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Bethesda Downtown Plan approved by Montgomery County Council

For Immediate Release: Thursday, May 25, 2017

Montgomery County Council approves
Bethesda Downtown Sector Plan

ROCKVILLE, Md., May 25, 2017—The Montgomery County Council today approved the Bethesda Downtown Sector Plan that will guide commercial and residential redevelopment in the County’s central business area over the next two decades. The plan is unique in recommending increased heights while requiring that increases in density be allocated through a process prescribed in the Bethesda Overlay Zone. The plan also seeks to protect nearby existing residential neighborhoods from being overwhelmed by tall structures. It also provides opportunities for new parks and open space and expands the County’s affordable housing inventory.


The plan was approved by a vote of 8-1. Council President Roger Berliner, Vice President Hans Riemer and Councilmembers Nancy Floreen, Tom Hucker, Sidney Katz, George Leventhal, Nancy Navarro and Craig Rice voted to approve the plan. Councilmember Marc Elrich was opposed.


The approved sector plan amends the approved 1994 Bethesda Central Business District Sector Plan and the 2006 Woodmont Triangle Amendment to that sector plan.


Details of the plan can be found at http://tinyurl.com/mq2vat7 .


In considering a plan recommended by the Montgomery County Planning Board, the Council reduced the recommended height limits near existing neighborhoods, particularly on the east side of Wisconsin Avenue. The plan allows for the new world headquarters of Marriott International, which will be relocating to Downtown Bethesda from its long-time presence in an office park in another area of Bethesda. The plan requires new development to include at least 15 percent Moderately Priced Dwelling Units (MPDUs).


The Council sought to concentrate increased building heights near the Bethesda Metro Station. It also wanted to ensure that the park and open space elements of the plan are implemented through the recommendation that a park impact fund possibly be created. The plan recommends that four County-owned surface parking lots be converted to parkland or neighborhood greens. To attain this goal, the plan recommends exploration and alternative financing mechanisms. It also states that the parking needs of neighborhood businesses that currently rely on those lots be addressed and parking be replaced where necessary.


The plan recommends the creation of a Bethesda Overlay Zone that will require increased affordable housing, provide new incentives to retain existing affordable housing, require additional design reviews and provide for contributions to fund the acquisition and development of new parks.


The plan sets a cap on development to ensure that the total density in the plan area—including existing buildings and approved and new development—does not exceed 32.4 million square feet of gross floor area. The heights recommended by the plan would allow significantly more development than 32.4 million square feet, meaning some properties will be unable to develop to the full amount that may have been allowed by their assigned maximum heights.


The plan recommends a new strategy to encourage the preservation of market-rate affordable housing units by offering “public benefit points” to developers in exchange for a specified amount of preservation of rent-restricted units in existing and/or replacement units within the sector plan.


The plan recommends incentives to developers to provide 25 percent or more MPDUs. It increases the minimum MPDU requirement from 12.5 percent of units in new development to 15 percent MPDUs for all residential optional method projects. In the South Bethesda and Battery Lane districts, preservation of market-rate affordable housing and/or additional MPDUs beyond 15 percent is the top priority for public benefit points.


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Release ID: 17-183
Media Contact: Neil Greenberger 2407777939