Report: Bethesda Could Face Parking Deficits if Downtown Area Were Built to Legal Limit

Projected shortages could complicate parking lot-to-parks plan


Published:

Bethesda Parking Lot District

VIA MONTGOMERY COUNTY GOVERNMENT

Downtown Bethesda could suffer parking space shortages in the hundreds or even thousands if the area’s development reaches its legal limit, a county consultant concluded.

The October report estimated that if the downtown were built to 32.4 million square feet, county-owned parking capacity would fall short of meeting peak demand by 2,672 to 3,367 spaces.

Factoring in private parking available to the public eases the deficits, but the shortage still ranges between 120 and 815 spaces, according to the report conducted for the Montgomery County Department of Transportation.

These scenarios assumed the loss of 489 parking spaces from converting four county-owned lots to parks, an idea that has gained support among community members longing for more green space.

Bethesda neighborhood advocate Katya Marin acknowledged that the consultant’s parking study could create challenges for the parking-to-parks proposal.

“But I don’t think this necessarily rules it out. I hope that it will mean being creative with the Circulator, for example, and some other ways to get around,” Marin said, referring to a free public bus network.

Council member Hans Riemer, a leading proponent of turning parking lots into parks, said he doesn’t believe the report spells defeat for the plan. It does mean that the county will have to invest in alternative facilities, he said.

“I’m still analyzing the study, but my initial conclusion is that we will have to replace at least a large portion of the parking underground to convert the lots to parks,” he wrote in a message to the Bethesda Beat.

Building parking underneath the park sites is possible, but it would be costly, said Chris Conklin, MCDOT deputy director for transportation policy. Each underground space costs upwards of $70,000, he said.

The report looked at current parking demand and considered the impact of 4.6 million square feet of proposed development now going through the county review process. On the list are projects to build the new Marriott International headquarters, replace the Apex building at 7272 Wisconsin Ave. and redevelop a row of buildings around the former Fitness First gym at 7900 Wisconsin Ave.

When Marriott moves into its new corporate offices, it also will get exclusive access to the 1,100-space public garage on Woodmont Avenue during normal business hours.

Still, under that scenario, the downtown area would have an overall surplus in parking, between county-owned and private facilities. Northwest and northeast Bethesda still could face shortages during the busiest hours, according to the report.

Conklin said the projected parking deficits based on county supply alone and the estimates that include private parking spaces are significant. The county has full control over its own facilities, but pricing and public availability of private garages are up to the owner, he said.

Another part of the consultant's report estimated the impact of future development allowed under the Bethesda Downtown Sector Plan, a 20-year growth strategy the County Council approved this year.

Consultants anticipated that residential and hotel projects would provide on-site private parking that would meet their needs, while retail and restaurant developments would depend on public parking. The office projects would build some of their own parking, but also rely on some public facilities, according to the report.

The report looks at three scenarios, each with a different balance of office, retail, residential, restaurant and hotel development.

It also estimates the impact of making parks out of lots 25 and 44—on Highland Avenue and West Virginia Avenue, respectively—and lots 10 and 24 on Leland Street. Combined, these lots could furnish the community with about 5 acres of new parkland.

Conklin said the report illuminates potential challenges for the park space proposal.

"It exacerbates the parking deficit that's shown here, unless it's replaced. And replacing the parking will be expensive," he said.

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

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