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.
The proposed Downtown Bethesda Sector Plan, which sets the County’s laws for development would, if passed, allow for more commercial and residential development in downtown Bethesda, shifting to a more urban environment.
Among the key issues the PHED committee has discussed during the last few months is how much land the County should dedicate to parks. While the County wants to allow for more development in the County, some want the County to expand parks and open spaces as well in downtown Bethesda.
But the issue to expand green spaces clashes with a current issue in downtown Bethesda – the lack of parking.
“My concern is that parking lot district or parking lot needs in Bethesda was not adequately addressed in the plan,” said Al Roshdieh, director of the Montgomery County Department of Transportation.
Roshdieh said the plans to expand some parks and add bicycle facilities in Bethesda would eliminate about 620 public parking spaces.
The Council is considering expanding Veterans Parks near the Women’s Market on Wisconsin Avenue, by turning the existing public parking lot behind the market into green space.
Council member Hans Riemer (D-at large), said he supports turning parking lots in Bethesda into green spaces.
“I am generally very pleased with the proposals for new park space in the draft plan, and I enthusiastically embrace the concept of turning county-owned parking lots into park and recreation space,” Riemer said.
But while some on the Council support more parks in a proposed plan for a more highly developed urban Bethesda, Roshdieh said he is unsure whether the plan provides enough space for parking.
Currently there are around 8,000 public parking spaces in Bethesda and 7,000 privately-owned spaces. Roshdieh said the current number of public parking spaces in Bethesda is enough for residents, but he is unsure whether that will be the case after future development.
Council President Roger Berliner (D-1), who represents Bethesda, was skeptical for the need for parking, saying the lifestyle of residents may change in 20 to 30 years, especially with the rise of ride-sharing and self-driving cars.
Roshdieh said the Department of Transportation will conduct a study in the fall to study parking needs in Bethesda.
According to Roshdieh, some of the future parking needs for Bethesda could be accommodated through underground garages as to not take up potential space for parking, but it would cost the County more.
Roshdieh said it would cost $43 million to accommodate the 620 spaces underground lost by the Bethesda sector plan and $28 million to build those spaces above ground.
Council member Marc Elrich (D-at large) said he wants to tax developers as a way to pay for Bethesda’s new proposed parks.
“I do hope we do attach sufficient fees on the developers,” Elrich said.
It is unclear if the County would have to amend the charter in order to put an extra tax on developers separate from the property tax they already pay. Raising property taxes would require approval from all nine members of the Council.