Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Chestnut Lodge developer outlines changes in revised plan

A small crowd of residents turned out at Rockville's City Hall last night for a presentation by applicant JNP Chestnut Lodge, LLC on its revised project plan for 500 W. Montgomery Avenue. Developer-owner Jim Proakis outlined a series of adjustments to the plan designed to address complaints and concerns that derailed the townhome project's initial application earlier this year.

These include a reduction in the number of townhomes from seven to six, a slightly smaller footprint, exterior material changes, and a reconfiguration of parking. More holly trees will be saved under the revised plan, although some attendees said they would prefer to see chestnut trees restored to the site. Those trees gave mental health institution Chestnut Lodge its name, recounted resident Patricia Woodward, who once served as head nurse there. Chestnut Lodge ceased operation in 2001, and the building burnt down in a suspicious fire in 2009, before a previous plan to convert it to condos could be realized.

Proakis said his company had considered planting chestnut trees, but were told by two arborists that the current species available are not sufficiently acclimated to survive at the site. He and attorney Soo Lee-Cho said they would be glad to plant chestnut trees if it's determined they are viable.

In terms of improving the viewshed of the structure from the western side, the wood treatment on the rear facade is being replaced by brick. The building will now have a brick exterior all around, although the frame will be made of wood.

Nancy Pickard of Peerless Rockville, a historic preservation organization, asked what the roof would be made of. Proakis said it would be a composite material designed to reflect the appearance of slate. Pickard also asked about the very dark appearance of the windows in the renderings shown. While they look that way in the renderings, that's not how dark they will be in reality, Proakis replied. He noted that further guidance on colors and textures for the exterior will be given during the review process.

Strict condominium association rules will keep trash cans and recycling bins out of sight, and there will be a special utility room inside the garages to store them. "You won't see them," Proakis promised. A private contractor will collect the community's trash, he said.

Rockville City Councilmember Beryl Feinberg asked about the availability of overflow guest parking. Proakis said a separate guest parking area has been eliminated, allowing preservation of more trees. In its place, are four parking spaces per unit and six for the end units. Those spaces are split between those within the garages, and those immediately outside the garages.

There will also be street parking available along the internal road for the intermittent times when more parking is needed, such as during parties. A driveway 18-20' in width would allow for cars to be parked on one side.

Fire and rescue officials asked the applicant to include a new, grassy turnaround area that would allow emergency vehicles to make three-point turns, Proakis said.

Townhome units will be 4200-4800 SF in size, essentially making them attached single family homes, Proakis added.

Feedback from the audience was primarily in the form of questions. Previous criticism from project opponents has centered on a Planned Residential Unit agreement the City reached with the previous developer. That agreement specified condos could be built only if the historic Chestnut Lodge building were restored. Some current and past elected officials, historic preservation advocates and residents have argued the PRU remains legally binding, thereby disqualifying a townhome project on the site.

The next step in the review process will be a staff development area review meeting on September 8.

One resident asked if the developer could create a 3-D CAD model of the project. "Well, now I only have 6 units, so I can't afford a 3-D," Proakis replied jokingly.

Rendering courtesy City of Rockville

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