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Roger Berliner

Councilmember

Council President Roger Berliner

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Bethesda Downtown Plan

The goal of this plan from the very beginning was to ensure a vibrant future for Bethesda, not simply from an economic development perspective but to ensure that Bethesda remains a desirable place to work, live and play for residents of today and future generations to come.  I think we have achieved that objective with this plan. In the last several months, my staff and I have spoken with, met with, and received correspondence from hundreds of stakeholders and residents.  I have listened carefully to the priorities of the community and believe the plan before us successfully addresses those priorities.

I appreciate the hard work of the Planning Department Staff, the Planning Board, and the PHED Committee for their work on this plan. But I want to especially thank our amazing Council Staff  Marlene Michaelson and Glenn Orlin . They have all worked diligently, taken hundreds of phone calls from stakeholders across the board, responded to a multitude of emails and been extremely responsive. I know many long nights and weekends have been spent toiling over this plan.  So thank you to you both!

I also want to thank all the stakeholders who have conscientiously and with professionalism, monitored this plan, offered their suggestions, indicated desired outcomes, and came in to talk over issues in a collaborative manner.  A plan like this doesn’t just happen in the Planning Board or Council Chambers – it takes the whole community. Together, I think we made some important changes to the draft that was sent over to us – changes that I think were responsive to the Bethesda/Chevy Chase community while still embracing our responsibility to plan for the future of this important node in the county..   I think we did this responsibly and with great care – and I thank my colleagues for their collaboration on this plan as well.

I continue to believe that if done right, the economic development goals of a master plan do not need to come at the expense of an area’s current residents.  It is not an either/or situation– it is a both /and.  We can both plan for the future AND make every effort to respect and honor our existing residential neighborhoods and improve the quality of life for those who are here today.

Heights and Neighborhood Transitions :
While the master plan we are about to approve allows for increased heights on many properties, we have limited the highest heights to the core of Bethesda.  Many properties along the edges of the plan were reduced from the Planning Board’s draft  allowing for more appropriate transitions to the surrounding neighborhoods- along the east side of Wisconsin Avenue nearest East Bethesda and the Town of Chevy Chase, and along Arlington Road, Bradley Boulevard and Old Georgetown Road to provide smooth transitions to the Edgemoor and Chevy Chase West neighborhoods. 


Public Amenities
As we plan and guide redevelopment within a sector, it is equally important that public amenities essential to the quality of life in Bethesda be planned for and realized. The quality of public gathering spaces is a defining feature of a town or city and Bethesda is currently lacking in this regard. 
  • Fortunately, the Bethesda Sector Plan recommends 13 new parks and the expansion of 2 existing parks including active recreation areas, neighborhood and civic greens, and greenways to serve as buffers between development and existing neighborhoods. 
  • The Plan’s goal is to acquire 13 new acres of public space in Downtown Bethesda, including the conversion of certain surface parking lots to parks.  The acquisition of park land is a critical element of this Plan and implementation efforts are already underway to ensure progress in this area.  
  • As Bethesda continues to grow, the need for recreation opportunities increases as well.  That is why I recommended that the Plan include a new recreation center for Bethesda and ensured that funding be included in the Capital Budget to begin the feasibility study for this facility.


Bicycle and Pedestrian Facilities
To support walking and biking within the Sector Plan and to support NADMS goals, the Plan recommends 11 new bike/pedestrian facilities, expansion of the Bethesda Circulator, Bus Rapid Transit on Wisconsin, intersection improvements, and additional Bike Share stations. These are all important measures for ensuring that Bethesda is a walkable, bikeable, livable place. Combined with  transportation demand management programs and traffic mitigation measure required of new development, there will be a comprehensive set of strategies in place to enhance the existing transportation network and increase connectivity and safety for all travelling within and through the area.

Schools
As part of the master planning process, county planners and MCPS staff work together to ensure that there are viable options available for MCPS to accommodate future growth as outlined in our master plans.  In the case of the Bethesda Sector Plan, Staff collectively identified several viable options for accommodating future growth in the BCC Cluster, including the expansion of several existing schools and the potential reopening of two new elementary schools. Future expansion of BCC High School presents logistical and programmatic challenges due to the size of the BCC property.  MCPS led roundtable discussions are currently underway to explore future options. I convened a meeting between MCPS officials and our PTA communities to discuss these issues as well as forecasting methodologies which must be accurate and transparent.  MCPS committed to a revised forecast and, more importantly, coming up with what I consider to be a master plan of schools in order to get in front of this issue moving forward. 

Monitoring
Staging mechanisms are sometimes used in master plans to help ensure that infrastructure and/or other performance measures (ie: transportation) are keeping pace with development. It can be used to take a macro look at how certain goals of the plan are progressing. In the Bethesda Plan, Council Staff and the PHED Committee agreed that staging should be tied to Non-Auto Driver Mode Share (NADMS) numbers – in other words, the amount of people living and working in Downtown Bethesda who use some method other than a single occupancy car to get where they need to go.  The Committee tentatively agreed that when residential NADMS hits 60% and commercial NADMS (those working in the sector) reaches 52%, stage two of the plan would be allowed to move forward. Combined with  transportation demand management programs and traffic mitigation measure required of new development, there will be a comprehensive set of strategies in place to enhance the existing transportation network and increase connectivity and safety for all travelling within and through the area

Next Steps
The Bethesda Overlay Zone, which will be used to implement the Bethesda Plan, still needs to be reviewed by the Council’s Planning, Housing and Economic Development Committee before it goes to the full council.  Park impact payments, affordable housing requirements, parking policies, public benefit points, and the design review process will likely be among the topics discussed at that future work session.  I look forward to hearing from the public on this at the June 13 public hearing here at the Council.
 


Infrastructure & Growth Symposium

We received many questions before, during, and after the forum. After reaching out to the Planning Department and Montgomery County Public Schools, we have put together answers to those questions. Take a look and feel free to contact my office, the Planning Department, or MCPS if you have any follow-up questions. 

Thank you to all who came out and participated in the forum. The feedback I received has been very positive - I was pleased to hear that participants felt their day was spent in a productive way. If you missed this important conversation about growth and our county’s infrastructure, check out all the materials and presentations from the event here:  

Were you unable to attend the Forum? Check out  these highlights from the Infrastructure and Growth Forum (only 4 and a half minutes! Take a look) or the full video recap of the entire event below:


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