• The Bethesda Downtown Plan was unanimously approved by the Montgomery County Planning Board, but it must still be approved at a public hearing in October.
  • The plan would give current property owners a first-come-first-serve chance to purchase extra density, with the funds helping pay for new downtown parks.
  • Community members are concerned about the plan's impact on single-family residential neighborhoods and schools.

A new 168-page master plan for the downtown area of Bethesda, Maryland, was unanimously approved in July by the Montgomery County Planning Board. The plan, if it passes through the final public hearing review expected to take place in October, would add pedestrian-friendly streets, green spaces, affordable housing, energy-efficient buildings and more to the downtown area.

The Montgomery County Planning Board has spent more than a year conducting 16 sessions reviewing potential zoning for properties in Downtown Bethesda, determining height and density allowed in the community. The Bethesda Downtown Plan sent for approval includes a specific zoning for the downtown area, which was a change made after the release of the public hearing draft on May 15, 2015.

bethesda downtown plan

Rendering of Norfolk Avenue in Woodmont Triangle

The Bethesda Overlay Zone (BOZ), expected to be presented to the new zone board in September for separate approval, would lay out how developers are allowed to use land and density.

The approved plan leaves properties at their current densities and caps the allowed density at 32.4 million square feet. An additional 28 million square feet of development is currently permitted in the downtown area.

According to the plan, property owners would have the right on a first-come-first-serve basis to request density beyond what they are currently allowed. The pool would max out at about 4 million square feet. Property owners can also barter for a density transfer, which currently exists for downtown property owners seeking more square footage.

However, in areas surrounding single-family neighborhoods, height and density restrictions are put into place so as to not overshadow single-family homes and fully reconstruct the neighborhood landscape.

The plan is slated to help bring more funding into the community for affordable housing and downtown parks and green spaces. Nonetheless, some residents in the single-family communities surrounding downtown are concerned with developments, high-rises and inadequate planning of parks, roads and schools.

According to the plan, the funds from development would go toward the creation of 13 new parks and green spaces. Board commissioners originally placed a $25.81 per square foot price tag on parks, but developers resisted against the high cost. The new plan sets a park fund at $10 per square foot.

If the plan is approved and executed, Bethesda will look mighty different by 2035. A total of 19 parks, 8,456 new multi-unit rental units, 5.52 miles of bike paths and 30 to 36 acres of green roofs would be a reality for the downtown area.

Email Kimberly Manning

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