Planners Provide More Info on Open Space Fund for Downtown Bethesda

The fund, which developers would contribute to, could help the county acquire land for a large park or public amenity


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An example of a pocket park at the Gallery Bethesda apartment building.

Hillary Klemmt

One of the common complaints about downtown Bethesda is the absence of a signature park.

Sure, Veteran’s Park in Woodmont Triangle is popular, and crowds gather at the fountain near Barnes & Noble on Bethesda Row, but the lack of green space in the downtown district has locals clamoring for new gathering places.

The sentiment was echoed by Montgomery Planning Director Gwen Wright, who was a guest Thursday on The Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU.

“Creating great urban spaces is an art, not a science,” Wright said, pointing to the small parks that have become successful in Bethesda. “We’re looking at all the ways we can to create those kinds of spaces.”

One of the problems, say planners working on the downtown plan, is that developers are required to install a public amenity with each project. This results in pocket parks dotting the city, such as the sculpture garden near Gallery Bethesda and the new sitting area next to Bainbridge Bethesda, rather than large open space amenities.

To deal with this problem, planners are considering a public amenity fund that developers could contribute to, rather than constructing project-specific public space. Wright said this would allow for “the acquisition of larger public spaces in the future.”

Planners, who discussed their work on the sector plan with Bethesda Beat last month, said the previous sector plan focused on green space as a buffer to separate residential neighborhoods from the downtown district. Now planners are trying to bring that space into the city.

“Bethesda really is looking for well thought out amenities,” said Marc DeOcampo, the master planning supervisor for the Montgomery County Planning Department.

One plan they detailed included expanding or adding parks at the intersections of major pedestrian thoroughfares. Those intersections were identified as where Woodmont Avenue meets Bethesda Avenue (the current location of the Barnes & Noble park), where Norfolk and Woodmont avenues meet in Woodmont Triangle (the site of Veteran’s Park), and also where Bethesda Avenue meets Wisconsin Avenue.

The circles indicate the intersections of primary pedestrian thoroughfares where planners are interested in expanding or creating parks.

Wright Says Affordable Housing to be “Major Thrust” of Plan

Wright also addressed the issue of affordable housing downtown after a 22-year-old caller said she’d love to move to Bethesda, but can’t afford it.

“One of the things we hope to look at in the Bethesda plan is to increase the supply of affordable housing,” Wright said.

She said planners are examining the county’s current regulations, which mandate that 12.5 percent of the units at new projects be moderately priced and also how to preserve the existing affordable units in the downtown area.

“We want a mix of incomes and people,” Wright said. “That’s going to be a major thrust of the plan.”

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