Waverly Garage Credit: Via Montgomery County Department of Transportation

Montgomery County transportation officials are wondering what developers would give to get their hands on a parking garage property in a prime downtown Bethesda location.

And they’re about to find out.

The Montgomery County Department of Transportation is getting ready to solicit joint development proposals for Waverly Garage, a 858-space structure near the intersection of Wisconsin and Montgomery avenues. Al Roshdieh, the county’s transportation director, said he wants to explore doing a mixed-use project to overhaul the east portion of the garage—a section that’s in need of repair. The west section, connected to the eastern half by a bridge over Waverly Street, is still in good shape, Roshdieh said Wednesday.

Hypothetically, Roshdieh said, a developer could buy the property from the county and construct something on top of newly-built parking space.

The county would be looking for an above-ground garage as part of a development plan, he said. But developers could opt to put some of the parking space underground at their own expense to maximize the amount of residential or office construction possible at the site; Roshdieh said below-grade parking doesn’t count against the square footage limit for construction on a property.

Roshdieh said not only could a project add a mixed-use building to the Waverly Street site, but the developer might be able to increase the number of parking spaces in the garage. If that happens, it could free the county to make changes at other parking facilities, he said.

In particular, the county might have more flexibility to establish a park in place of the surface parking lot behind the Farm Women’s Market in downtown Bethesda, he said. Community members have lobbied for integrating this envisioned park with proposed open space around the market to form a 1.6-acre civic green that would serve as an extension of the Elm Street Park.

To make this idea a reality, MCDOT would have to put an underground garage beneath the park or find some other way of replacing the 216 spaces in the surface lot, called Lot 24, Roshdieh said. Further complicating matters, it would take one-and-a-half levels of underground parking to make up for the converted surface lot because of the space needed for garage ramps, Roshdieh said.

But by adding a few extra spaces to the Waverly Garage, county officials might get away with building only one level of parking underneath the surface lot, he said.

The Bethesda Downtown Sector Plan includes incentives for developers that rejuvenate the Farm Women’s Market property, and a pair of companies has recently stepped forward with a plan to do just that.

County Council member Roger Berliner has encouraged Roshdieh to see if developers interested in a mixed-use project at Waverly Garage would be willing to build parking under Lot 24 as part of a bargain with the county.

“My point to Al is to think a little more creatively with respect to putting this out to bid,” he said.

Roshdieh said MCDOT is looking to put out its request for joint development proposals in coming weeks. While he’s primarily focused on the eastern part of the garage property, where the building height cap is 175 feet, Roshdieh said he’d be open to a proposal for tearing down the entire garage and starting from scratch.

“I’m open for any kind of proposal that could accommodate the county’s parking needs,” he said.

The Waverly Garage is across the street from another major project stemming from a county partnership—the 250-foot-tall Avocet Tower is slated to go up on the site of a now-closed county police station, which recently relocated to Rugby Avenue.

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