Groups Representing 10,000 Bethesda-Area Homes Co-Sign Letter Objecting to Aspects of Downtown Plan

Letter offers County Council members recommendations to limit school overcrowding, congestion


Cover page of the Bethesda Downtown Plan

Via Montgomery County Planning Board

A coalition of community groups and mayors representing 10,000 Bethesda-area homes have co-authored a letter documenting perceived flaws in the proposed Bethesda Downtown Plan and offering a range of possible solutions.

The 10-page letter addressed to Montgomery County Council President Roger Berliner details concerns about the school overcrowding, neighborhood disruption and traffic congestion that could result from the plan, a visioning document intended to guide downtown development in coming decades. The message organized by the Coalition of Bethesda Area Residents also suggests ways of avoiding these problems.

“We’re not saying, ‘No,’ ” CBAR founder Mary Flynn said. “We tried very hard to be constructive, to be reasonable. What we’re trying to do is make sure that the community well-being and welfare is incorporated into the plan.”

The 168-page plan addresses a wide sweep of land use guidelines like building heights, the location of parks and transportation infrastructure. The first county council committee work session on the plan is scheduled for Monday.

The viewpoints described in the letter to Berliner reflected the consensus of more than a dozen community groups along with municipal officials including Chevy Chase Mayor Scott Fosler and Somerset Mayor Jeffrey Slavin. The organizers also secured an endorsement from life members of the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Rescue Squad.

Coalition members held numerous meetings to hammer out their differences and arrive at a common perspective on the downtown plan, said Flynn, who’s also a council member for the Town of Chevy Chase.

The groups are advocating for: Phasing in development over time and conducting periodic assessments of the community impact, focusing tall structures near transportation hubs and limiting building height near existing homes, converting county-owned surface parking lots into parks, using updated school enrollment projections and rejecting mixed-use zoning for fire and rescue facilities.

“We are confident that with these changes, the Plan will achieve its stated goal of a vibrant, diverse and economically thriving Bethesda, providing enhanced quality of life for current and future residents throughout the area,” the letter stated.

Berliner on Wednesday said he shared some of the overarching concerns expressed by the Bethesda groups and predicted the council will change the plan version approved by the Montgomery County Planning Board. For example, it’s crucial to achieve smooth transitions between downtown areas with tall buildings and residential neighborhoods, he said. 

“It does call on us to be more sensitive than I believe the planning board was to getting the edges right,” he said.

Flynn hand-delivered the letter and an attached spreadsheet with listed recommendations to council members and the county executive Tuesday afternoon. She said her group now intends to hold one-on-one meetings with council members.

CBAR sent a revised copy of the letter on Wednesday evening. The attached letter reflects the updates.

Cbar - Bdp Joint Letter to Council - Corrected by Bethany Rodgers on Scribd

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