2014 | Real Estate

Bethesda Downtown Plan Concepts Include Increased Density, Parks Network

Building height increases are being pitched for affordable housing, emerging retail areas and near transit stations

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A title page of the Bethesda Downtown Plan briefing book.

via Montgomery County Planning Department

Increasing the amount of parking, open space and parks and the number of dedicated bike lanes, as well as height limits for buildings are among the updates to the Downtown Bethesda Plan proposed Tuesday by the Montgomery County Planning Department.

The Bethesda sector plan, which guides development downtown, was last updated in 1994 and is currently being reviewed to bring it in line with the needs of a growing Bethesda, according to planners.

The department will present its recommendations to the county Planning Board on Thursday and then produce a staff draft of the plan over the next three to four months. The full plan is scheduled to be reviewed by the Montgomery County Council during the second half of 2015.

Here are some of the key concepts:

Parks and Open Space

One of the primary problems identified by planners in Bethesda is its lack of central green spaces.

Planners are recommending a public space corridor extending along Wisconsin Avenue. The proposal calls for an expanded Veteran’s Park, increase setbacks for new developments along Wisconsin Avenue, turning the Montgomery County Farm Women’s Market parking lot into a civic green, and inserting more landscaping as a buffer between cars and pedestrians on Wisconsin Avenue.

An expanded park across from the Barnes & Noble Plaza at Bethesda Row is also proposed to increase the amount of green space downtown.

Bike Improvements

Planners are recommending a cycle track along Woodmont Avenue that would extend south from the entrance of downtown Bethesda near the National Institutes of Health to Bethesda Avenue. Another is proposed for Bethesda Avenue. Bike lanes also have been proposed along Arlington Road and Norfolk Avenue.

The Washington Area Bicyclist Association has criticized Arlington Road as unsafe as drivers weave between lanes due to a lack of left turn lanes. The group wrote in a campaign for a protected bike lane on the street that a redesigned Arlington Road “will help support a people-oriented environment and act as a transition to neighborhood streets from Downtown Bethesda for walking and biking.”

In addition to more cycle tracks, a new “tree canopy corridor” is proposed along major connecting streets in the district as part of an effort to improve air quality and the local ecosystem by planting additional trees.

Parking

Planners are also proposing to evaluate opportunities to co-locate public parking lots at public facilities as they are redeveloped. Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School, the Bethesda Library and Bethesda Elementary are three possible expansion areas for the parking lot district—meaning if those sites are redeveloped, they could be built with public parking lots in the future, according to planners.

Other ideas for parking include evaluating additional opportunities to partner with private businesses to redevelop existing parking garages, similar to the Lot 31 development.

Make Norfolk Avenue a Shared Street

In order to better connect Battery Lane Park and Veteran’s Park, planners are considering the long-term objective of making Norfolk Avenue a shared street—in which the road uses the same design and same level as the sidewalk—to allow a more flexible public space. Planners believe it would allow Norfolk Avenue to be better used for community events—such as Taste of Bethesda.

Eastern Greenway to Divide Single-Family Neighborhood from Wisconsin Avenue Development

It’s no secret that the Town of Chevy Chase is against increasing density near its borders with Bethesda. The town has been publicly advocating for planners to maintain the buffer parking lots that separate residential neighborhoods along 46th Street and West Avenue.

The greenway would be an estimated 20 to 35 feet wide and separate the residential portion of Chevy Chase from 20- to 35-foot-tall buildings that could be developed on the edge of the downtown Bethesda.

Greater Building Heights near Metro, Purple Line Stations and Veteran’s Park

Three major intersections could receive increased building heights under the plan in order to “allow signature tall buildings at these major civic spaces,” according to planners. They propose increasing building heights near the Metro station and the proposed light-rail Purple Line station from a range of 145 to 200 feet to 250 to 290 feet.

Pearl District, Arlington South and Northern Entrance to Bethesda Could Receive Increased Density

Planners propose increasing building heights near places that they believe will see increased development in the next 20 years.

The first location is at the north end of the district, surrounding the under-construction 8300 Wisconsin Avenue building—a nine-story condo complex with a first-floor Harris Teeter Grocery Store between Wisconsin and Wodmoont avenues. Heights are proposed to increase from a range of 75 to 90 feet to 120 feet.

The Pearl District—where local property owners are proposing a new retail district along Pearl Street and Montgomery Avenue with a connection to the Capital Crescent Trail—could see its building heights jump from a range of 35 to 100 feet to 120 feet under the proposals. Also, two new parks and public art are recommended for the district.

The third emerging district is identified as Arlington South. It stretches from just south of Bethesda Avenue to Bradley Boulevard, in the area where Strosniders Hardware and Euro Motorcars are located. Planners have said multiple property owners in that area have expressed interest in redeveloping their properties. In October, Euro Motorcars pitched a preliminary plan to redevelop its property—part of which may include a multi-story residential building.  Building heights in that area are proposed for 70 feet, compared to the current 45 and 60 feet.

Increasing Density to Spur Affordable Housing, Redevelop Community Facilities

Both the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Rescue Squad and the Bethesda Fire Department are likely to be pleased with the preliminary height limits proposed for their properties. The two volunteer rescue departments are pitching redevelopment proposals on opposite ends of town.

The planning department recommends that the height limit of B-CC Rescue Squad’s property at the corner of Old Georgetown Road and Battery Lane increase from 35 feet to 120 feet.

At Station No. 6 on Wisconsin Avenue, where the Bethesda Fire Department is pitching a residential building in order to build a new fire station, height limits are proposed to increase from 35 feet to 70 feet, along with those for the nearby Aldon apartment buildings. Across the street, the height limits  for apartments and townhomes between Bradley Boulevard and Wellington Drive could increase from the current 35 feet to 120 feet. This proposal may upset some residents who told planners in May they weren’t in favor of additional density in their neighborhood.