County Planning Department Shows Scale of Potential Development in Downtown Bethesda

Department created images showing potential building heights along Bethesda’s Wisconsin Avenue core


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New images from the Montgomery County Planning Department show the potential scope of development along a short stretch of Wisconsin Avenue in Bethesda near the Bethesda Metro station.

Planners working on the Bethesda Downtown Plan, the sector plan that will prescribe building height and density guidelines for the next 20 to 25 years, revealed the images Monday during a Planning Board work session.

Images via Montgomery County Planning Department

As proposed by Planning Department staff, the sector plan would allow for 290-foot buildings at the Bethesda Metro Plaza and at the nearby 7600 Wisconsin Ave. property.

The 290-foot building height would allow 3 Bethesda Metro owner Brookfield to build a new tower on the plaza, a proposal that next-door neighbor Clark Enterprises (which is headquartered in a 200-foot-tall building) is fighting.

Planners would allow buildings up to 250 feet tall on either side of Norfolk Avenue as it intersects with Wisconsin Avenue, with a civic green sandwiched in between.

The Bernstein Cos., which has long planned to build a Westin hotel and office building at 7720 Wisconsin Ave., is requesting 250-foot heights, taller than the 175 feet recommended by planners in that spot.

The last two Planning Board work sessions on the plan, including the one Monday night, have included a property-by-property examination of the zoning recommended by planners and zoning requested by property owners.

Dozens of property owners have requested more density, more height, more of both or a different allocation of density than what planners recommended. Planners’ recommendations call for the potential of an overall 20 percent increase in density and 4,000 additional rental units in the downtown area.

The Planning Board has made its recommendations for properties in and around Bethesda Row, Woodmont Triangle and the “Pearl District,” which planners envision around Pearl Street near Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School.

In most cases, the Planning Board has agreed with the recommendations of Planning Department staff, though Planning Board Commissioner Norman Dreyfuss has frequently argued the plan should afford more density than recommended to make development financially feasible.

Greenhill Capital, which owns a number of properties along Cordell and St. Elmo avenues in Woodmont Triangle, was one property owner that won taller building height allowances than planners recommended.

The 10 properties that are part of Greenhill Capital’s portfolio were recommended for a maximum building height of 175 feet, but Planning Board members agreed to bump up the height limit to 225 feet.

The next work session on the plan is Oct. 29.

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