2014 | News

Planners Propose More Development, Parks For Downtown Bethesda

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Montgomery County planners are pitching an additional 4 million square feet in downtown Bethesda development in their first zoning recommendations since beginning a rewrite of the area’s master plan a year ago.

In its Planning Board briefing set for Thursday, the team working on the Bethesda Downtown plan will propose allowing 290-foot buildings in Bethesda’s Metro station core, 250-foot buildings along Wisconsin Avenue and Elm Street around the planned Purple Line station and 250-foot buildings where a new Bethesda Art Center is proposed for Wisconsin and Norfolk Avenues.

In all, there would be 31.8 million square feet of allowable development in downtown Bethesda, up from the 27.8 million square feet allowed now and the 23.7 million square feet already built.

Planners also pitched 120-foot development heights for some of Battery Lane — including the spot where the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Rescue Squad would like to redevelop its aging facility — and around Pearl Street as an impetus for mixed-use redevelopment between the one-way road couplet of Montgomery Avenue and East-West Highway.

Also included are 70-foot development heights for Arlington Road, including the Bradley Boulevard Shopping Center property and office buildings across the street.

Briefing concept for Battery Lane Park and connections to Battery Lane, via Planning DepartmentAnother key concept included in the briefing were new parks. Planners are hoping to expand on existing spaces such as Battery Lane Park and Woodmont Plaza and add an “Eastern Greenway” to serve as a buffer between Wisconsin Avenue buildings and single-family home neighborhoods to the east.

Three problems planners identified with downtown Bethesda today were few central green spaces, too much impervious cover contributing to stormwater runoff and “an area with the highest average rent in the county and a need to increase affordable housing options.”

The briefing kept and expanded upon many of the concepts expressed in May in what planners called a “Concept Framework Plan.”

The briefing — despite coming in at 112 pages — is not the formal staff draft plan that will be kicked up to the Planning Board for review. Planners are looking for comments in an online feedback loop.

Other intriguing aspects of the briefing include a proposal for a Capital Crescent Central Civic Green in what’s now a patch of green near the Bethesda Row movie theater. Planners said they will also evaluate extending Norfolk Avenue or creating a new street to connect to Battery Lane in Woodmont Triangle.

The redevelopment of county parking garages is an option for redevelopment, according to the briefing, which points to the Lot 31 project as a prime example.

Planners would like to see the Bethesda Farm Women’s Market (7155 Wisconsin Avenue) be transformed into a “newly green and connected civic space,” with “a picnic seating area, lush landscaping, outdoor vending stalls and restored historic building.”

Planners would also like to recreate Norfolk Avenue into a “shared street” for vehicles and pedestrians and in the short-term, allow for “parklets” in a few parking curbside spaces. The briefing also includes a suggestion to create a wider, greener and more visible northern entrance to Norwood Local Park (4700 Norwood Drive), a 32-acre park and recreational facility south of downtown.

There are 3,190 new housing units approved and in the pipeline already for downtown Bethesda, with 7,210 existing housing units and 16 million square feet of existing commercial space.
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