County officials say owners of the Bethesda Farm Women’s Market are interested in selling the property that has become a downtown landmark since customers started flocking there in the 1930s to buy homemade baked goods, preserves and produce.
County Council members Nancy Floreen and Hans Riemer said aging members of the cooperative that runs the market have expressed the desire to hang up their hats. During a recent meeting on the Bethesda Downtown Sector Plan under review by the council, members discussed the future of the 0.7-acre site at 7155 Wisconsin Ave., should it change hands.
“This is not an academic, 30-year issue. This is going to happen quite soon under any scenario,” Floreen said.
A spokesman for the co-op said the group is often contacted by developers, but has every intention to proceed with business as usual in the 2017 season, the market’s 85th year.
“There may come a time when our Board of Directors may determine an offer to sell is in their best interest,” spokesman John O’Beirne wrote in an email.
He added any suggestion the market is closing is inaccurate.
Riemer and some community activists have started eying the site for possible transformation into an open space, along with the county-owned surface parking lots located around the market. County Planning Director Gwen Wright also suggested that a private developer could bundle the market property with another, building on some portions while devoting others to park space and continued market operations.
Marlene Michaelson, a legislative analyst for the County Council, said a property owner to the south has expressed interest in buying the market.
One possible complication relates to the county’s building height limits for the site. Historic protections cover the property and market building, and Michaelson said historic preservation staff do not think any structure taller than 35 feet would be allowed.
An attorney representing the co-op said capping building heights at that level will suppress the value of the property, which is ringed by sites where 150- and 250-foot buildings might be permissible under the downtown plan.
“The fact is that if it remains at a 35-foot height … it will not encourage my client to sell the property. It will continue the unfortunately slow degradation of it as a public gathering space,” attorney Scott Wallace said.
In a phone interview, Riemer said members of the co-op have also spoken to him.
“They’re not going to close soon. But it’s owned by this group of people … and they wouldn’t mind selling it,” he said. “I think the market owners feel like it’s got to run its course, and they’d be willing to move on from it.”
However, a new owner could continue operating the market from the current building, which couldn’t be torn down because of its historical value, Riemer said.
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