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Bethesda Downtown Plan Approved by MoCo Planning Board

Expect the final review in October

Last Thursday, the Montgomery County Planning Board unanimously approved the Bethesda Downtown Plan, a 168-page master plan that outlines the major goals for the neighborhood for the next 20 or so years. In October, a final review on the plan is expected with a public hearing.

In the document, it states that it makes recommendations for everything from land use to zoning to transportation to sustainability. Some of the challenges in Bethesda that the master plan hopes to solve include the lack of urban parks and green spaces as well as the high energy demand and carbon generator. The plan also hopes to tackle how Downtown Bethesda has some of the highest rents in the County.

If approved and if successful, Downtown Bethesda by the year 2035 will have a myriad of parks, affordable housing choices, pedestrian-friendly streets, and energy-efficient buildings. Additionally, if full build-out were to happen, the number of parks would increase from six to 19.

8,456 multi-unit rental units would also be added to the existing 4,669 units. 7,187 of those rental units would be "market-rate rental affordable."

Other plans are for increasing the number of bike lanes by adding 5.52 miles to the existing 1.19 miles of bike lanes. An additional 30 to 36 acres of green roofs would also be added to the existing 0.75 acres. There are still no exact numbers on how many LEED-certified buildings are proposed at full build-out

While the master plan was approved, there are still some kinks that need to be worked out. Bethesda Magazine reported that a newly created zone, called the Bethesda Overlay Zone, still needs to be approved by a separate board. If approved, developers will be allowed a maximum density of 32.4 million square feet, 4 million square feet more than was previously allowed.

According to the Washington Business Journal, the extra density is offered on a "first-come-first-serve" basis. Priority will go to those who pay into a fund that will go towards 13 new parks and green spaces. The payment that will go into the fund will be based on the square footage of the project. The Montgomery County Planning Board approved it to be $10 per square, but the final number may change when the final review is done.

Developers who pay into the fund will also be allowed three "offsets." Bethesda Magazine reported that they include that the developer will be given preference over other applicants, the developer will not be required to provide as much open space, and the developer will be exempt from the fee if they dedicate land to the Parks department.

For projects adjacent to neighborhoods filled with single-family homes, there will be a restriction on the height and density of the buildings. Even if a developer provides more than the required amount of affordable housing, that won't cause the developer the be allowed to build higher or denser.

If interested in further understanding the Bethesda Downtown Plan, you can find the document below.

BDPPlanningBoardDraft_lowres by Aaron Kraut on Scribd