County wants Apex building for ‘optimal’ Purple Line Station, but owner says it needs more time -- Gazette.Net


Montgomery County has released renderings of what the Bethesda Purple Line Station will look like if the owner of the Apex building in downtown Bethesda doesn’t move out. The renderings show a 92-foot tall ventilation tower right outside the station, according to a presentation at a planning board meeting on Thursday.

This wasn’t what county planners wanted, they said at the meeting, but a lack of cooperation from the Apex building owner may leave them little choice to create the “optimal” station for the western terminus of the $2.2 billion light-rail system.

Not so, said the owner, the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists, through Holland & Knight, a Washington law firm. The society was approached late in the game about its role and has not had time to formulate its response, said David Silver, a lawyer with Holland & Knight.

“We feel the pressure. We’re trying to be cooperative,” Silver said. “We need time to figure out what we need.”

To help figure that out, the owner has hired a consultant and plans to hire an architect and engineer to evaluate what the best possible development at that spot could be, Silver said.

The state has made it clear that it wants an answer on the Apex building by the end of the year, and Silver said his client is trying to accommodate that deadline.

If the Apex building comes down, which houses the Bethesda Regal 10 movie theater, then the “optimal” future Bethesda station could be built, which would allow access to both the Red and Purple lines, according to county documents.

Purple Line planners have made it clear that they would need to sweeten the incentives for the owner to get on board. But at the meeting, Elza Hisel-McCoy, a county planner, admitted that even offering the owner additional density would not be enough to “bring the building down in time.”

Between $5 million and $10 million in public money might be needed to get the building owner to cooperate, according to an economic analysis.

Without tearing down the Apex building, the station’s platform will have to fit into the existing tunnel, Hisel-McCoy said. If the tunnel is rebuilt, it can be widened to make it safer and more accommodating for passengers.

“It’s not a financial thing — it’s a logistics thing,” said Francoise Carrier, the chairwoman of the planning board. “It’s trying to create an incentive to tear down the building, so we can have a better station.”

Planning Board Commissioner Casey Anderson asked whether the station could be built without razing the Apex building, then rehabilitated at a later time. The plan is good, but the timing seems bad, Anderson said.

“At some future date, maybe the stars will align and they can implement a different plan,” Anderson said.

But the consensus was that was not possible.

The staff draft of the minor master plan was approved, with edits. There will be a public hearing on Nov. 7 before the planning board.