A new plan is in the works to guide Bethesda’s development for decades to come.
The Montgomery Planning Board on Thursday approved the preliminary outline of the new Bethesda Downtown Sector Plan. The current sector plan, which directs zoning and development decisions, was adopted in 1994.
The plan focuses on the sustainability of Bethesda and explores ways for the area to become a model of sustainable development across three core themes: the economy, social atmosphere and the environment.
The area under study encompasses 451 acres: the heart of Bethesda. It’s bound by the National Institutes of Health campuses on the north and extends down to Norwood Park and Nottingham Drive to the south. The eastern boundary is outlined by Tilbury Street, Sleaford Road, Cheltenham Road, the Capital Crescent Trail, 46th Street and West Avenue. To the the west are Clarendon Road, Arlington Road and Old Georgetown Road.
Planner Elza Hisel-McCoy said the plan does not focus on the single-family neighborhoods nearby, but encompasses more than just the core of Bethesda, and extends to the transition neighborhoods just outside the downtown area.
The new plan could increase, decrease or leave alone the height, density and land use options for each of the properties, Hisel-McCoy said.
To promote economic sustainability, the plan looks to revitalize public spaces, take advantage of public transportation and provide incentives for expanded affordability in the community.
Patrick O’Neil, a land use and zoning lawyer at Lerch, Early & Brewer in Bethesda, said the plan is expected to have a large economic impact on not only Bethesda, but Montgomery County as a whole.
“The plan will tee us up for realizing the economic potential for all of Montgomery County for the next 20 to 30 years,” O’Neil said. He expects the Bethesda plan to be a model of growth for the entire county.
“Bethesda has long been the economic engine of Montgomery County,” he said. “As Bethesda grows, so will the county.”
As for the social aspect, the plan explores the enhancement of recreational opportunities and a healthy community, encouragement of more efficient public amenities such as open space and the streetscape, and development of local centers of activity downtown.
The environmental side includes rewarding users of alternative energy resources, expanding the network of sidewalks to improve pedestrian and biker safety, and striving toward the goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050.
As for the next steps in the plan, Hisel-McCoy said the team is working on a briefing book, which will be a compilation of the existing conditions, research and work it has completed thus far. Hisel-McCoy said the book can be used to spur ideas for projects.
The planning department will hold the first community workshop March 1, at a location to be announced. The purpose of these workshops will be to give the community an opportunity to ask specific questions and provide recommendations.
For those unable to attend the workshops or meetings, Hisel-McCoy said there will be other platforms where residents can comment in the next six months. Then the team will begin finalizing its plan’s drafts for the board’s public hearing, which is slated for October.
“Folks can come in and talk to us, send us emails or invite us to their community meetings,” Hisel-McCoy said. “We try to make ourselves as available as possible.”