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County approves new Bethesda sector plan

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After months of meticulously combing through each block of the County’s economic hub, the Montgomery County Council passed the Bethesda Downtown Sector Plan May 25 to allow for more growth in Bethesda.

The new plan, which is meant to serve as a blueprint for development in Downtown Bethesda for the next few decades, will allow for more density and taller buildings. The Council voted 8-1 to pass the sector plan, with Council member Marc Elrich (D-at large) as the lone vote against it.

“I would say this is one of our more ambitious plans in terms of its creative approach to community problem solving: lots of balancing going on and I think we reached a great resolution on this,” said Council member Nancy Floreen (D-at large).

The new approved plan caps development in Bethesda at 32.4 million square feet of gross floor area. Along with an increase in building heights, density in Downtown Bethesda is set to dramatically grow. Some buildings will have their allowable height increased to up to 300 feet. However, not all buildings will be able to build to their maximum height as the County could limit density and development in Downtown Bethesda.

Additionally the plan will require new developments to provide more affordable housing than they previously allowed, now requiring new residential properties to make 15 percent of their units into Moderately Priced Dwelling Units, with the County providing tax incentives to developers who make 25 percent of their units into MPDUs.

For months, the County Council weighed criticisms from Bethesda residents who believed County infrastructure could not support an increase in population over the next few decades. In response the Council proposed a “flashing yellow,” to monitor development and make sure Bethesda can handle increased density.

Some Bethesda residents said they did not want increased development and believed the County had no answer to increased traffic congestion and school overcrowding that come with a project increase in population. Other residents pushed the Council for more density and stricter regulations on affordable housing to give residents more options in the wealthy suburb.

Elrich, the only council member to vote against the plan, said the Council failed to tie increased density to increased spending and development on infrastructure.

“Separating decisions about infrastructure from decisions about handing out density I think are just bad policy,” Elrich said.

Hoping to increase development with making the County’s traffic congestion problem any worse, County planners tried to steer development around Metro stops in hopes people will opt to take the train rather than drive.

The plan will allow for up to 165 percent increase in multiunit rental units and a 142 percent increase in income-restricted housing in Downtown Bethesda.

Council member Roger Berliner (D-1), who represents Downtown Bethesda, said the Council struck the right balance between the desire of developers to build in Bethesda and residents’ caution on urbanizing the downtown area.

“No one gets everything they want in any plan. There are developers that who are disappointed. There are community members that are disappointed. That, in my world, often means we did strike the right balance,” Berliner said.

@neal_earley

 

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Takoma Park examines plans for New Hampshire Ave.

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The City Council discussed potential plans for the New Hampshire Avenue Corridor to improve its aesthetic and the business potential.

March 7 was also one of the first public appearances of the new city planner, Daniel Sonenklar.

Various ideas, all in the brainstorming stage at this point, were put forward, such as housing, differing architectural styles, green buildings and more.

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Council debates B-CC expansion plan

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ROCKVILLE – While the proposed Downtown Bethesda Sector Plan would expand density in Bethesda, one thing it could also expand is Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School.

On Monday the County Council Planning, Housing and Economic Development Committee discussed buying or leasing property next to B-CC as way to find more space for the school’s increasing demands.

The council discussed several options from buying the office building located on 4401-4421 East West Highway next to B-CC in order to expand the school’s athletic fields and to leasing room from nearby office buildings to compensate for overcrowding.

“B-CC High School is the single hardest issue to for us to tackle in this,” said Council President Roger Berliner (D-1), who represents Bethesda. “Everything else seems to have a plausible answer, we don’t know what precisely what the answer is but B-CC High School – it’s a problem.”

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Council considers Bethesda area green space

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One of the key issues for the future of Bethesda is debate between more parks or more parking.

Last week, the County Council Planning, Housing and Economic Development committee discussed one of the most debated issues of the proposed Downtown Bethesda Sector plan – green space versus room for parking.

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Developer seeks other tenant for Takoma Junction

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Takoma Junction moved a step closer to becoming reality after the City Council meeting on Jan. 11 allowed the developer to choose another tenant.

With a unanimous vote, the council allowed the developer, NDC, to choose another anchor tenant for the Takoma Junction project.

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Ethics questions linger in Gaithersburg

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GAITHERSBURG – Residents are questioning the legality of a vote to annex the Johnson property after a weak majority approved it last month following the departure of an angered council member who wanted a full council to decide the matter.

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Takoma Park and developers deadlocked

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As the extension for the letter of intent between the Takoma Park-Silver Spring Co-op and developer NDC wind downs once again, progress seems to be halted.

On Dec. 7, the Takoma Park City Council granted a 30-day extension for the Co-op and NDC to come up with a letter of intent for the next steps in the process but not without strain on many involved.

“I have to say, as council member [Rizzy] Qureshi said, there were moments in the last three days where I said, ‘No, we’re not going to do the 30-day extension,’” said Mayor Kate Stewart at the Dec. 7 council meeting.

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Chestnut Lodge back before Rockville Council

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ROCKVILLE – More than 10 residents and community members told the council they should not allow townhouses to be built at the site of the former Chestnut Lodge during a public hearing Monday.

Developer JNP Chestnut Lodge LLC’s revised plan would include six town homes constructed on the site of the former Chestnut Lodge sanatorium. The council previously voted 3-2 against an earlier townhouse plan, forcing the developer to restart the application process.

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Residents unhappy in Bethesda

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ROCKVILLE – Last week, local residents criticized the Bethesda Downtown Sector Plan while developers praised it.

The County Council listened as about 100 people testified at three separate two-hour evening hearings, as they gave their thoughts on the newly proposed plan to allow for more development and growth in downtown Bethesda, expanding its economic activity, affordable housing and density.

Some residents critical of the proposed plan said allowing Bethesda to expand will put further strain on schools and roads that can barely fit to accommodate heavy traffic and building heights that would transform parts of Bethesda from suburban to urban.

“We want to have a livable community where you can take your kid to soccer practice without being stuck in gridlock traffic, where it's safe to walk to school, where there are green spaces enjoy, where towering buildings aren’t casting long shadows on neighboring residents,” said Alison MacFarlane, who asked the council to reject the plan.

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Residents sue over Westbard

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Thirty-three Bethesda and Chevy Chase residents sued the Montgomery County government Monday in an effort to stop the County Council from allowing the development of the Westbard Sector Plan.

The plan, as approved in May, would allow developers to build hundreds of new residential and commercial units between Westbard Avenue and Massachusetts Avenue, less than a mile from the Washington, D.C. border.

Opponents say the development would exacerbate existing traffic congestion and school overcrowding and create environmental problems through more greenhouse gas emissions from more vehicles on the road.

The SaveWestbard group filed the complaint in Montgomery County Circuit Court Monday through their attorney Michele Rosenfeld, eight days before the County Council is due to vote on changing zoning laws in the area so it allows the master plan.

“We concluded that there was basis to challenge in court because we believe the council did not follow the required process in filing the Westbard Sector Plan,” said Rosenfeld.

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