Plans to build a self-storage facility in the Westbard neighborhood of Bethesda are moving forward, even as some residents vow to boycott the future business.
The Montgomery County Planning Board on Thursday approved the proposal for a roughly 195,500-square-foot facility on the property at 5204 River Road. The developer, Bethesda Self Storage Partners, has agreed to dedicate a couple of sections of the 1.37-acre property as the first section of the long-awaited Willett Branch greenway and to contribute money toward an archaeological study onsite.
However, members of the Macedonia Baptist Church in Bethesda have pressed for more action to protect the site of a historic black cemetery in the area. It isn’t enough to give the county parks system a .39-acre parcel believed to contain some of the cemetery, argued church member Marsha Coleman-Adebayo.
“We do not accept the attempt to pass off this responsibility to the parks department, and we will hold Westbard self-storage company accountable for the choices they make with this sacred ground,” she said.
Coleman-Adebayo said congregants will not patronize the future self-storage facility until their concerns and those of other community members are resolved.
She urged the planning board to create a local advisory group with community representatives and academics to help investigate the existence of graves on the site and to determine its future use. Ultimately, church members would like to put a memorial on the cemetery site as a tribute to the African-American community that once lived along River Road. In its effort to make this happen, Macedonia Baptist has clashed with the county, planning department and other property owners believed to control land that formed part of the cemetery.
Planning staff pointed out that Bethesda Self Storage is contributing $45,000 for an archaeological study of the site. Attorney Timothy Dugan, representing the developer, said his clients have offered to build a pathway connecting River Road and Westbard Avenue and to set up historical display boards and benches along the route.
Environmental advocates on Thursday celebrated the contribution of the first section of the greenway, a major priority in the Westbard Sector Plan finalized last year.
“I can’t tell you how exciting it is,” said Sarah Morse, executive director of the Little Falls Watershed Alliance.
However, she suggested some changes to the stormwater management plan for the site. The developer has planned to install planter boxes on the roof to capture and filter the rainwater; Morse said this method would not allow the rain to soak into the ground, thereby supplying the Willett Branch with purified water.
She urged the developer to pay more attention to techniques that would return more water to the Willett Branch and help revitalize the stream.
“Our brand-new baby creek needs every single help it can get,” Morse said.
Mark Etheridge, a county water resources plan review manager, said the soil around the proposed self-storage site is of poor quality to allow water filtration. With that in mind, the green roof design seemed like a preferable option, he said.
A view of the self-storage facility as seen from Willett Branch. Via the Montgomery County Planning Board.
Bethany Rodgers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.