A joint venture involving downtown Bethesda property owners has contracted to buy the landmark Bethesda Farm Women’s Market as part of a redevelopment vision that straddles Wisconsin Avenue.
The partnership between two major regional developers, Bernstein Management Corp. and Foulger-Pratt, could represent an initial step toward preserving and revitalizing the historic market property as Montgomery County officials have hoped.
But there’s a long way to go.
The property sale is contingent on the ability of Bernstein and Foulger-Pratt to win county planning approval for redevelopment proposals on surrounding sites, said Robert Brewer, an attorney who is representing the joint venture in its effort to buy the market. The proposed purchase price was not available.
Bernstein is the owner of the property at 7121 Wisconsin Ave., home of the rock ‘n’ roll music hall Villain & Saint, adjacent to the market.
For its part, Foulger-Pratt is looking to replace the row of single-story buildings across the street between Miller and Bethesda avenues. Its redevelopment plan would cover the existing Starbucks, JoS. A. Bank store and Carroll Community Bank.
Brewer, of the firm Lerch, Early and Brewer, said Tuesday the development partners have recently hired architects and will soon be meeting with county planning staff. They hope to file their concept plans in the next few months, he said.
Historic protections covering the market property, which is owned by a cooperative, restrict development there. However, the Bethesda Downtown Sector Plan approved by county leaders last year encourages neighboring property owners to develop in “a manner that benefits” the market.
In exchange for enhancing the co-op property, Bernstein could earn permission to construct a 175-foot building on the Villain & Saint site, which otherwise would have a 150-foot height cap, according to the plan. Across the street, the height cap would increase from 200 to 225 feet if Foulger-Pratt helps improve the market property.
The goal as described in the plan is to turn the farm women’s market parcel into a civic green and local gathering place that would connect with other open spaces in downtown Bethesda.
County Council President Hans Riemer has supported the notion of converting the county-owned parking lot behind the market into a park, further establishing the location as a community space.
He said he’s eager to see whether forthcoming development plans will advance this vision.
“For me, personally, I certainly hoped that the project that came forward would help turn it (the market property) into a gateway to the park behind it,” he said.
County officials last year revealed that members of the cooperative that owns the farm women’s market was interested in selling the property. People have been buying baked goods, produce and preserves at the market since the 1930s, but County Council members in early 2017 said the aging members of the co-op were looking to relinquish the 0.7-acre property.
Bethany Rodgers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org