Budget adoption was the top order of business at Saturday’s county board meeting, but board members had enough on their agenda to drag the meeting on for nearly 11 hours. The rigorous schedule weighed on board members, as debate sometimes turned contentious and resulted in five split-decision votes.
Three homes proposed for 2300 and 2304 N. Nottingham St. brought the first of several clashes between Chris Zimmerman and other board members. The proposed development sparked concerns from members of the Overlee Community Association, whose swimming pool is located behind the lots.
In response, board members put tighter restrictions on the height of decks on the houses and on evening pool use for prospective buyers and approved the plan 4-1, with Zimmerman the lone holdout.
DEBATE BECAME MORE heated with the next agenda item, a plan to build a 153-unit residential complex at 1722,1738 and 1800 Wilson Blvd. and 1727 and 1735 Clarendon Blvd. Development plans also include ground-floor retail space.
But local resident June O’Connell urged board members not to be fooled by that. “This is not a mixed-use project,” she said. “It’s bad public policy to approve the project under such rubric. This is a residential project.”
The plan also called for a future extension of North Quinn Street, which caused apprehension for Zimmerman. “The street is absolutely essential for the development of the properties on either side,” he said. “I’m afraid if we don’t get this right now, we will condemn ourselves not to get it right any time in the foreseeable future.” The street, he said, is an “urban design imperative.”
“I would suggest that if you don’t do something with it now,” he said, “the likelihood is that we’re never going to build that street.”
Affordable housing proved another contentious issue. The 153-unit complex would provide two one-bedroom affordable units, available for $907 per month, and the developer would contribute just over $11,000 to the Affordable Housing Fund. Board members discussed whether they should require a larger contribution.
Nan Terpak, attorney for the developer, said board members were unfairly trapping the developer in a debate over policy rather than the specifics of the plan. County Manager Ron Carlee was inclined to agree. “I think the applicant has done everything that we’ve asked,” he said.
Board members voted to defer action to the May 17 meeting.
ANOTHER DESIGN PROJECT met with substantial opposition on the board but was approved nevertheless. Potomac Custom Builders submitted a plan to build five townhouses at 4610 Wilson Blvd. The plan required purchase of a small section of county-owned property.
Neighboring civic associations supported the plan, partly because buildings currently on that location are poorly maintained. Zimmerman criticized the plan and county staff who recommended approval. “I don’t understand why staff would recommend this,” said Zimmerman. “This is an example of rewarding somebody for not handling their property very well.” Board member Jay Fisette admitted the proposal had flaws. “There’s a lot about it I don’t like,” he said, but voted to approve it.
“I don’t know why we want five bad townhouses on this site, and why it’s so important for the county to provide land to do it,” Zimmerman said. He voted against the site plan permit and against the sale of county land, thus creating two more 4-1 approvals.
FISETTE AND ZIMMERMAN again clashed over a redevelopment plan for 2900 Wilson Boulevard, where a Cheesecake Factory restaurant will be built. Outdoor seating at the restaurant would take up sidewalk space that Zimmerman said should be preserved to ensure safety for pedestrians and people in wheelchairs.
But Fisette pointed out other restaurants in the area that have similar outdoor seating and cautioned against creating a “double standard” for local versus chain restaurants.
The developer agreed to ensure at least six-foot-wide sidewalks at all points as well as walkable tree grates to increase pedestrian space. Tejada sided with Zimmerman and the project was approved 3-2.
ZONE PARKING PERMITS in Douglas Park and Columbia Forest could become a reality soon. Board members approved a request to advertise for a public hearing on the topic at their March 17 meeting.
Requests to advertise for a public hearing are usually approved on the board’s consent agenda, but expecting debate on the subject, board members heard this issue as part of the regular hearing.
Permits would restrict on-street parking to residents in those neighborhoods and would set a $40 fine for violators. Each resident would receive three permits and would have to pay a fee for any additional.
John McMacken, who lives on Randolph Street in the affected area, opposed the limits but supported the overall concept. “I strongly object to paying anything to be able to park in my own neighborhood,” he said.
Residents have complained about tenants from nearby apartment complexes using streets in front of single-family homes for overflow parking. Apartment landlords have long opposed permit parking.
“The county shouldn’t have to install ‘No Parking’ signs on either side of my driveway in order for me to be able to get in and out of my driveway,” said Thomas Schaad, a 25-year resident of Douglas Park and a supporter of the plan. “Yet the county had to do that. I’m willing to pay at this point for the privilege of parking in front of my own house.”