Momentum grows to turn Bethesda parking into parks

WASHINGTON — An effort to turn parking lots in downtown Bethesda, Maryland, into community parks is gaining momentum as a coalition pushing for the change has gathered hundreds of signatures with an online petition.

As of Thursday, more than 640 people had signed the petition in support of turning four Montgomery County-owned lots off Wisconsin Avenue into new green space.

The petition is being circulated by the Coalition of Bethesda Area Residents and has the attention of county leaders. At a briefing with reporters last week, Montgomery County Council President Roger Berliner indicated that he was supportive of the group’s proposal and said the council would be discussing it.

“We own these surface parking lots. Do I think they are a prime candidate for parks? I do,” said Berliner.

“It is hard to get parks in downtown Bethesda. Where do you have the opportunity?” he asked. “This will be a serious conversation, and I am predisposed.”

But the proposal could make parking even more difficult in an area that already sees a lot of traffic.

It would turn 500 parking spots into about five acres of green space, although county officials say the spots might not be lost entirely. There is the possibility of moving parking underground or relocating it to another area, officials say.

Berliner sent a letter to the county’s transportation director to evaluate the area’s parking needs.

“You need to get your mind around, ‘how many parking spaces do we need?'” said Berliner, who expressed interest in having businesses and members of the community near new “wonderful parkland.”

The petition calls outdoor recreational space “necessary” as thousands of new residents and office workers move to the area in the coming years.

“These lots — two near East Bethesda and two adjacent to the Farm Women’s Market — should continue to serve the public by remaining open spaces,” the petition states.

“The alternative is that these lots will be sold for new building development. Our Montgomery County Council and Executive must ensure green open space in downtown Bethesda for generations to come by establishing parks on the land it already owns.”

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Nick Iannelli

Nick Iannelli can be heard covering developing and breaking news stories on WTOP.

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