Bethesda already is among the more environmentally conscious communities in the area, but county planners are looking to a concept called “EcoDistricts” to incorporate even more sustainable practices and policies into their plans for the downtown area.
The EcoDistrict concept is a planning tool being used nationally, including in Southwest Washington, D.C., to encourage sustainable practices in a specific neighborhood. The Montgomery County Planning Department held a community workshop Wednesday to brainstorm how an EcoDistrict could become part of Bethesda over the next 20 years or so.
Otto Condon, urban design principal at ZGF Architects, said at the workshop that improvements in sustainability come to a district over a period of decades through rehabilitating old buildings and infrastructure, and strategic redevelopment.
“There’s no quick, single-shot idea that’s going to turn an area into an EcoDistrict or [a] livable area,” he said.
Practices typically associated with EcoDistricts include making buildings more energy efficient, saving water and making pedestrian areas nicer, thus encouraging more walking and less driving.
The community already is active in environmentally friendly ways. Recycling receptables are scattered around downtown. Bethesda Green, a nonprofit that promotes environmental practices and businesses, is working with commercial property owners to install rooftop gardens. It also works with restaurants in town to help them compost their waste and recycle their cooking oil into motor fuel.
Elza Hisel-McCoy, a Planning Department planner, said after the workshop that the EcoDistrict concept is one of several tools planners will look at as they work on a master plan for downtown Bethesda.
“The EcoDistrict will be a way to set standards for how developments in Bethesda will work in the next 20 years,” he said.
The department already works sustainability into its planning process, but this will help staff do that in a more structured way, Hisel-McCoy said.
“This is the first plan that we’ve used the EcoDistrict as sort of a structure for the recommendations to really focus explicitly on economic, social and environmental sustainability,” he said.
The Planning Department will be looking at an EcoDistrict in Bethesda over the next few months as it works on an update to the Bethesda Downtown Plan. More information is at bethesdadowntownplan.org.