Planning Board To Consider Ourisman’s Proposed Capital Crescent Trail Improvements in Garage Dispute

Car dealership trying to cement deal with Montgomery County so it can keep a parking garage expansion partly built in the trail easement


The Ourisman Honda garage expansion in Bethesda from over the winter. Since this photo was taken Ourisman removed the two cement walls pictured here.

Andrew Metcalf

The Montgomery County Planning Board will weigh in this week on Ourisman Honda’s proposal to build a plaza and expand the Capital Crescent Trail next to its Bethesda property, which was offered as a solution to its dispute with the county over its garage expansion that encroached into the trail right-of-way.

The proposed trail improvements, if accepted by the county, would allow the company to keep the steel-frame garage, which is largely built near where the trail meets Bethesda Row. The board is scheduled to review Ourisman’s improvement plan at 6:35 p.m. Thursday at the board’s 8787 Georgia Ave. headquarters in Silver Spring. Planning Board Chair Casey Anderson said Monday the public will have the opportunity to weigh in on the proposal during the meeting.

The board is expected to review the proposal, provide input and make recommendations. The proposal then will go to the County Council, which will be responsible for ultimately approving it, according to Diane Schwartz Jones, director of the county’s Department of Permitting Services.

Residents have questioned why the county allowed Ourisman to build so much of the structure before stopping construction in November, a month after a resident first filed a complaint with the county about how close to the trail the garage was being constructed. Board documents note the steel columns supporting the garage expansion stand about 10 feet inside the county’s side of a joint-access easement shared by dealership and the county.

The location of the steel columns in the county's 10-foot-wide easement (Parcel B). Image via Planning Board

At a public meeting in May several residents expressed their frustration that the county didn’t force Ourisman to provide greater benefits in exchange for not having to remove the garage from the trail easement. At the time, Chris Ourisman, son of company President John Ourisman, said the dealership wants to create something Bethesda can be proud of and would have pitched its plan first had the company “had the opportunity of hindsight.”

Schwartz Jones said Monday that Ourisman estimated its improvement plan would cost the company in excess of $1 million.

The improvements under review include building a new 2,200-square-foot public plaza next to where the trail meets Bethesda Avenue, widening the trail from 14 feet to 16 feet and adding 3-foot-wide shoulder buffers on both sides of the paved trail next to the dealership. The dealership also has proposed adding new landscaping in the area and a metal screen to the garage to make it more visibly appealing. To make way for the plaza, Ourisman would shift the dealership entrance on Bethesda Avenueeastward away from the trail.

A rendering showing the proposed trail improvements and new plaza. Via Planning Board

How a steel mesh screen may look on the garage. Photo via Ourisman presentation in May.

Part of the improvement plan would also push back an existing seating area next to the Lot 31 development to allow for a wider trail.

Schwartz Jones, who helped negotiate the deal for the county, said if the county doesn’t accept Ourisman’s proposal, then a lawsuit would likely result to settle the dispute. The lawsuit would focus on who exactly owns the land in dispute and would center on titles created in the 1980s, she said. Ourisman bought its property in 1986 while the county purchased the trail right-of-way from CSX in 1988.

“I think it has the potential to be a good deal for the county,” Schwartz Jones said of the dealership’s proposal. “The alternative would be we spend a very long time arguing about the quality of our respective titles.” She added the lawsuit would likely be “expensive, lengthy litigation.”

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