Jump-starting the ‘heart’ of downtown Bethesda -- Gazette.Net


Efforts to create a development plan for downtown Bethesda have hit one snag already: determining just where the center of “downtown” is.

The Montgomery County Planning Department hosted a workshop Saturday for residents, planners and developers. The department is in the early stages of developing a Bethesda Downtown Plan, to guide building and zoning decisions in the area.

At the workshop, attendees were asked to pinpoint “the heart of downtown Bethesda” on a map posted on the wall; answers were divided among at least four different places, including the intersections of Wisconsin Avenue and East-West Highway; Wisconsin Avenue and Elm Street; Woodmont Avenue and Elm Street and St. Elmo and Norfolk avenues. Some groups suggested Bethesda had at least two “centers,” which needed better connectivity, particularly for people trying to walk from one area to other.

Another map asked where pedestrians had trouble crossing the road. The answer? Just about everywhere.

Small groups gathered to discuss changes they would like to see in the area; the need for more green space was a common theme. They also tried to identify different neighborhoods in Bethesda, but many said they had trouble.

The Bethesda Downtown Plan is meant to update policy from the 20-year-old Bethesda Downtown Sector Plan, which covers 451 acres between the National Institutes of Health to just south of Bradley Boulevard.

In 2010, 10,610 people lived in downtown Bethesda, according to the Planning Department, which used information from the U.S. Census and the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. Between 2010 and 2040, planners expect 11,300 more people to move in — more than doubling the population.

Joshua Levenson, who has lived in Bethesda for a year and a half, said Bethesda is going through a lot of changes and will continue to grow with the addition of a Purple Line station and more apartments. He said he would like to see more high buildings in downtown Bethesda.

“You really want to stand out from the District,” he said. “... There really aren’t high buildings in the area, except for [in] Virginia.”

Read more about the Bethesda Downtown Plan at montgomeryplanning.org/community/bethesda_downtown. More public meetings are expected to be scheduled during the spring and summer.