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McLean Planners To Developer: Iconic Building Too Daring for Downtown

Saga of Elm Street development continues

The McLean Planning Committee has told a developer its proposed iconic apartment building in downtown is too bold and daring for McLean.

McLean's citizen-planners also encouraged the developer to substitute a park for proposed stores.

A Washington developer, JBG, formally unveiled plans last month to the planning committee for a new luxury apartment building in downtown McLean that would resemble the Williard Hotel and classic apartment buildings along Connecticut Avenue in Washington, D.C.

Last week, committee members expressed its concerns over the architectural character of the residential complex. The group described it as  "excessively ornate" and "distinctively different" from surrounding buildings.

"The current design should be simplified so as to not be such a literal copy of 19th century 'Parisian' style,"  said a letter to the developers, which was read at the meeting. Among other features, the residential building blueprint includes a cupola.

"Do I want to see Parisian style?" said committee member Mary Baker. "Not in McLean. In Paris, yes."

Committee's chair, Ghassan Abukurah added: "It's truly looking foreign."

The committee proposed to substitute the developer's planned retail area for a park.

JBG's design includes a small commercial building within the complex.  Abukurah said the first floor would be used for retail space, while the second and third floors would be office space. This type of mixed-use building has not been successful in McLean, he said.

"During past dialogues, we've been asking for retail space, but now we don't want it," Abukurah said. "At the end of the day, it is really just a very small token and it would be better to have a more generous area for a park."

The proposed five- to seven-story, U-shaped residential building would have between 200 and 250 units. It would be built in what is now 1/4-acre parking lot. The planned commercial building would be built in front of the apartment complex.

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 area on the corner of Elm Street and Fleetwood Road.

The committee's letter also addressed traffic and parking problems that could arise from the population the residential building would draw to McLean. The committee, which is an advisory board, projects the new residents will bring nearly 750 cars to the area.

The committee is urging the developer to take measures to promote the use of public transportation by residents and tenants of the office building, should this be built. 

A new bus line could aid traffic and parking issues, committee members said at the meeting. Still, they added, the bus line is not the magic wand to these problems.

"If you live in McLean, you're likely going to have a car," said committee member Richard Salopek. "They need to understand that we're not going to get push over on this."

The McLean Planning Committee is an advisory committee to the Dranesville Supervisor. It makes recommendations on all proposals in downtown McLean. It is composed of four members each from the McLean Citizens Association, the Greater McLean Chamber of Commerce, the McLean Landowners Association and the Surrounding Citizens Homeowners' Associations.

Observer April 28, 2012 at 03:17 PM
Mr. Abukurah, I see no reason why this forum, The Patch more generally, or some other website isn't appropriate for posting the MPC's commentary letter. Why restrict the dissemination of such information to your MPC meetings? Why force interested citizens of McLean, of whom I am one, to attend meetings where information that can be easily posted online is released? This is the 21st century. MPC should use 21st century technologies to bring some sunlight into MPC proceedings. The web can help. Use it. You say public input is paramount. If you really believe that, prove it by facilitating public input, using the technologies easily available to the MPC. I can assure you that the voices -- the ones you say you want to make sure are heard -- will be heard. Thanks for joining us in the 21st century.
Bobbi Bowman April 28, 2012 at 04:43 PM
McLean Patch would be delighted to publish the letter that the Planning Committee sent to the developers. If Mr. Abukurah will send us the letter, McLean Patch will publish it in its entirety for the neighbors.
Bobbi Bowman April 28, 2012 at 04:56 PM
The McLean Patch story accurate reflects what occurred at the Planning Committee meeting.
Ghassan Abukurah May 07, 2012 at 08:42 PM
To all concerned. The MPC commentary letter to the developer was sent to Bobbi Bowman (Editor of the Patch) to post in its entirety on the Patch website. As to public input, I will reiterate that public comments and opinions are welcome and encouraged at the MPC. However, and to be abundantly clear, the MPC will not view anonymous blogs or posts on media websites as "public input." I trust that you will recognize that the input needs to come from actual citizens in McLean. Anonymous blogs/posts will not be considered by MPC subcommittee during its evaluation process of this exciting development proposal. Thanks again for your interest and I hope this clarifies our position. Best, Ghassan Abukurah, MPC President.
diana bork December 31, 2012 at 10:04 AM
Do you mean the "shopping bag building"? My kids laugh over that every time we drive by, second only to the "toilet bowl building".

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