“Westbard Square” redevelopment brings both new excitement and new traffic


Photo illustration courtesy Regency Centers

An artist’s rendering of the future “Westbard Square”

By Louisa Ralston

The lunch bell rings. A stampede of students flood out of bright teal doorways into the Whitman bus loop. Seniors get into their cars and leave campus, many with one destination in mind: Westwood Shopping Center on Westbard Avenue. 

With a Starbucks and Giant Food, Westbard has been a popular spot for seniors during the Whitman lunch block and after school as well, whether it be athletes dropping by for fuel after practices or stressed teens sitting for a latte, cramming in last-minute studying. 

Westwood Shopping Center — or as it will soon be known, “Westbard Square” — is now undergoing a six-year redevelopment that will impact the communities the shops serve, including the students of Whitman’s lunch rush. 

Westbard Square will feature new stores, restaurants, parks, townhouses and a senior living facility with multiple levels and additional parking and pedestrian walkways. Regency Centers, a national shopping center developer, bought Westbard and amended an existing construction plan first introduced by previous owners Equity One in 2016. Until now, the 60-year-old center has never undergone any significant renovations. 

Recently, Regency has begun to announce which existing shops will reopen after redevelopment is complete, and which new shops will join them. The popular Starbucks and Giant locations are here to stay, as well as the community-staple toy and pool-supply store Anglo Dutch.  

Westbard construction consists of a multiphase plan, finishing in 2027. The first phase began in 2021 and is set to conclude by the end of 2023. It primarily focuses on the building of a new Giant Food. The existing Giant grocery store will remain open until the new, adjacent location is ready for customers in its loft spot on the third story of a new building that will include 200 new parking spaces, retail and offices on the second floor and retail and restaurants on the first. Across from the building will be a centrally located green space.

The development company L.F. Jennings — who also helped develop parts of the similarly mixed-use Pike & Rose area — has joined Regency in assuring that the construction will provide the Bethesda community with new amenities. Regency Vice President of Investments Sam Stiebel believes that the development will bring many benefits to the area. 

“We are excited to create a place for the entire community to not only shop but also to spend time, and look forward to providing a great new gathering place,” Stiebel said. 

Developers have also begun the realignment of Westbard Avenue and River Road. In the past, Westbard and River were linked by Ridgefield Road. These two intersections posed a danger for the Springfield neighborhood as two accidents involving pedestrians occurred there last year, according to Springfield Civic Association Vice President Reid Lewis. Now the two roads will be directly connected in the hopes of improving safety. 

In the last decade, the community advocated for the realignment as a safety improvement, and the Montgomery County Council then included it in its sector plan. When the Council awarded the recent development contract to Regency Centers, the contract approved required the company to implement road realignment into the project.

Residents of the Springfield neighborhood had raised numerous concerns to the Council about the project’s impact on the neighborhood, and the Springfield Civic Association continues to work to keep the neighborhood’s safety and needs as high on Regency Center’s priorities as possible, representatives said.

 The SCA is a voluntary neighborhood association that advocates for the interests of the community. It has no formal role in the redevelopment but frequently connects with Regency in the hopes of influencing the project and its construction, specifically on issues such as traffic, local business preservation, affordable housing prices, stormwater management and environmental impact.

Community member Reid Lewis, along with other members and the Little Falls Watershed Alliance, lobbied for and secured the restoration of the Willett Branch Stream as a part of the sector plan. Currently, the creek features graffiti-lined concrete walls and littered banks. The restoration effort will transform the unsightly stream into a naturalized park with a walking path.

The park also plans to honor Westbard’s African American history with a memorial and signage. Regency has donated $500,000 to the project, which will be undertaken by Montgomery Parks, who also received a million dollars of funding from the state due to the advocacy work of the SCA and LFWA.

Phase-two construction includes the building of the senior living facility, which will be placed next to the realigned roads and intersections. Wrapping up the project will include the demolition of the current Westwood stores, making way for the central green space, park, townhouses, and additional shops and restaurants. 

Through 2027, traffic disruptions may remain. Current closures from the construction already force drivers to take other routes, bottlenecking the crowded roads of Bethesda. These obstructions don’t just impact neighborhood residents, but also the Whitman students who enjoy Westwood’s amenities — and in turn, they impact the profitability of the current businesses at Westbard. 

Juliana McDonald (’23) was one of the students inconvenienced by the construction. 

“Since my friends and I frequent Westbard a lot during lunch, it’s been complicated now that the roads are blocked off,” she said. “We don’t go as much anymore unless we’re willing to have a lot less time to eat or risk being late to class.”

Whitman parent Alex Hermes lives on Ridgefield in close proximity to the Westbard intersection and said that she has been frustrated by the number of trucks that she has seen passing her house.

“They were supposed to make sure their construction equipment and deliveries to Giant do not go down Ridgefield Road,” she said.  

Stiebel acknowledged the problem but stressed that they were working to find a solution, he said.

“Regency has implemented an extensive plan with its general contractor, including implementing fines on subcontractors who don’t adhere to the required detour route,” he said. “Additionally, Regency has made neighborhood suggested improvements to the detour plan and increased enforcement.”’

This year, a police car paid for by Regency has occasionally been stationed at the intersection of Ridgefield and Springfield to regulate passage of contractor trucks, said Lewis. However, according to Hermes, the police have not been present early in the morning when most of the trucks pass through and cause disruptions to the neighborhood. 

 Regency is currently working with retail tenants to determine which other shops will be housed in the new redevelopment and where. They continue to release news on the final decisions through the Westbard website.

While some aspects of the redevelopment are still uncertain, many members of the community are cautiously optimistic about Westbard Square.

“I’m not really sure what the result will look like, but I’m honestly excited,” McDonald said. “As long as it creates a better community space for people to go to, I see it as pretty positive.”