Bethesda Fire Department, Rescue Squad Look At Redeveloping Station Properties
The Bethesda Fire Department and the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Rescue Squad are sitting on gold mines of downtown Bethesda real estate. That has leaders of both organizations looking into redeveloping their sites, which are each valued at more than $6 million. The Bethesda-Chevy Chase Rescue Squad has put in a request to change the zoning of its station property at 5020 Battery Lane from residential to Transit Station. That would allow for mixed-use redevelopment. On Bradley Lane and Wisconsin Avenue, the Bethesda Fire Department wants to rebuild its 43-year-old Fire Station #6. Department Board member Nat Finkelstein said the group is exploring the idea of getting a developer to build a modern fire station, combined with residential or retail uses on-site. "No decisions have been made," Finkelstein said. "Nothing would be done with the fire station without the full briefing and agreement of the Montgomery County government. We're not just going to go in and take down the fire station and build a new one." According to sources, the Rescue Squad recently asked leaders in some Chevy Chase municipalities for their support of the zoning text amendment that would allow more density at its Battery Lane property. Rescue Squad President Brooke Davies could not be reached for comment. Davies lives in the Town of Chevy Chase and her father, Grant Davies, serves on the Board of the Fire Department. Grant Davies is also running for Town Council. Facing a $200,000 operating deficit, Brooke Davies went to the Chevy Chase municipalities last year in search of $230,000 to purchase a new ambulance. The Rescue Squad is a group of predominantly volunteer firefighter/EMTs mixed in with professional Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Services personnel. The paramedics at the station service emergency calls throughout lower Montgomery County and parts of Northwest D.C. Rescue Squad volunteers go on a door-knocking fundraising campaign every year. But the organization recently lost a major donor, the Healthcare Initiative Foundation, and has refused grants from Montgomery County because of its opposition to the county's ambulance fee. It does not receive a regular appropriated budget from any government. Its Battery Lane property is 116,000 square feet. It's home to a station built in 1976 that includes garages for ambulances, a ballroom for hosting events and a large parking lot with access to Battery Lane and Old Georgetown Road. Finkelstein said it's not uncommon for volunteer fire departments to seek partnerships with developers in order to rebuild aging fire stations. The Bethesda Fire Department no longer supplies volunteer firefighters. The fire and rescue service out of Fire Station #6 comes from professional employees of the MCFRS. 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. Part of the discussion, which started about 18 months ago, involves a vacant section of grass on the west side of the property. "It's just sitting idle," Finkelstein said. A source said the Fire Department met with prominent Bethesda land use attorney Robert Brewer regarding the idea of redeveloping the site. Finkelstein emphasized that any redevelopment would be done with the needs of MCFRS in mind.