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County passes up chance to bid on WMAL property

WMAL transmitter siteMontgomery County will not submit an offer for the 75-acre WMAL transmitter site in Bethesda, likely ensuring the open green space will become hundreds of new homes.

Chief Administration Officer Timothy Firestine cited the expensive price – potentially nine figures, according to some estimates – as the biggest obstacle keeping the county from buying the Greentree Road property and maintaining it as community space.

“The challenge is that the price is way beyond what we can do,” Firestine said. “You’re talking about a million (dollars) per acre, and that’s a big chunk of land. We don’t have the resources to do that.”

After The Sentinel reported WMAL’s owner Cumulus Media put the transmitter site up for sale, local residents contacted local officials to ask whether the county could save the space, where people have come for decades to walk dogs, run and play sports.

Members of 12 local households sent a joint letter to County Executive Ike Leggett and the County Council endorsing any action regarding the property, which they wrote serves “tangible and intangible community needs on which it is hard to place a dollar value.”

“Over the decades, we, our families, and our neighbors have benefited in countless ways from having access to this unusual green space and we have appreciated the generosity of WMAL in always keeping it accessible to the public. During a period of unprecedented growth in Montgomery County, the WMAL site has remained an unusual island of free space in an increasingly populated environment,” the letter reads.

After learning Cumulus Media put the property on the market, Councilmember Roger Berliner asked Leggett to coordinate with department heads to discover any shared value. Leggett had Firestine and his team research the valuation and it quickly became clear submitting a competitive offer was not feasible.

“At this point in time, we’ll monitor what happens with the land and see if we can work with developers later on,” Firestine said.

With the county out of the running, all signs point to a massive residential development on the property.

Companies have until March 12 to submit an offer to CBRE Group Inc., the real estate broker representing Cumulus. CBRE Senior Vice President John Sheridan declined to comment on the number and nature of applications he’s received, but said his team will review all the offers and approach selected companies in a few weeks.

 

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