SILVER SPRING, MD – At a hearing in early June, the Planning Board will consider an application to replace the three-story food court at the Bethesda Metro Center with a 16-story office building with ground-level retail and restaurants. Planning staff have recommended approval of a project plan for the new building, proposed for Old Georgetown Road and Wisconsin Avenue in downtown Bethesda, with a host of conditions.
Located at the Red Line Metro station, Four Bethesda Metro Center would enhance the look of Bethesda’s downtown, from its skyline to the pedestrian view.
The new proposal aims to revitalize an existing, poorly used plaza. The building’s ground floor would house retail and restaurants and provide a focal point for people exiting the Metro and pedestrians along busy Wisconsin Avenue. Four Bethesda Metro developers propose to renovate the plaza and an underground Metro bus area and build family-friendly features such as public art, water features, landscaping and a covered performance stage.
Another public improvement would be a pedestrian link to Bethesda Row restaurants and bars and the popular Capital Crescent Trail, with interpretive signage, via the Discovery Trail. Planners say the Discovery Trail, blocked by the food court, challenges pedestrians trying to find their way through downtown Bethesda. The developers also propose to enhance lighting and signage for Metro riders.
The proposal has drawn support from area residents, including members of the Montgomery chapter of the Sierra Club, who praise the plan for stimulating jobs in offices a few steps from the Metro entrance and discouraging automobile use.
The proposed building would join other high-rises on the property, including the 16-story Clark Building and 3 Bethesda Metro Center, which is 15 stories. Representatives from neighboring buildings have questioned the proposal, including building height, density and whether it conforms with the Bethesda Central Business District Sector Plan adopted by the County Council in 1994.
Analyzing the master plan, planners concluded that it and the zoning ordinance permit the proposed density. Moreover, the building application comes with a significant list of improvements to the surrounding downtown that planners say carry an enormous benefit for Bethesda and the region. The proposed building would replace an area planners describe as under-used, with little aesthetic or functional value – even though it was originally intended to be a bustling, retail-oriented hub for the central business district.
In preparing their recommendations, planners cited a number of sections in the sector plan they say support a vision for a diverse and lively downtown, urban buildings with high densities, vibrant public spaces and new jobs. They also point out that community plans provide a framework but do not bind future Planning Board decisions unless they cite a specific ordinance.
Planners recommend that the board limit the development to just over 235,000 square feet – roughly 11,000 square feet less than requested – improve the intersection of East-West Highway and Wisconsin Avenue as well as other area transportation fixes, and provide at least 39 percent of the lot area for public space through a plaza and other features to be reviewed at the next stage. If the developers receive board approval, they would need to submit a site plan amendment detailing the proposed architecture and building materials, landscaping and how the building would be integrated into the surrounding area.
Montgomery County Planning Board
Four Bethesda Metro proposal
Thursday, June 12, approximately 2 p.m.
Park and Planning Headquarters
8787 Georgia Ave.
Silver Spring, MD