Proponents, critics debate major development plan for downtown Bethesda

Development plan for downtown Bethesda (ABC7)

Fast-growing Bethesda is a place of contrasts.

Tall steel and glass high rises, and quiet, leafy neighborhoods.

“I think that we need to grow,” says Ximena Uribe, a vendor at the Bethesda Farmer’s Market. “We need to keep developing this area.”

Most vendors, and many visitors, favor increased development.

“You have to keep up and develop to keep up with the growth in Bethesda, and Bethesda's growing all the time,” says Janice Watson, who’s worked at NIH for more than a decade.

But in residential areas nearby, not so much.

“Traffic flow north and south on Wisconsin already is impossible,” says Daniel Vincent, who was out walking his dog along Leland Street on Wednesday afternoon. “Those office workers come with cars and those cars got to be put somewhere and they've got to come through here.”

This week, the Montgomery County Council is holding public hearings about a proposed ‘Bethesda Downtown Plan’, a blueprint for the area for the next twenty years.

“You try to listen to everyone and try to find a balanced approach,” says County Council Member Nancy Floreen. “It’s really not community members versus developers. It’s really the community struggling with the concept of what evolution means, and how do we get the pieces to work correctly.”

Chevy Chase Mayor Scott Fosler is among those opposing the plan.

“There isn't sufficient infrastructure to support this level of development,” he says.

Fosler points to the planned 32-million square feet of residential and commercial development.

That’s five times the size of the Pentagon.

The mayor is also critical of one scenario that would permit the construction of up to thirty-two buildings over twenty stories high in the downtown sector.

“People have seen the extent and density of development in the development in Tysons Corner,” Fosler says. “And they’re very concerned something similar could happen in Bethesda.”

Floreen emphasizes this is not a done deal; she hopes residents will keep an open mind.

“Sometimes height is better, because it gives you more green space,” she says. “We could have a lot of low-slung, ugly buildings that meet the standards that we have in place today. But does that get us where we want to be?”

Supporters say the plan would lead to billions of dollars in investment, including about three thousand jobs for the proposed Mariott Corporate Headquarters.

“The more that we expand, the more opportunities to have more jobs, and more, you know, retail,” Uribe says. “More gain for everybody.”

The county council is holding three public hearings and likely will not vote on the project until next March.

Vincent says council members should carefully consider the impact of the added development.

“That’ll be a burden for an infrastructure that's already terribly stressed,” he says.

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