Excerpt from The Sentinel:
A controversial plan to build seven townhouses at Chestnut Lodge is now being pared down to six townhouses.
However, the developer will need to start the application process over again before the City Council decides whether to approve it.
“We’re not thrilled about starting over again,” said Stephen Orens, an attorney representing the developer. “So much of it has been vetted over and over and over and over again.”
Council member Mark Pierzchala laid out a plan Monday for the developer to submit the new plan.
The new plan still exceeds the original Planned Resident Unit (PRU) development plan for the property, submitted before a 2009 fire destroyed the original Main Lodge.
“The PRU was predicated on saving and rehabilitating the structure,” said Nancy Pickard, the executive director of Peerless Rockville.
She previously testified against the seven-townhouse plan.
While the original plan called for restoring the former psychiatric hospital and converting the interior into 44 apartments, the revised plan for the seven townhouses would have been about 35 percent larger in size than the original one.
The new six-townhouse plan is still larger than the original PRU, though by “less than 10 percent,” according to the attorneys representing the developer JPC Chestnut Lodge, LLC.
City Council members rejected the seven-townhouse plan because they said it conflicted with the Master Plan and would adversely affect the historical environment of the city and surrounding area.
Before they make a decision about the six-townhouse plan, the council requested the applicant hold an area meeting with community residents.
Then, the developer can submit the plan to the Historic District Commission, which can offer an opinion about whether the plan conforms to city and state historic preservation laws, which includes the federal Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Preservation Projects.
Next, the Planning Commission would recommend the City Council approve or disapprove the plan.
Finally, the mayor and council would hold a hearing, offer direction and instruction to staff, and vote on the plan over the course of multiple meetings.
The mayor and City Council voted 3-2 against the seven-townhouse plan opposed by members of the West End Civic Association members.
Three of the last four mayors of Rockville have come from the West End. That includes current Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton, who once served as the association’s president. Former Mayor Larry Giammo is the association’s current president.
Newton joined Council members Beryl Feinberg and Mark Pierzchala in rejecting the seven-townhouse plan while Council members Virginia Onley and Julie Palakovich Carr voted for it, citing legal concerns about opposing it.
“This is a reduction in density. This is a reduction in size,” Orens told the council. “We don’t think starting over is necessary.”
The council disagreed.
“I suppose it is starting over,” said Pierzchala.
Members of the public will have at least one opportunity to weigh in when the City Council considers the new plan.
The Planning Commission may also be able to call for a public hearing but the council left that decision to the commissioners.
“I would like to see a public hearing held,” said Feinberg. “I would like to have the opportunity for residents and other stakeholders” to speak.