Planning Board Chairman Casey Anderson

Marriott International’s decision to seek a 700,000-square-foot building for a headquarters in downtown Bethesda follows a trend in which large corporations are fleeing suburban office parks in favor of city living, a Montgomery County planning official said Wednesday.

“It’s a trend we’re seeing nationally and we’re seeing it locally,” Montgomery County Planning Director Gwen Wright said. “I call it 10-minute living. Within 10 minutes, you can get to almost everything you need.”

The company’s announcement this week that it will relocate from Fernwood Road in Bethesda to the downtown area comes as the  Montgomery County Council begins reviewing the Bethesda Downtown Plan, a 550-page land-use guide that calls for greater development and would allow taller buildings, among other changes. In July, the board approved the plan that would guide development in downtown Bethesda for the next 20 years.

Dozens of residents showed up at a Tuesday night council hearing in Rockville to oppose the plan, saying the increased density from possible new high-rises would jam an overburdened street network, crowd schools already facing over-enrollment and threaten the quiet single-family homes that are just blocks from the center of Bethesda.


Planning Director Gwen Wright

A second hearing Wednesday brought a more tempered approach from businesses and individual landowners. A third night of hearings is scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday in the council’s Third Floor Hearing Room at its Rockville offices.


Planning Board Chairman Casey Anderson said the plan provides three ways for a developer to achieve the extra density needed for a project as large as Marriott’s.

A developer could acquire unused density  allotted in the plan’s earlier version, the1994 Bethesda Central Business District Sector Plan. A developer also could get more density from a pool, which comes with three caveats. The developer would have to pay a park impact payment of $10 per square foot, supply a mandatory 15 percent moderately priced dwelling units and agree to have the project reviewed by the Design Review Advisory Panel throughout the regulatory process.

The third way a developer could acquire the density is from a priority sending site. Such a site designated on the plan for open space, affordable housing or a landmark can extinguish its development rights and sell the density to another site.


Wright said the plan adds 4.6 million square feet of density, which could easily accommodate Marriott, which needs office space for 3,500 employees.

A variety of sites, particularly along Wisconsin Avenue, have been allocated enough height or density to accommodate what Marriott is proposing, she said.