The much maligned parking garage has gotten a facelift, becoming a star attraction in cities across the country.
A five-story parking structure atop newly renovated shops is cloaked in greenery in Miami Beach, Fla., where it joins existing and planned architectural advances, such as a fully automatic garage that can store and retrieve a vehicle.
Has Montgomery County been left behind?
“When it comes down to anything, the bottom line is all important,” said David LyJordan, an associate at Archaeon Architects in Cabin John. “You’re asking someone to spend more money on a structure that’s largely just utilitarian, to make it look a little better.”
Although garages might be better for the environment — their height saves the surrounding landscape from parking lot sprawl — each space costs four times a traditional asphalt spot, said Tom Aylward, vice president of development at commercial real estate developer Jackson-Shaw, and a member of the Eastern Montgomery Regional Services Center Advisory Board.
He said each parking garage space costs $12,000 to $15,000, versus $2,800 to $3,500 for per spot in a traditional lot.
“With this cost ratio, many projects will skimp on the exterior finishes of the structure to conserve money,” Aylward said.
For fire and safety reasons, garages tend to have large openings, which do not enhance a streetscape, he said. They also can be noisy.
An 1,800-space parking garage planned for the Intelligence Community Campus in Bethesda will be shielded from public view as much possible with landscaping and other vegetative buffers, in response to concern from the community. The site is located near two national parks along the Potomac River, which is classified by Maryland as wild and scenic.
The federal project was reviewed by Montgomery County Planning Board, but most construction projects are not, said Joshua Sloan, planning department coordinator. The county has more than 100 zones, and the trigger for a site plan review is different for each.
Even during a site plan review, he said the board does not have the legal authority to regulate aesthetics alone, instead addressing compatibility with existing and planned development. Still, he said the board can affect design by mandating better facades and a parking garage that is integrated with the rest of the structure.
“We actually provide more of an incentive to push the parking underground,” he said. “Once it is underground, you don’t have to deal with the design issues. They are very expensive, and typically that won’t happen except around the Metro.”
There are eight public parking garges in downtown Bethesda, with additional underground structures planned.
To accommodate growth in the area surrounding Lots 31 and 31A in downtown Bethesda, a mixed-use development will bring 940 public spaces in an underground garage. Currently, 279 spaces are available. The garage is part of a mixed-use development with two buildings that will bring 375,000 square feet of retail, according to Bethesda Urban Partnership, a nonprofit that provides landscaping, maintenance, and marketing for downtown.
A mixed-use development at Fairmont and St. Elmo avenues will feature 200 residential units, ground floor retail, and an underground parking garage with 211 spots. Demolition and underground work began in August.
Urban areas such as Bethesda are blessed with a variety of transportation options, but for business, parking still is vital, said Ginanne Italiano, executive director of the Greater Bethesda-Chevy Chase Chamber of Commerce. Employees need parking.
“More important, if you have a place where you need customers to go see you, you need a place for them to park,” she said. “You can’t just rely on alternative transportation.”