County Planning Board Will Decide Soon on Marriott Headquarters Project

Officials are scheduled to review proposal Thursday


Published:

Rendering of the Marriott headquarters street frontage along the Wisconsin Avenue.

Via Gensler

County planners are recommending approval of the downtown Bethesda project to build a $600 million corporate campus for Marriott International.

Rising about 300 feet off the ground, the hospitality giant’s headquarters will be the county’s tallest building to date and will “be an iconic architectural feature, providing a new identity for the urban transformation in Montgomery County,” a planning staff report stated.

The office tower of up to 825,000 square feet will stand next to a roughly 246-room flagship hotel. A plaza connecting Woodmont and Wisconsin avenues will run between the two buildings.

The Montgomery County Planning Board on Thursday will consider the staff’s recommendation to give the project the go-ahead.

As of Dec. 1, the planning department hadn’t yet received public comments about the Marriott project. On Tuesday, a Bethesda community organization sent officials a letter that welcomed Marriott to the neighborhood, but listed several areas of concern.

Construction traffic and the subsequent arrival of thousands of Marriott employees will exacerbate congestion in the downtown area. Members of the East Bethesda Citizens Association called on the project team to work toward reducing reliance on car travel in downtown Bethesda and release information about progress on this goal.

“Probably our biggest concern is during the construction phase and what’s going to happen just as far as traffic getting in and out of our neighborhood,” said EBCA member Dorian Patchin, who lives near the project site.

But Patchin said that overall, he’s excited about the new energy the headquarters development will bring to the neighborhood.

Marriott in January announced its plans to establish its corporate base in downtown Bethesda, on a collection of properties near Woodmont Triangle.

Bernstein Companies and Boston Properties, the developers, have spent recent months refining the project plan and presenting it to community members. The development team submitted three required documents—sketch, preliminary and site plans—simultaneously to expedite the approval process, and the planning board is preparing to review them at the same time.

Marriott plans to move its 3,500 corporate employees from its existing headquarters on Fernwood Road in Bethesda to the new company campus in July 2022. The hotel should get up and running by October 2021.

For their plans, the developers will have to increase the square footage allowed on the project site. They’ll do this by buying square footage rights from the county through a new program aimed at generating funding for creating new parks in downtown Bethesda. Under this program, the Marriott project could generate $5.59 million for the parks fund, according to the county’s planning staff.

However, the Marriott campus itself won’t provide much open, green space for the community, the ECBA letter stated.

“Given the limited on-site public green space, we believe that Marriott, Park and Planning, the (County) Council, and the community should work together to ensure one of the newly designated park areas nearby is actually implemented in a timely manner concurrent with the completion of the project,” the letter stated.

George Dove, who sits on a design advisory panel that looked at the Marriott plan, said project planners have been thoughtful about the visual statement the new headquarters will make. Instead of creating a pair of box-like buildings, they’ve gotten creative with building geometry and façade design, he said. The landscaping plan for the corridor between the two buildings also will benefit the community, he said.

“The main thing that sets it apart is the through-block connector that functions as a central public space” that enlivens the distance between Wisconsin Avenue and Woodmont, said Dove, managing principal at the D.C. architectural firm behind the Metropolitan high-rise in Bethesda.

Bethany Rodgers can be reached at bethany.rodgers@bethesdamagazine.com.

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