County planners on Saturday released a “Concept Framework Plan” for downtown Bethesda that provided intriguing possibilities for new main streets, parks and clusters of redevelopment.
The Planning Department has yet to determine specific zoning or density recommendations, so interpreting the Framework Plan is largely an exercise in reading tea leaves. It is, however, a telling first recommendation produced by planners who over the past eight months have met with dozens of property owners, neighborhood groups, county agencies, condo associations, development attorneys and others.
“This is a starting point. These are our thoughts about the initial blocking, how the different pieces relate,” said Elza Hisel-McCoy, who’s managing the downtown Bethesda master plan rewrite. “This is how we think this relates to this relates to this relates to that. So it’s more about the relationships and identifying now where some of these new spaces might be.”
The Framework includes evidence of input from landowners with specific redevelopment plans, and residents wary of redevelopment.
For example, the row of apartments and condos just south of Chevy Chase Drive is within the Downtown Bethesda Plan boundaries, but wasn’t assigned one of three color shadings indicating lower, medium or higher densities.
A few weeks ago, Hisel-McCoy and Planning Department Director Gwen Wright met with residents of one condo on Chevy Chase Drive who were very concerned the Plan might bring higher densities to their doorstep.
“What we’ve heard from folks who live on Chevy Chase Drive is that, ‘We’re in Bethesda, but we’re not. This isn’t us. We’re something different,’” Hisel-McCoy said. “In drawing it this way, we are trying to be clearer that it’s more about Bradley Boulevard and it’s lower density. This is an established housing area and we don’t expect it to be anything else.”
The yellow “lower density” shading does jut out to one property south of Chevy Chase Drive: Bethesda Fire Station #6. The Bethesda Fire Department is exploring redeveloping that property to allow for a mixed-use building to help fund a new fire station.
Hisel-McCoy said the property was included because it’s in a “gateway area” to downtown Bethesda that planners feel should be better activated, presumably by ground-floor retail.
There are a number of other important ideas in the Framework, which planners showed those who attended a Saturday morning workshop at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. Keep in mind, planners are still accepting public comments and setting up meetings with all stakeholders. The final recommendations from planners won’t come until later this year.
Email BethesdaDowntownPlan[at]montgomeryplanning[dot]org to get in touch.
The complete Framework Plan is in the PDF at the end of this post. After the jump are some of the concepts that stood out:
Planners heard loud and clear concerns about a lack of civic and green spaces: The Framework includes six “Proposed Open Spaces” of varying size and shape. Two (near Battery Lane Park and just south of NIH) would seek to improve upon existing park and trail areas.
The others present radical departures from what exists in those spaces.
Planners drew a strip of new open space extending from the historic Bethesda Farm Women’s Market south along the eastern edge of two county parking lots. Hisel-McCoy said the idea is that if those parking lots were to redevelop, there would then be an opportunity to create a linear park to connect to the existing Elm Street Urban Park.
It’s an idea that some in the Town of Chevy Chase are actively pursuing, in part to provide a green buffer between downtown Bethesda and the Town. But county officials say there has been no move to redevelop the county-owned parking lots.
Another Proposed Open Space comes in the existing grassy area near the Bethesda Row Cinema and Capital Crescent Trail tunnel. There seems to be some momentum for that idea, as a planned hotel project for the space is no longer.