Planning Board Commissioner Casey Anderson called on the National Institutes of Health and Naval Support Activity Bethesda to build no new parking facilities, after a planning board meeting Oct. 18 on expansions at both campuses.
Anderson said he does not want to make life more difficult for NIH and NSA Bethesda, institutions that are generally good neighbors and important to the county’s economy, but limiting available parking spaces is a cost effective, proven way to get cars off the road in an already congested area.
“If I lived in this neighborhood, my main priority would be to get them to add no new parking,” Anderson said.
The Montgomery County Planning Board on Oct. 18 held a master plan review for the NIH, followed by a review of a master plan and draft environmental impact statement for an expansion proposed at NSA Bethesda.
Long term plans for the NIH include bringing 3,000 additional employees on campus, constructing 1.5 million gross square feet of research space and 775,000 gross square feet of administrative and support space and adding new green space by consolidating surface parking into structured parking.
NSA Bethesda, whose major tenant is Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, has proposed to construct a new education and research building, and up to 400 new parking spaces, as part of an expansion of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences. Other plans call for improvements to medical facilities and construction of a 500-space, underground parking garage for patients and visitors.
In comments to the planning board, County BRAC Coordinator Phil Alperson said that traffic is worse than was indicated by a traffic study conducted as part of the environmental impact statement for the NSA Bethesda expansion. That study found that traffic is not as bad today as was predicted before the merger of Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington, D.C., with National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda.
Intersections are measured on a scale of A through F, with F being gridlock. Alperson said the system does not measure increased congestion at intersections that were rated F before BRAC and are still rated F.
“Like a school report card, the grading system doesn’t tell the whole story,” he said. “If your child gets a 60 on a test, that’s a failing grade and you would be concerned. But if your child got a 20 on a test, then that would be of much greater concern even though the grade is still an F.”
Still, Alperson does not oppose additional parking at NSA Bethesda, which he said maintained fewer parking spaces per employee than the NIH.
“As far as the Navy, I don’t oppose more parking,” he said. “This is the quandary we’re in. We’re in such a congested area, but they have to serve their patients.”
The planning board recommended the NIH reduce their parking ratio from one parking space for every two employees to one parking space for every three employees, a ratio that has been maintained at NSA Bethesda. Other recommendations included developing a forest conservation plan and sharing its proposed parking structure near Battery Lane and the Medical Center Metro Center with the public or other user groups during times of low use by NIH employees.
Recommendations to NSA Bethesda include continued monitoring of traffic conditions near the campus. The recommendations also request NSA comply with the county noise ordinance, particularly during construction, increase tree canopy and consider including electric vehicle stations, a campus bike share program, locations for solar/geothermal energy generation facilities and rainwater catchment facilities for irrigation.
Comments will be submitted to the National Capital Planning Commission, which provides planning guidance for federal projects in Washington, D.C., and surrounding jurisdictions. The master plans are scheduled for review by NCPC on Nov. 1.
Unlike private development projects, the planning board has no regulatory authority over Walter Reed and the NIH.
“We’re always willing to speak with folks and consider new ideas,” said Bill Sadlon, EIS project manager for Naval Facilities Engineering Command Washington.