Advisory Panel Urges Significant Changes to Development Designs Near Farm Women’s Market

Community members raise concerns about open space layout, building mass


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A conceptual drawing showing the revitalized Farm Women's Market in the foreground, backed by the two proposed high-rises.

VIA BERNSTEIN

Architects on a panel tasked with sizing up downtown Bethesda development plans say they like the idea of preserving and upgrading the Farm Women’s Market in downtown Bethesda.

On Wednesday, though, they expressed some reservations about proposed projects to do just that.

The Bethesda Downtown Design Advisory Committee members said they had problems with architectural concepts for two high-rises along Wisconsin Avenue, across from and adjacent to the historic market. Among other things, the panelists had problems with the bulkiness of the proposed buildings and the relationships between different sections of the structures.

The use of cantilevers—structural projections that hang over the street—in the designs also touched a nerve with the panelists, who said they’d seen the feature appear in too many recent development plans for downtown Bethesda.

Karl Du Puy, one of the committee members, said Bethesda is on course to turn into a “cantilevers ‘r’ us.”

And Rod Henderer, another panelist, said he’s worried developers aren’t taking the new design guidelines for downtown Bethesda seriously enough.

“We keep making exceptions to the guidelines,” he said.

The two developers, Bernstein Management Corp. and Foulger-Pratt, have formed a partnership to buy and revitalize the Farm Women’s Market property as a community civic space. In exchange for restoring the market site, the companies will receive height bonuses for their nearby building projects.

Bernstein wants to construct a 175-foot high-rise on the Villain & Saint site adjacent to the market, at 7121 Wisconsin Ave., while Foulger-Pratt is planning a 225-foot-tall project to replace a row of single-story buildings between Miller and Bethesda avenues.

The plans presented Wednesday are conceptual, and developer representatives said they’re open to making adjustments based on feedback from the community and the design committee, which serves in an advisory capacity.

Several community members spoke during the meeting. Naomi Spinrad, vice president of the Coalition of Bethesda Area Residents, said she’d like to see more green space included in the proposal for the overhauled market property. A planned driveway that would curve around the property, connecting Wisconsin Avenue and Willow Lane, would consume too much of the site, she said. In addition, the drive could cut off the market from the property behind it, a county surface parking lot that community members hope will one day become a park.

Matt Clark, a managing partner of LandDesign, gave a presentation about plans for the market property, which he said is the “period at the end of the sentence along Bethesda Avenue.”

He and his colleague, Theodore Willger, said the upgraded market and surrounding open space could host events such as yoga sessions, movie nights and concerts.

The Town of Chevy Chase submitted a letter that detailed concerns about how the building proposed for 7121 Wisconsin Ave. would relate to the Farm Women’s Market property. The initial designs show a high-rise that includes a cantilever and a tower that does not step back significantly from the building’s base.

“The unfortunate result is a large mass hovering over and dwarfing the (Farm Women’s Market),” the letter stated.

Town officials also asked for a reduction in the amount of proposed building density at both sites and advised a “significant redesign” of the two projects.

The two developers are in the early stages in their respective endeavors and have yet to submit their sketch plans to the Montgomery County Planning Department.

Bethany Rodgers can be reached at bethany.rodgers@bethesdamagazine.com.

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