Next Bethesda Downtown Meeting Could Include Decisions on Fire Station Redevelopment, Battery Lane Urban Park

Planning Board will continue property-by-property look at recommendations for new zoning, building heights


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Planners recommended extending Norfolk Avenue if Battery Lane Urban Park is expanded

Via Montgomery County Planning Department

Updated at 3:55 p.m. - The Montgomery County Planning Board Tuesday may address two of the Bethesda Downtown plan issues that have garnered the most reaction from the public.

The Planning Board will hold a two-hour work session starting at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, its sixth such session on the sector plan for downtown Bethesda and one that, time permitting, could include decisions that influence the futures of Bethesda Fire Station 6 and Battery Lane Urban Park.

The Bethesda Fire Department, the nonprofit organization that owns the Fire Station 6 property, is seeking new zoning with an eye toward developing a mixed-use commercial-residential building at the corner of Bradley Boulevard and Wisconsin Avenue that could help fund a new station on the ground floor.

Some residents in the neighborhood to the south of the station and others have opposed a mixed-use mid-rise or high-rise building on the spot since it was first suggested.

Planning Department staff recommended rezoning the site to allow for a mixed-use commercial-residential building of up to 70 feet tall. The Bethesda Fire Department is requesting that the five-member Planning Board up the allowable height to 80 feet with more density than recommended by planners.

The Planning Board could also discuss the future of Battery Lane Urban Park on Tuesday.

More than 400 residents, most on Battery Lane, signed a petition protesting a planning staff proposal to extend Norfolk Avenue through the park to provide better connectivity in Woodmont Triangle. While planners have emphasized the two-lane road would be considered only as part of a wider park expansion, residents have maintained their stance that the road extension would detract from the park.

Planners and the Planning Board on Tuesday may also discuss how much more density can be allowed in the plan without having to reevaluate intersection congestion projections.

In their Staff Draft of the plan, planners recommended new zoning that would allow a roughly 20 percent increase in density in downtown Bethesda compared to what was allowed in the 1994 sector plan, the last master plan for the area.

In the Planning Board’s four previous work sessions, which have consisted of a property-by-property comparison of what planners suggested and what property owners want, the Planning Board has added a net total of 730,000 square feet of density above what planners recommended.

Via Montgomery County Planning Department

“If the revised land use density exceeds the anticipated transportation capacity, we will determine that the plan is 'out of balance' and may need to identify intersection improvements to improve vehicular travel (there are currently no vehicular intersection improvements recommended in the Plan),” planners wrote in a packet of information for Tuesday’s work session.

Planners also said that if the revised land use density “is too far off from the land use density evaluated in the Staff Draft,” concepts such as converting one-way streets to two-way and adding bicycle lanes may no longer be possible because of added congestion.

The Planning Board is set to host three more work sessions on the plan before voting on the entire plan and sending it to the County Council on Feb. 25.

The work session set for Jan. 7 will focus on the final building density and height numbers and the density transfer process. The work session scheduled for Jan. 21 will focus on parks and open space recommendations and the work session set for Feb. 4 will look at any outstanding issues and minor edits.

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