaders and worked out ways not to block views from the condos of Promenade residents, Knopf said.