Montgomery Parks Envisions More Open, Accessible Downtown Bethesda Park

Caroline Freeland Urban Park renovation project estimated to cost $3.8 million


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Montgomery Parks facility plan for renovations to Caroline Freeland Urban Park along Arlington Road in Bethesda. Credit: Montgomery Parks

Montgomery Parks officials will pitch a revamped Caroline Freeland Urban Park with an open lawn, wall of boulders and pedestrian promenade to the county Planning Board next week.

Parks department planners have been working on a facility plan for the 1-acre downtown Bethesda park since late 2013.

The park, along Arlington Road near the Bethesda Library and a Giant grocery store, was built to provide a buffer between the commercial development of downtown Bethesda to the east and the Edgemoor neighborhood of single-family homes to the west.

It now includes a playground and some seating areas.

Lucas Bonney, a landscape architect managing the project for Montgomery Parks, said officials wanted to maintain the park’s identify as a buffer area while also making it more inviting for those who live and work in the central business district.

“The area’s in such a vibrant location. But we also really want to respect the adjacent residences,” Bonney said Tuesday. “We’re really trying to maintain that original function but also trying to respond to some of the urban activities that are really required of a downtown area.”

The proposed $3.8 million project will go before the county Planning Board for review next week. If approved, it’ll be in the mix for detailed design and construction funding in the county’s next capital budget, which covers fiscal years 2017-2022.

To make the park more accessible, the parks department wants to remove several evergreen trees that block views into the space. In their place will go a small, but more noticeable flat and green lawn that can be used for picnics and informal events.

Parks planners originally proposed building a stage for performances along the Hamden Lane side of the park. But Bonney said they ditched that idea after realizing the stage would be very close to the quiet reading room of the adjacent Bethesda Library.

“We learned a lot through the process,” Bonney said. “But we think that with the lawn, you can still adapt it to a lot of exciting uses.”

Other new features would include what the parks department is calling “The Rockery,” a retaining wall to be made out of boulders that would provide a seating area and make the park’s grade change less noticeable.

More seating, including moveable seating, would be added to the tree-filled area at the south end of the park. Bonney said a main entry with steps at the corner of Arlington Road and Elm Street would make the park more noticeable to those on the east side of Arlington Road.

The parks department would provide a new sidewalk along Arlington Road and new pavement types throughout the park.

The existing playground would remain and could be slightly expanded. Bonney said the department also wants to add vegetation to the western edge of the park to provide a thicker buffer for the single-family homes next-door.

Here is a list of features proposed for the renovated park, provided by Montgomery Parks:

Park entrances - Provide fully accessible park entrances at all four corners of the park. Transform the main entrance from the Downtown Bethesda central business district into a welcoming urban gateway and meeting place. Stone steps, seat walls, and broad terraces at this corner entrance will provide a flexible spot for patrons to sit, interact and enjoy the urban setting.

Arlington Road streetscape – Enhance the safety and experience of the perimeter streetscapes of Arlington Road and Elm Street, complying with Bethesda Streetscape Standards.

Hampden Lane promenade – Transform Hampden Lane into a pedestrian-oriented plaza space that maintains required emergency vehicle access. This paved flexible area also has the potential to accommodate future community activities and use.

Residential buffer – Improve the vegetative buffer along the residential edge, while ensuring visibility for policing needs.

Main lawn – Provide a flat, multi-purpose and functional open space that is community oriented and establishes a clear focal point for activities within the park. By situating this multi-purpose open space adjacent to the moveable seating area in The Grove to the south, park patrons will be presented with more options to enjoy the park.

The Grove – Preserve and enhance the existing tree canopy and shaded areas of the park, while integrating seating for enhanced interest. Movable seating elements will be introduced to maximize interactions among visitors.

The Rockery – Provide a unique park feature that unifies park spaces and provides an indelible memory for residents and visitors alike. This sinuous line of boulders will function as a retaining wall, an alternative seating type, and an integrated backdrop for the re-located sculpture.

The playground – Expand the fenced-in play area to provide play opportunities for multiple age groups and enhance the uniqueness of play elements for sustained interest.

Site lighting – Provide improved lighting for safe passage through the park at night.

Stormwater management – Treat stormwater runoff using micro-bioretention and rain garden applications.

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