2021 | Development

Chevy Chase to contribute up to $4 million to convert parking lots near Bethesda Farm Women’s Market to parks

Town believes project adds to ‘greater good’ of area

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The town of Chevy Chase will contribute up to $4 million to a project in Bethesda that aims to convert a group of surface parking lots near the Farm Women’s Market to parks and open space.

During a meeting this month, the Town Council unanimously voted to contribute about 25% — up to $4 million — of the public funds needed for the project. The town will use money from its reserves, which, as of June, had a balance of more than $10 million, according to Chevy Chase Mayor Barney Rush.

The remaining public funding is expected to be provided by the Montgomery County government.

The project is outside — but near — the town’s boundaries.
Rush, in an interview, said Chevy Chase residents largely supported the decision because it “contributes to the greater good” of the area.

“Of course, it’s good for the town (of Chevy Chase), but we think it’s great for Bethesda, because it really provides the urban space it needs, given the extraordinary increase in density in the region,” Rush said. “And we do have the means as the only incorporated entity anywhere in the vicinity.”

It’s not yet clear exactly how much the build-out of the parks will cost, Rush said, which is why the town said it would contribute 25% of the funds, but put a cap at $4 million.

“We’re trying to make a substantial contribution that people will say, ‘OK, the town is serious about doing its part here,’ and that’s really what this was about.”

Rush added that Chevy Chase leaders included some conditions to its contribution, like that the parks will be “enduring” and not later converted to something else, and to ensure town residents are included in the planning process.

They also were clear that their contribution is to build the parks on the two open lots — not just one or the other.

The Farm Women’s Market, on Wisconsin Avenue, was founded in 1932.

The project, which first came into focus in 2018, is led by EYA Holdings.

Older versions of the project plans included a roughly 70-foot-tall building behind the market and 18 townhomes on a parking lot to the east of the market. However, both of those ideas have been removed from EYA’s designs to make more room for parks and open space.

Current plans include a roughly 6,000-square-foot addition to the historic market, large parks on what are now parking lots, and residential buildings.

A 300-space underground parking garage is included in EYA’s plan. The garage is expensive to build, and was initially why developers felt the need to include more residences in the plan. Now, they will rely on the public financing contributions from Chevy Chase and the county to help offset the cost.

Some people questioned why the developers aren’t paying for the parks themselves. Rush said town and county leaders are asking for “way beyond what you expect developers to take on.”

“This isn’t a matter of putting in a little pot in front of their apartment houses. It’s creating two-and-a-half acres of park across both parking lots,” Rush said. “So, once people really understood what this project was, and what it represented in terms of creating this green space, they really got very excited about it.”

The updated plans include a patio area in front of the market, a possible “splash pad,” playground and dog park, an area for temporary vendor tents, botanical gardens and an amphitheater.

Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at caitlynn.peetz@bethesdamagazine.com