2014 | Real Estate

Planners Looking to Recommend Tapered Buildings for Chevy Chase Buffer

Town says it's beginning a campaign to protect buffer areas between downtown Bethesda

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A "buffer" lot off of Leyland Street that could face redevelopment in the future.

via Google Street View

Montgomery County planning officials said Monday they’re planning to recommend a tapered height limits approach on projects proposing the redevelopment of surface parking lots on the border of downtown Bethesda and the Town of Chevy Chase.

Marc DeOcampo, a master planner and supervisor for the Bethesda planning area, said officials have yet to receive development proposals from the county’s Parking Lot District, which owns buffer lots 10 and 24, but that the planning department is taking a proactive approach while working on the Bethesda sector plan in case someone partners with the district to develop the lots. Other surface lots are located behind Wisconsin Avenue businesses between West Avenue and Wisconsin.

“Who’s to say that somebody along the line, especially [property owners] who are adjacent to those lots, might come in and say ‘We’d like to partner up with [the Parking Lot District] and maybe we can develop a building with public parking underground,” DeOcampo said.

In order to prepare for that possibility, planners said they’re considering a step-down approach in which a majority of a proposed building’s height would face Wisconsin Avenue and then taper down to a townhouse scale on the side facing the Town of Chevy Chase. Planners said a linear park could be built to separate the building from West Avenue or 46th Street.

“If they’re going to redevelop, would you not have the sector plan go and address what that building would be?” DeOcampo said. “That building could come right up to West Avenue. In this case we’re being proactive, rather than reactive. What you’re going to face is much more in scale and you’re going to have a park buffer.”

On Monday, the Town of Chevy Chase said in a post on its website that the buffer zone created by the parking lots is at risk and asked residents to write to the Montgomery County Council and planning board Chairman Casey Anderson expressing concern about the buffer zone. Noting the Lot 31 development near Bethesda Row, the town pointed out that “formerly, parking lots buffered the adjacent single-family homes of the Sacks community from this commercial area.”

But planners questioned whether residents should consider surface parking lots as quality buffer zones from a sustainability and aesthetic standpoint and argued that a step-down approach coupled with a linear park would be more compatible with the neighborhood.

“Looking at the big picture, in terms of sustainability, what are we doing with surface parking lots?” said planner Margaret Rifkin.

Planners have already floated the idea of the Eastern Greenway for the region, which would be a network of narrow, long parks that would abut West Avenue and 46th Street to separate the community from new buildings constructed on the surface parking lots.