Bethesda Metro Center Developer Lays Out Two Scenarios for Plaza Project

One option calls for up to 600 residential units, while the other provides office space


Published:

A rendering of a development planned at Bethesda Metro Center Plaza.

BROOKFIELD PROPERTY PARTNERS

Updated 10 a.m. Tuesday: Initial versions of development plans for Bethesda Metro Center Plaza show a proposed 500,000-square-foot high-rise could supply up to 600 new residential units.

Or, it could generate none at all.

In a sketch plan made public last week, Brookfield Property Partners laid out two difference scenarios for the project at 4 Bethesda Metro Center. The first would involve devoting the building to retail and office space, while the second would call for a mix of retail and 465,000 square feet of residential space.

Brookfield wants to keep both options on the table as the project moves forward so the developer has flexibility to “respond to changes in market demands,” states the sketch plan application.

The site’s zoning would allow a building of up to 290 feet, and Brookfield said it will be a “signature” structure greeting Metro riders as they arrive in Bethesda. The proposal aims to energize the Metro plaza, an area that has remained relatively lifeless despite a number of attempts to stimulate activity.

The redesigned public space would include a plaza along Wisconsin Avenue, a central lawn where people could gather for concerts or to watch outdoor movie screenings, a retail promenade, a gallery with quiet seating spaces and “activity zones” that would feature art installations.

Proposed arrangement of open space around 4 Bethesda Metro project. Via Brookfield Property Partners

To make way for the new building, the developer’s plan is to tear down a former cafeteria space, a three-story appendage to 3 Bethesda Metro Center. Brookfield also intends to renovate the Metro bus bays near the site.

Brookfield bought 3 Bethesda Metro Center in 2011 and later pitched the idea of constructing another building next door. Clark Enterprises, which has a building overlooking the plaza, has long differed with Brookfield over the arrangement of open space at the site.

Bob Eisenberg, vice president for Clark Enterprises, said Brookfield's current plan would trap much of the open space inside a ring of buildings, out of view of passersby.

"You won't see this space at all. This is not going to serve the greater public good. This is going to be like a private courtyard," Eisenberg said.

Clark Enterprises has tasked an architectural firm with developing an alternative design for the open space, and under its model, the central lawn and plaza would face Wisconsin Avenue, he said. The plan would still allow Brookfield to build a new high-rise, although the structure's size would be reduced to about 300,000 square feet, Eisenberg added.

The proposal also involves enhancing the bus bay below the plaza, he said.

The available gathering space at the Bethesda Metro station is a precious commodity in the downtown area, and Eisenberg said it's important to make the most of it.

An image of Clark Enterprises' proposed layout for open space and a new building at the Bethesda Metro Center Plaza. Credit: Clark Enterprises and Sasaki Associates.

Amanda Farber, a Bethesda community advocate, said it makes sense to put intense development on the site located above the Metro station. However, she said reinventing the plaza as a meaningful community space will be no small task.

“Urban public space works best when there is visibility, accessibility and natural foot traffic. This space is more of a hidden complicated cul-de-sac,” she wrote in an email. “It doesn’t have the human scale that other successful public spaces have—like Bethesda Row or Veterans Park. It will take a lot to really make the public space work in the long term.”

County planners and the Montgomery County Planning Board will now review the sketch plan application.

This story was updated to add comments from Bob Eisenberg and clarify Clark Enterprises' position.

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

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