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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.

Mozart April 24, 2012 at 11:58 AM
Nice to see the MPC working hard to preserve the current beauty of Elm Street.
Jay Smith April 24, 2012 at 12:35 PM
I totally agree with Ghassan. We should have more American looking buildings in aesthetically beautiful downtown McLean. Perhaps a 3rd McDonalds or a 3rd 7-11? Nothing is more American looking than those...
Citizen E April 24, 2012 at 12:49 PM
Let me guess, is this the same committee that approved the lovely Palladium building? What a nightmare...
Observer April 24, 2012 at 01:15 PM
Now I know whom to thank for the wise architectural choices that have led to McLean's glowing reputation for urban design. Geez. Who are these people on the committee? And where did they get their esthetic values??
B April 24, 2012 at 01:31 PM
Sure, lets not build any classy buildings in McLean! The current architectural character of McLean sucks. Who is this Planning Committee, they need to go, Foust needs to wake up. They want to build something that resembles the current surrounding buildings of McLean, what a joke, lets add more gas stations, 7-11s, and dry cleaners in McLean..
Gigi April 24, 2012 at 01:40 PM
Sacre bleu! What a horrible idea. I think another park would be wonderful.
Juan Aguilar April 24, 2012 at 02:22 PM
Another bank couldn't hurt, right?
jennifer sherman April 24, 2012 at 02:48 PM
Is the planning committee crazy!!!!!!
mbl April 24, 2012 at 03:31 PM
Heaven forbid McLean might have a beautiful building.
John Varela April 24, 2012 at 04:59 PM
Were something elaborate and 19th century-looking built, maybe more would follow and then the gas stations and 7-11s would be the ones that looked out of place. Has anyone compared downtown McLean (or Great Falls, for that matter) with downtown Greenwich, Connecticut?
Christine April 24, 2012 at 05:48 PM
McLean would be lucky to have something like this instead of more placeless, nondescript development. "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."
Rye April 24, 2012 at 07:05 PM
I think the design would not fit with McLean - that architecture belongs in DC or downtown Philly, not our neighborhood. Seriously, look at that picture again. It would look like a fake historic building. no thanks!
DLBerman April 24, 2012 at 07:45 PM
i think the committee should reconsider. Most folks around here don't want more of the same. There are hardly any structures that are memorable in McLean, as it is. Just boring squares and rectangles and bad signage. Let's be a little adventurous, innovative...even artistic with our "skyline." It makes people feel there is something special here...and a bit of a free spirit too. Not dated and afraid to move forward.
Peter O'Meara April 24, 2012 at 09:31 PM
As a twice former Chairman of the McLean Planning Committee, I do not believe that committee or even the Dranesville Supervisor can require the land owner to change the design/architecture of a proposed building in the McLean CBD. Just as a comment, I like the proposed design and support the owner's right to do what likes on his property, after all, he is the one that pays the financial penalty of putting up the wrong building.
Mozart April 24, 2012 at 11:07 PM
What I don't understand is why the MPC sits idly by, along with John Foust, as speculators acquire parcel after parcel in downtown McLean, with no imminent plans for development, and then turn into Ada Louise Huxtable or Paul Goldberger when there's a developer who actually proposes to build something that might perk things up. Downtown McLean is a shambles and all these people can say is "we don't want to Bethesda" or "we don't want to be Clarendon" or, now, "we don't want to be Paris."
Ghassan Abukurah April 25, 2012 at 03:59 AM
I am disappointed by the misguided and eroneous facts presented by the Patch. As the president of the MPC, I assure you that the MPC is encouraged by the forward thinking site plan proposal JBG (the developer) has put forth for the Elm Street development. Aside, from the sensationalism of the headlines in the Patch, most of the facts presented by the article were both erroneous and out of context. The MPC is excited to work with JBG on this project and we see a great potential here for McLean. For those in the public that would like to know the real facts, please come to our public MPC meetings or contact me directly. I will be happy to share your input and comments with our MPC directors. The MPC is a volunteer group who has dedicated their time and effort to serve you: the McLean community. The public input is paramount in this crucial and exciting proposal. We are in the very early stages of what looks to be a very promising proposal on Elm Street by JBG, regardless of the sensational and misguided words in the Patch article. The Patch has misrepresented our position and frankly is doing a disservice to its readership. If you want the facts, please come to the source at the MPC or drop me a line directly and I will be happy to answer any questions you may have. You can reach me at ghassanabukurah@me.com. I hope the public stays connected and interested in this exciting proposal. The MPC is here to listen to you and be the conduit for your input.
Observer April 25, 2012 at 12:56 PM
Dear Mr. Abukurah, it would be helpful if, in your comment, you described exactly how reporting by The Patch was incorrect. You have simply asserted it was factually inaccurate. Tell us what really happened, if the reporting was erroneous. Also, I hope it is clear to you by the comments posted just how much the people of McLean dislike the look of downtown McLean. I, for one, marvel at how such a wealthy community can produce such an ugly central business district. You and your colleagues on the Committee are in a position to make a significant difference. Please don't blow it.
Concerned Citizen April 25, 2012 at 02:51 PM
If you are saying that the Patch is wrong, then is it correct to say that the MPC enthusiastically supports the designs of the project that are in the drawings which are viewable on-line? Of course Mr. Abukurah is the same person who has put forth a proposal to the Salona Task Force for barn and silo combination that might cost taxpayers upwards of $4 million. Yeah let's avoid beautifual architecture for McLean when we can have barns and silo's.....
Ghassan Abukurah April 28, 2012 at 03:46 AM
Observers and concerned citizens. The MPC issued a commentary letter to the developer highlighting salient points of both encouragement and concern. This letter will answer your questions about the inaccuracy of the Patch report. This blog forum prevents me from sharing the commentary letter due to limitations on the number of characters one can have in a blog. Clearly this is not the right forum for us to share our findings thus far. Our MPC meetings are. Please attend. And if you can't, send me a note and I will forward you our letter that we sent to the developer. This project is at a very early stage. Too early to render judgement. The developer's proposal thus far is the outcome of a two week design sketch. We need to give them time to sort through the details. This project will take several months to get developed. We need to be patient. This is a very crucial development for our downtown and public input is paramount. There are many issues to vet ... Too many, too complex and too important to post on a blog. I urge all concerned citizens and observers to get involved. Come to our meetings or send me a note with your concerns. I will make sure your voices are heard.
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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