Parking Lot To Replace Razed Bethesda Building That Formerly Held Red Tomato Café

Property owner said 10 private spaces will be leased to surrounding businesses


Published:

Owners of the property where the Red Tomato Restaurant once stood are planning to build a private parking lot at the site.

Via Bethany Rodgers

Plans have fallen through for constructing a new retail and office building where Red Tomato Café once stood, and the property owner is instead looking at putting a parking lot on the downtown Bethesda site.

Richard Greenberg of Greenhill Cos. on Tuesday said complications with the county permitting process derailed the project to build a two-story, 2,400-square-foot structure on the St. Elmo Avenue property.

The Bethesda real estate developer’s new plan is to open a private lot of about 10 spaces that it will lease to nearby businesses, said Greenberg, who blamed county officials for the change in direction.

“Instead of getting a brand-new, beautiful building that would’ve contributed to the neighborhood, instead they’re going to get a surface parking lot,” he said.

The county’s director of permitting services, Diane Schwartz Jones, said the trouble arose because the property owner submitted the wrong type of application, requesting an alteration permit rather than a demolition permit.

The majority of the building that formerly held the Red Tomato was leveled in late 2016, Greenberg said. Based on past experience, Greenberg said his company thought as long as one wall was left standing, the county would consider the project a renovation and subject it to a less-stringent set of regulations. He said the demolition crews did keep one wall.

However, Jones said a county inspector, who was responding to a complaint lodged by the developers' architect against a neighboring property, found that less than half a wall remained on the site and that the utilities had been cut off.

“This clearly would’ve been a demolition permit if it had been properly submitted,” she said.

Greenberg noted that the county issued the permits and finalized them after inspecting the demolition in early December. Then, in early January, the county sent the architect a letter stating that the permits had been filed incorrectly and instructing him to submit new ones.

The county's request to correct the permitting discrepancy would’ve involved complying with sediment control regulations. Greenberg said the additional requirements would’ve added between $100,000 and $150,000 to the project cost, killing its financial feasibility.

He said two potential tenants had already indicated interest in the future building, and a new restaurant probably would’ve occupied the ground floor.

His company expects to have the parking lot complete by mid-July, he said.

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