- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Centex Corp. has revised its plans for a 112-town house development next to Strathmore Hall in North Bethesda in an apparently successful effort to overcome neighborhood opposition.

The Montgomery County Planning Board is scheduled to review Centex’s application todayfor approval of the project it calls Symphony Park on 9 acres at the southeast corner of Strathmore Avenue and Rockville Pike.

“I’d be very surprised if the development didn’t happen,” said Eliot Pfanstiehl, chief executive officer of Strathmore Hall Foundation Inc., a nonprofit arts center. “There’s a lot of improvements. If this works, I think we’ll both be happy.”

Strathmore Hall’s support for the project is far different than the reception it gave Centex’s original plan two years ago.

The developer planned to build town houses right up to the edge of Strathmore Hall’s parklike yard, where it stages concerts and film festivals in the summer.

Strathmore Hall’s administrators were concerned they would look out their office windows from the historic mansion in the center of the 11-acre arts center to find trees and a lush lawn replaced by town houses and walls.

They met with Centex’s designers to discuss a change of plans.

“We just said, ‘This isn’t great aesthetically. Can we create a buffer?’” Mr. Pfanstiehl said. “They created what’s called Symphony Woods, which is basically a heavily forested area that runs right along the property line.”

Centex agreed to move the town houses back 150 feet from the property line, and to put in trees, trails and an open green space where walls would have been built.

A stormwater pond on Centex’s property would be expanded to a small lake with a fountain in it. Centex also is donating 8.8 acres to Montgomery County, which owns Strathmore Hall, to be added to the arts center’s campus.

Instead of creating a boondoggle of opposition from its neighbors, Centex is likely to attract more buyers to its project with the revised plan, Mr. Pfanstiehl said.

“It’s a sales point for them,” he said.

Dallas-based Centex purchased the roughly 19-acre property for its housing project from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, which is moving later this year to a larger building in Rockville. Centex plans to begin construction this year after the association moves out.

In other news

Catholic University is starting construction on a new $25 million residence hall as the number of students enrolled for classes grows.

University officials say they are having trouble housing all their students within their current 18 residence halls.

The university is calling the building Opus Hall, named after Opus Group, a $2.1 billion national real estate development company.

A $3 million donation from Neil J. Rauenhorst and the Opus Group, which was founded by Mr. Rauenhorst’s father, is providing the seed money for the project. The rest will come from other donations and a bond the university is issuing.

“I saw an opportunity to make a contribution back to my alma mater,” Mr. Rauenhorst said during the groundbreaking this week. “It’s been designed to continue that traditional Gothic academic style and feel.”

Opus East, the East Coast affiliate of Opus Group, has been hired to design and build the residence hall.

Opus Hall is designed as a seven-story, 125,000-square-foot residence hall for as many as 400 students.

Property Lines runs on Thursdays. Call Tom Ramstack at 202/636-3180 or e-mail tramstackwashingtontimes.com.

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