Ecodistricts, Amenity Fund Could Be Coming To Downtown Bethesda

A rain garden in an ecodistrict in Malmo, Sweden. Flickr photo via La Citta Vita

Incentives for sustainable design features, district heating and cooling systems and a fund for public amenities could be things coming to downtown Bethesda through the Planning Department’s ongoing master plan for the area.

Planners will likely pitch ecodistricts and a general public amenities fund as two of their preliminary recommendations as part of the Bethesda Downtown Plan, according to county planner Marc DeOcampo.

DeOcampo talked about the recommendations at a Citizens Advisory Board meeting on Monday, ahead of the Planning Department’s next planned workshop on Saturday, May 17.

Ecodistricts are an emerging planning concept that involve reusing water, capturing waste and prioritizing sustainable building design. The idea is that planning more sustainable and more environmentally friendly development at a neighborhood scale — rather than project-by-project — will get better results.

DeOcampo said the Planning Department is pursuing a consultant who worked on the SW D.C. Ecodistrict Plan. In January 2013, the National Capital Planning Commission approved a plan that provides the framework for an ecodistrict in the 15-block area of mostly federal office buildings located just south of the National Mall.

Over a 20-year period, the NCPC hopes the plan will result in most  of the area’s energy, water, and waste being captured, managed, and then reused. Greenhouse gas emissions would be reduced by 51 percent, even with the potential addition of 4 million square feet of development.

Potable water consumption would be reduced by 70 percent, all stormwater will be managed and 80 percent of waste could be diverted from landfills.

Portland, Ore. has five designated ecodistricts that were initially cared for and maintained by a city-created nonprofit, before control was ceded back to the city.

Montgomery County planners have identified social sustainability, economic sustainability and environmental sustainability as the three themes guiding the Bethesda Downtown Plan since almost the beginning of their work on it.

The amenity fund idea has been pitched by a number of downtown residents, including the Board of Directors of the Bethesda Arts & Entertainment District.

It’s not yet clear precisely how the Planning Department’s recommendation would look.

But community activists would like to see money from the private developers of downtown Bethesda help finance projects like a semi-permanent sculpture garden along Norfolk Avenue, a community black box theater or a civic green space that’s accessible and visible.

Montgomery County now provides a public amenity option to developers that want increased density, a common occurrence in downtown Bethesda. In an attempt to create a more vibrant urban place, developers can provide open spaces and public art.

But in Bethesda and elsewhere, those amenities are usually restricted to the developer’s property.

Flickr photo via La Citta Vita


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