A Washington developer formally unveiled plans last week for a new apartment building in downtown McLean that would resemble the Williard Hotel and classic apartment buildings along Connecticut Avenue in Washington, DC.
The 5-7 story building that includes a cupola is planned for what is now largely a parking lot on Elm Street.
The architect, Michael Franck, said he tried to create a "timeless building. In 20 years what we create will not look dated."
"We wanted to create detail and decoration on the building that will create character and timeless architecture," Franck explained to the McLean Planning Committee. He called the proposed building a “visual delight.”
Franck was hired by JBG, the well-known development company that owns the large parking lot across the street from the U.S. Post Office.
The proposed U-shaped building would include 200- 250 units, no commercial space but perhaps a ballroom, Franck said. The nearby Ashby and McLean House are 14 stories tall.
A small commercial building would be built in front of the apartment building. The plans also include a large plaza with tables and chairs that resembles the plaza in front of The Palladium on Laughlin Avenue. The parking lot is about a quarter of an acre.
This is JBG's second attempt to redevelop the parking lot. They battled with the McLean Planning Committee for nearly two years over a plan to build 49 townhouses on the parking lot at the corner of Elm Street and Fleetwood Road.
That battle was basically a clash of visions of downtown McLean. The vision of JBG and its partner, a townhouse developer, was townhouses, a garage on Elm Street with the first floor of restaurants and retail space, a tot lot, and improved storm-water management.
The Planning Committee, McLean’s citizen-planners, envisioned apartments, higher density and no garage.
"We made the classic error of thinking we know what's best," Greg Trimmer, head of development at JBG said after last week's presentation to the Planning Committee. "We listening to the Planning Committee and regrouped internally. . . This is much more visionary. A real statement in terms of architecture," he said.
In fact the company was so concerned about reaction to the new building, they previewed it a few weeks ago for Dranesville Supervisor John Foust and some members of the Planning Committee.
Members of the Planning Committee, which is an advisory body, asked questions, but made no specific comments about the building.
Bill Sudow, former chair of the McLean Revitalization Committee, a business group trying to redevelop downtown McLean, and who attended the Planning Committee meeting, praised the JBG proposal.
“I think this would be a great first step in the revitalization in of McLean,” Sudow said. ”I’m very excited about this project . . I think the opening of Metro in 2013 will be accessible to McLean. It makes (McLean) a great alternative to younger professionals” who don’t want to live in the “chaos” of Clarendon and Ballston.
Next step: The Planning Committee must give its approval to the rezoning needed to build the project.