Credit: Via Bernstein

Sprucing up the historic Farm Women’s Market in downtown Bethesda and turning it into the centerpiece of a green civic space could be within reach—if twin high-rise projects along Wisconsin Avenue move forward.

The redevelopment plans would yield two new residential towers, one built by Foulger-Pratt and the other by Bernstein Management Corp., adjacent to and across from the market property. The two developers have forged a partnership to buy, revitalize and operate the market and, in exchange, could secure permission to build taller structures.

Both Foulger-Pratt and Bernstein have outlined their project concepts in documents recently shared with Montgomery County planners.

Their shared vision for restoring the market property would involve renovating and adding accessible bathrooms to the historic building, where people have been buying goods since the 1930s.

The developers also want to replace the parking lot around the building with green spaces: A lawn adjacent to Willow Lane, with space for food trucks and yoga sessions; a garden area bordering Wisconsin Avenue; and a seating area under the shade of two existing sycamores.

The market building, potentially filled with food vendors or restaurants, could open onto a terrace with café-style seating. Pedestrians and cars could travel along a shared street, called a “woonerf,” that would hook around the back of the building, connecting Wisconsin Avenue and Willow Lane, according to the plan.

Concept plan for the improved Farm Women’s Market site (click to expand). Via Bernstein.

“The proposed redesign of the Farm Women’s Cooperative Market will provide open space that will be both a destination and a local gathering spot—a green respite in an otherwise urbanized corridor,” the development plans stated.

Barney Rush, mayor of the Town of Chevy Chase, said town officials are still digesting the proposal and not yet ready to comment. But Rush, who has long fought for civic space around the market, said his community is deeply invested in the future of the market site.

“Residents care a great deal about the Farm Women’s Market and how it might be treated,” he said.

A number of residents want the proposed civic space to lead into a future park on the county-owned property that sits behind the market site. A surface parking lot currently exists on the county’s land, but the developers’ conceptual drawings show grass and trees covering this site. County leaders, including Council President Hans Riemer, have voiced support for converting the lot into a park, although no project to do so is currently under way.

With the overhaul at the market site, the developers are seeking to capitalize on incentives that county leaders folded into the Bethesda Downtown Sector Plan approved last year.

In return for improving the market property, Bernstein could earn permission to construct a 175-foot building on the adjacent Villain & Saint site, which otherwise would have a 150-foot height cap.

Foulger-Pratt’s proposed project site is across Wisconsin Avenue, covering the existing Starbucks, Jos. A. Bank store and Carroll Community Bank. Contributing to the market’s preservation would boost that project’s height cap from 200 to 225 feet.

Bernstein’s plan for 7121 Wisconsin Ave. calls for a multifamily residential tower of about 218,000 square feet and about 189 housing units. The building as envisioned would have retail space on the first floor and underground parking.

Foulger-Pratt has proposed a 260-unit high-rise that would encompass about 290,000 square feet, spread over addresses including 7126 and 7140 Wisconsin Ave. and 4705 Miller Ave. The building would have about 7,200 square feet of nonresidential space and have four levels of underground parking, accessible from Miller Avenue.

But the developers write in their applications that buying the Farm Women’s Market and overhauling it will “far exceed” the value they’ll get from the height bonuses. The companies also are taking on significant ongoing costs in agreeing to maintain and operate the market, according to the application.

Developers in both projects are scheduled to present their initial concepts May 23 to the Bethesda Downtown Design Advisory Panel, a group of architects representing a variety of interests.

Foulger-Pratt wrote that it expects to submit its sketch plan application to the county planning department in coming weeks. Bernstein in its submittal stated it would turn in its sketch plan application once it receives feedback on its concept plan.

Conceptual drawing of Bernstein’s proposed high-rise, on the Villain & Saint site, next to the redesigned Farm Women’s Market property. The drawing shows a civic green behind the market on what is now the county-owned surface parking lot. Via Bernstein.

Foulger-Pratt’s concept drawing of a 225-foot residential tower on what is now the row of buildings containing the Starbucks, Jos. A. Bank store and Carroll Community Bank. Via Foulger-Pratt.

A concept drawing of the view along Bethesda Avenue, leading toward the Farm Women’s Market. Foulger-Pratt’s high-rise is shown at right. Via Foulger-Pratt.

Bethany Rodgers can be reached at