A County Council committee voted to consider taller buildings in the Kensington Sector Plan at a meeting Monday, a move that could put a 75-foot structure on Metropolitan Avenue.
The Planning, Housing and Economic Development Committee voted 2-1 to support a Kensington resolution that would allow Konterra to build up to 75 feet on its property in exchange for public amenities such as a parking structure or a walkway across the train track. The area, between Metropolitan Avenue and the MARC station, was initially slated for a 60-foot maximum.
The committee also approved revised zoning that would scale back maximum heights and densities in some areas near single-family housing, and the sector plan will next go before the full council for a vote.
The debate over whether to allow greater height for Konterra, however, split the committee, with councilmembers Nancy Floreen and George Leventhal supporting the idea and Councilmember Marc Elrich voting against it.
Supporters of the idea have said that allowing greater height for Konterra will get residents the amenities they need and fast-track track a project that will encourage further development in the town.
Elrich, however, said it could set a dangerous precedent for future master plans. If the county bows to one developer on height limits, what's to stop other developers from asking for the same variance? he said.
"I don't see the point in doing this," Elrich said. "It seems to me that 60 feet is enough to get revitalization done. I have a problem putting this much density in a place with no transit whatsoever."
Leventhal said the difference of 15 feet is negligible and that the idea is worthwhile if it helps Kensington redevelop.
"The intensity of the debate is not commensurate to the smallness of the difference," he said. "Twenty living units is the difference between 60 and 75 feet for Konterra."
If the idea is approved by the full council, the building would be zoned for a 75-foot maximum, but the sector plan would include instructions asking the Planning Board not to approve a project at that height unless it meets certain criteria, board chairwoman Françoise Carrier said.
The debate over Konterra has divided the Kensington Town Council, too, as the body passed a unanimous resolution in support of the zoning amendments but split 3-1 on the issue of "exploring" greater heights.
Town Councilmember Mackie Barch, who voted in favor of considering a variance, said he's pleased the PHED Committee supported the idea. Kensington would be foolish to turn away a potential investor without looking into a compromise, he said.
"We're not giving them 75 feet; they're going to have to earn it," Barch said. "They're going to have to do some pretty major public improvements, and they're going to have to show us some compatible design qualities."
Town Councilmember Lydia Sullivan, who voted against the 75-foot variance, said the committee's vote goes against the will of the community. The Konterra property is far from the town's Connecticut Avenue core, she said, and putting a 75-foot building near the train station would disrupt Kensington's character.
"The Konterra vote is precedent-setting," she said. "The Planning Board already recommended against allowing 75 feet. This is a bad day for the Kensington Sector Plan."
The plan will likely go before the full County Council at the end of the month, Floreen said.