Developers Believe Farm Women’s Market Project Would ‘Rejuvenate’ Downtown Bethesda

Developers Believe Farm Women’s Market Project Would ‘Rejuvenate’ Downtown Bethesda

Plans draw criticism again at Thursday’s public meeting

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The potential for the site of the Farm Women’s Market in downtown Bethesda is endless, developers say, but some residents remain unsure about proposed plans to revitalize the area.

Dozens of people filled the Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School cafeteria Thursday night to discuss the plans for the project, which had been tweaked based on residents’ input since the last public presentation.

Following a presentation that outlines plans for the historic market site on Wisconsin Avenue, development staff were available to answer questions in breakout sessions, during which several attendees voiced concern about preserving the history of the market founded in 1932. Others said they want adjacent public parking lots tabbed for renovation into parks to remain as is, while some residents were concerned about the project’s potential impact on traffic.

Despite questions, concerns and pushback, project leaders’ theme was clear: They know the value of the Farm Women’s Market, they want to create a space that emulates the family-friendly atmosphere at Union Market in Washington, D.C., and they believe their plan can accomplish those goals.

“This is a major artery in Bethesda,” said McLean Quinn, vice president of land acquisition for EYA, the Bethesda-based development company spearheading the project. “With this project and others in the area, you have a really rejuvenated Bethesda.”

Key features of the revised plan include park space and a 70-foot-tall building running nearly the full length of what’s now the parking lot behind the market, extending to Leland Street behind the Ford Building at 7101 Wisconsin Ave. Eighteen townhomes would stand on what’s now parking Lot 10, according to the new proposal.

Additionally, designs call for a 175-foot high-rise on the Villain & Saint bar site, a fact that many attendees of Thursday’s meeting scoffed at, questioning whether shadows from the building would have a negative impact on the surrounding area.

Developers also propose replacing the roughly 300 adjacent surface parking spaces by building an underground garage, dedicating the first level to public parking and reserving the second for residents of the new housing.

The underground garage would have two entry points, one on Leland Street and one on Willow Avenue.

The project partners have said the full scope of the proposed development is needed to help them bear the expense of adding the underground parking, which they estimate could cost upwards of $15 million.

Developers plan to also submit an alternate sketch plan to the Montgomery County Planning Board this month that excludes development on the surface parking lots.

Prior to Thursday’s meeting, Town of Chevy Chase resident Deborah Vollmer sent a letter to Montgomery County Council member Marc Elrich, voicing “outrage” about the proposed development. She argues that extensive development could hinder, not promote, the quality of life in Bethesda.

“Development can be like the proverbial golden egg. Too much of it, and the community dies,” Vollmer wrote. “Roads become congested, schools become overcrowded, and the infrastructure collapses. In some instances, historic landmarks are lost, and a community may lose its sense of identity. This process is happening in downtown Bethesda.”

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