Bethesda fire department readies to present redevelopment concepts

Bethesda Fire Department Station #6 at Wisconsin Avenue and Bradley LaneThe Board of Directors in charge of the Bethesda Fire Department will see potential development concepts for its Bradley Boulevard fire station during a full board meeting on Thursday.

Some in the neighboring Chevy Chase West community of single family homes are wondering when they’ll get a chance to provide input.

The Fire Department — not to be confused with Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Services — is a nonprofit that owns Fire Station #6 at the corner of Bradley Boulevard and Wisconsin Avenue. The board of the Department is exploring redeveloping the site to include a mixed-use project to help pay for a modern fire station facility.

Naomi Spinrad, zoning coordinator for the Chevy Chase West Neighborhood Association, said the neighborhood hasn’t been contacted despite Fire Board talks with Montgomery County planners working on a new master plan for downtown Bethesda.

In a statement, the Bethesda Fire Department said it will share its proposals with all stakeholders after its regularly scheduled meeting on Thursday. It also said its primary concern is to maintain “the high standard of service and safety to the communities we serve:”

In the days and weeks following the board meeting, members of the BFD board will be meeting with community representatives to discuss these ideas and get their input.  Safety is our number one concern, and, as we move forward, this will be an open and transparent process that will engage all of the communities we serve.

So far, the redevelopment sounds as if it includes a six- to eight-story apartment on the fire station’s current site that climbs down to four stories fronting the block of single family homes on Nottingham Drive. According to planning staff, the proposal also involves a one-story structure to house retail at the very corner closer to the intersection. The new fire station would be built on what’s now a bare spot of grass just to the west.

Representatives from the Fire Department Board met with planners on June 4. Spinrad said this letter to the editor from the Board, which accused neighbors in Chevy Chase West of putting out misleading information, was “disingenuous at best.”

“The Bethesda Fire Department has made no effort to reach out to Chevy Chase West or its residents along Nottingham Drive, despite repeated assurances from planning staff that they have urged the department to do so. Any proposal that includes commercial uses requires a zoning change,” Spinrad said. “If the Bethesda Fire Department has had a change of thinking about its property since its June 4 meeting with planners, such that mixed use, high density development is ‘a false representation of BFD’s plans and intentions,’ it would be well-served to begin the ‘open and collaborative dialog regarding any plans related to the property’ with a prompt and honest statement of its intentions.”

The Board of the Bethesda Fire Department includes members who live in many of the communities the fire station services, including Chevy Chase West.

Fire Station #6 is staffed and operated by Montgomery County’s MCFRS. The Bethesda Fire Department serves what’s largely a fundraising role. The group’s board includes many prominent local civic and business leaders.

In April, Board member Nat Finkelstein said it’s not uncommon for volunteer fire departments to seek partnerships with developers in order to rebuild aging fire stations.

The Fire Department Board supplies equipment upgrades and modifications to the three fire stations it owns in Bethesda, Finkelstein said. A few years ago, an air conditioning malfunction at Fire Station #6 threatened to shut the facility down.

Finkelstein said the Board stepped in with thousands of dollars worth of repairs, a sum for which they were ultimately reimbursed by the county.

“The station we have is over 40 years old and needs some upgrading and we think we can provide that at no cost to the county,” Finkelstein said.

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