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Votes

Upward Mobility

Residents divided as Planning Board approves height increases for Fortune Parc towers. Number of units unchanged.

Homeowners in neighborhoods surrounding the new 600-unit Parc Potomac development said May 4 that they are concerned that increasing the height of two condominium buildings will cast a shadow — figurative and perhaps literal — on their homes.

But homebuyers within the subdivision who would be closest to the larger buildings supported the height increases because they would allow more parking and green space on the 51-acre site.

Following more than 90 minutes of testimony and debate, the Montgomery County Planning board voted 5-0 to approve a site plan amendment allowing the increases.

Instead of two 65-foot buildings with garden apartments, Rockville developer Foulger-Pratt Inc. will now build one 84-foot and one 100-foot building of larger condominiums. The amendment does not change the total number of buildings or housing units allowed at the site.

“THERE WERE tradeoffs made,” said Planning Board member Meredith Wellington. “I feel like my concerns about compatibility have been answered. I feel like although it’s a significant change — a lot of thought was put into it.”

“There may be some small reduction in visual compatibility from the change,” said Planning Board Chair Derick Berlage. “That’s counterbalanced by greater compatibility because of the greater green space, the better noise mediation and the better parking and circulation, so on balance I find the amended plan to be more compatible than the original.”

The new plan moves existing parking underground, eliminates a leasing office wedged between two buildings in the original plan and allows for 151 additional parking spaces and 33,000 square feet of additional green space (about three-quarters of an acre) for the site.

The change was motivated by market forces and the desire to maximize the number of ownership (rather than rental) units, said Foulger-Pratt Principal Brent Pratt of Potomac.

The condominium units start at about $800,000 and range much higher in price.

FORTUNE PARC — marketed to homebuyers as Park Potomac — is bounded by I-270 to the west, Seven Locks Road to the east and Montrose Road to the south. The site was recommended in the 2001 Potomac Subregion Master Plan for mixed-use development including housing, offices and retail space.

Foulger-Pratt is developing the eastern two-thirds of Fortune Parc with 820,000 square feet of office space (closest to I-270) and 450 condominiums in the three buildings. Another developer, Eakin/Youngentob Associates is building 150 townhouses on the western third of the site. They are part of a separate site plan that was not amended Thursday.

“These super-size condos don’t fit in our community,” said Benjamin Israel, a resident of Potomac Springs — across Seven Locks Road — and an attorney representing the Potomac Springs Civic Association. “There’s nothing like this in the area. You have to go three miles to Westlake Terrace over by Montgomery Mall or over to [Route] 355 where the zoning is different to find buildings of this mass. There’s just nothing like this in the area. It’s completely disproportionate.”

Israel said that he was alienated by Foulger-Pratt’s failure to work with neighbors in making significant changes to the site and that the developer was downplaying the light pollution and visual blight the taller buildings would create for surrounding communities. There are two outside neighborhoods of single-family homes within 700 feet of the condominium buildings.

Montgomery County School Board member Stephen Abrams attended the hearing to speak as an individual about the change. He has purchased a condominium in an already-built 100-foot condominium building at Fortune Parc.

“Let me give you the perspective of several of my neighbors,” he said. “They’re reaching the stages where the increased green space which Mr. Foulger talked about is viewed to us as a real bonanza, particularly because we don’t have to mow it. We want to be at that stage and not have to do that any longer.”

POTOMAC RESIDENT Elie Pisarra-Cain had prepared testimony on behalf of the West Montgomery County Citizens Association criticizing the proposed change as an unmerited departure from original plans that were developed and approved under close public scrutiny.

But speaking to the Board, Pisarra-Cain said she was concerned about “a lot of misinformation” among other speakers, many opposing the changes.

“When a reality of a 100-foot building is there because you visually see it you know it is going to stir something up in the community and I think there has been a lot of confusion,” she said. “They’ve made some plusses out of it by putting parking underground and consolidating and getting a little more green space out of it.”

The new designs are consistent with the Potomac Subregion Master Plan, said Pisarra-Cain, who sat on the Master Plan advisory committee.

The new high-rises are “very creative and imaginative on [the developers’] part the way they have put it together,” she said. “We just want to be sure that people aren’t coming back and back for changes that are just adding more to a project.”