April 28, 2001
Chevy Chase Patch
Laughter Erupts at Visions of Visions of “Brave New World”

At first, the laughter seemed almost imperceptible—just a little light tittering here and there.

But when the vibrant, visionary sketches—some depicting a Purple Line light rail train zipping between 19-story, high-tech high-rises clad in glass—popped up in the PowerPoint presentation, the guffaws swelled into a taunting wave of laughter that nearly overtook the show.

“Respect the process,” a man called out from the back of the room.

“That’s what they need to do,” a woman answered from the front row.

But “they”—representatives of the Chevy Chase Land Company and its architectural, landscape architectural and transportation planning partners—held their ground, and pushed on with a presentation of what the proposed Chevy Chase Lake development will look like if and when it is completed. (Construction is set to begin in 2014.)

The development would rise up to either side of Connecticut Avenue just south of Manor Road. Most of the development would be clustered into four block-like sections stretching out to the east of Connecticut Avenue—a block of commercial buildings, then a block of mixed-use buildings to the east of that, followed by a terraced outdoor mall, and then the residential “garden district” at the eastern edge of the development.

The blocks would line the proposed Purple Line light rail, which is currently in the planning stages to connect Bethesda and New Carrollton with numerous stops in-between. The Maryland Transit Authority has planned an elevated station stop for Chevy Chase Lake (meaning that the rail would run above the road, like the “El” runs above downtown Chicago).

But the proposed development is dependent upon the Purple Line—if the light rail is not built, the mixed-use, public transit-oriented development cannot proceed as planned, says David Smith, long-time Chevy Chase resident and president of the Chevy Chase Land Company, which has been developing land in the Chevy Chase area for more than a century.

The idea behind the development is that situating employment and residential opportunities together (there would be 3,000 new housing units—townhouses, condos and rentals) along a public transportation route would take cars off the road and give people a chance to life a less traffic-stressed life, said David Kitchens, a principal architect for Cooper Carry, a partner in the project.

“Growth is going to occur in Montgomery County,” Smith added. “One of the options we have is to put it on a transit line.” Or, let it spread out into a sprawl, he said.

The 49.4-acre development would include a new bus stop along Connecticut Avenue, so that buses traveling along the heavily-trafficked road could deposit and pick up passengers at the new Purple Line location on a sheltered street, rather than along the main thoroughfare, explained Marty Wells, president of Wells and Associates, the traffic engineering firm partnering in the project.

The development would also include access points to the Capital Crescent Trail, which currently follows the abandoned CSX railroad bed on which the Purple Line is proposed to be built.

Now, one can “only get onto the trail at limited places … unless your house backs up onto the trail,” Smith said.

The development would be oriented to the outdoors as well as to mass-transit. There would be outdoor dining (in an “awning district”), shopping and retail spaces would be oriented to the street (at both the ground level and at the raised level of the Purple Line station), and there would be roof gardens to reduce the urban “heat island effect,” said Trini Rodriguez of Parker Rodriguez, a landscape architecture firm.

The terraced mall would have carefully landscaped spaces for outdoor relaxation, farmers’ markets, performances and movies, and would even have “cloud pavilions”—amoeba-shaped, tent-like white coverings stretching out over the mall on rainy days.

But it wasn’t the cloud pavilions per se that drew derision from the crowd—it was the overall incongruity of the vision of modernist, high-rise towers and elevated rails—what one attendee sarcastically described as a “brave new world”—in comparison with the lack of development and the wooded Capital Crescent Trail that currently exist in the area.

Still, not everyone in attendance was against the project. Many kept their opinions to themselves, while others spoke out in favor of it, comparing the development with European towns and cities that merge public transportation with housing and mixed-use development.

People laughed again when one resident compared car-free Venice to the proposed development.

But when another suggested that the development might actually be a forward direction for the community, the loud clapping that ensued overtook the laughter.

Stay tuned to Patch for news of upcoming public hearings on the proposed Chevy Chase Lake development.