Fearing development on its western edge, the Town of Chevy Chase will pitch its own concept for new park and green space involving two Montgomery County-owned parking lots.
The Town hired land use attorney Rebecca Walker to represent it during the county Planning Department’s rewrite of the downtown Bethesda Sector Plan. It also hired Towson-based planner Chris Jakubiak to tinker with the Eastern Greenway concept county planners presented in December.
Jakubiak’s proposal, which he showed in a Town worksession on Monday night, differs from county planners’ concept in two key ways. It keeps any new building development taller than 35 feet at least 200 feet west of the Town’s single family homes. It also suggests using all of existing Lot 24 and Lot 10 as flexible and open park space, not as land where new development might be permitted.
“What we’re proposing here is not a major departure,” Jakubiak said. “It’s acknowledging that the Town exists next to this rapidly developing area and it doesn’t seem to fundamentally alter their plans at all. In many respects, it fulfills what they’re trying to do.”
Walker said she has a meeting scheduled for Thursday with county planners, Parks staff and officials from the county’s Historic Preservation Commission in which she’ll lobby for Jakubiak’s version of the Eastern Greenway.
While Montgomery County officials have said they have no immediate interest in allowing development on the two public parking lots (Lot 24 and Lot 10), adjacent property owners have been in to talk with planners about the possibility of building there.
Many in the Town oppose a preliminary proposal from property owner Bernstein Management that would put a mixed-use, predominantly high-rise residential building on the Lot 24 site, with smaller multi-family and townhouse units facing the Town.
Walker said county parking officials have told her they don’t want to lose the 217 spaces in Lot 24 or the 99 spaces in Lot 10, but they have acknowledged the current surface parking lot use is an underutilization of the space.
That, plus the county’s willingness to allow development in exchange for a new underground garage on Lot 31 just a few blocks west, has Town officials nervous.
Jakubiak proposed turning both Lot 24 and Lot 10 into full parks that would feel connected to the existing Elm Street Park and include a new road to the south and east of the historic Bethesda Farm Women’s Market.
The park built on Lot 24 would stretch about 470 feet north-to-south from Willow Lane to Leland Street. It would range from 116 feet to 143 feet wide, hitting Jakubiak’s 200-foot setback barrier from the Town with additional green space directly behind the Farm Women’s Market.
Lot 10 would similarly be fully converted to a park, one that could be used for a seasonal ice skating rink or other flexible event uses.
Jakubiak did propose allowing for some 35-foot development south of Walsh Street. Unlike the land of Lot 24 and Lot 10, that property is privately owned.
Figuring out how to replace the lost parking in the lots could be a difficult balancing act. County officials have said a park wouldn’t be able to pay for the high costs of replacing the parking with an underground garage.
Walker suggested that any new development just beyond the 200-foot setback would be required to provide some underground parking. Town of Chevy Chase Councilmembers also made it clear they would consider funding part of the maintenance costs for the new park space.
While planners won’t submit their final recommendations to the Planning Board until April, they came up with a vision for the Eastern Greenway that would bring building development much closer to the single family homes of the Town of Chevy Chase.
The planners’ concept would maintain a strip of green space for the length of the Town’s border with downtown Bethesda. But the size of that strip would depend on the height of the building developed right next door.
For instance, planners suggested requiring a setback of more than 100 feet from the Town for a taller building of 70 feet in height. A 50-foot building would require 35 to 60 feet in green space buffer area and a 35-foot tall building would require only 20 to 35 feet in setback space.
Planners also suggested a new park at the Farm Women’s Market, a goal Walker said the Town should fully support.
“It comes down to the subtle nuances of scale, size and use for that buffer area,” Walker said. “Our concept says, wouldn’t it better if we are going to commit to a park to commit to it where the public owns property already?”