Thursday, Feb. 7, 2008

Proposal to connect Veteran’s Park denied

Committee being formed to consider options for Woodmont, Norfolk avenues intersection in Bethesda

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A committee of The Greater Bethesda-Chevy Chase Chamber of Commerce voted against a proposal that would have eliminated a right-turn from Woodmont Avenue onto Norfolk Avenue in downtown Bethesda.

By a 15-5 vote Tuesday, the chamber’s Parking and Transportation Committee rejected the proposal brought forth by Carol Trawick, a Bethesda resident and former chairwoman of the chamber. Trawick, head of the Trawick Foundation — a group that provided grants to nonprofit organizations in Montgomery County — wanted to remove the right turn, which cuts through Veteran’s Park in the Woodmont Triangle neighborhood.

Right now at the corner of Woodmont and Norfolk avenues is a curved brick turn just before the intersection.

Trawick was asking the 850-business member chamber for a letter of support, which she would then use to lobby county officials for the change.

‘‘With the added footage in Veteran’s Park, we could put a seated wall that would welcome people to the park,” Trawick said.

The seated wall, she said, would include an engraving of ‘‘Veteran’s Park” across its front.

In addition to improving the aesthetics and flow of the park, Trawick argued that eliminating the turn would also increase pedestrian safety in the increasingly urban downtown.

But those opposed to the plan said the impact on businesses in the area would be too great.

‘‘If this closes, folks are going to have to circle around Bethesda to get to shops or restaurants on Norfolk and Fairmont [avenues],” said Lenny Greenberg, CEO of Bethesda-based Greenhill Capital, a real estate development firm. ‘‘Service trucks that are unfamiliar with the turn are going to be stacking up.”

Kevin Maloney, current chairman of the chamber and owner of the property immediately north of Veteran’s Park, said the elimination of the turn isn’t needed.

‘‘I think we can still do some kind of monument without losing the right-hand turn,” he said. ‘‘It would hurt the tenants.”

Trawick, though, has support from neighboring communities. Accompanied in her proposal were letters of support from the Edgemoor Citizens Association, the East Bethesda Citizens Association and the Edgemoor Condominium Association. Nearly all of the letters supported the plan due to the increased public use space afforded by it.

In 2005, Trawick said, the Department of Public Works performed a traffic study on the intersection, and found it to be underutilized. Trawick also commissioned a study, done in May 2006, that found the same thing, she said. She presented the proposal again in last fall, but couldn’t get on the agenda until Tuesday.

The collective thought of the committee, though, was that the plan was too much, and it may hurt businesses. While the committee did not approve the plan, it did recommend a second option.

‘‘We need to look at a slowing of traffic, and the use of different pavers on Norfolk and Woodmont [avenues] to open up the space and make it safe for pedestrians,” said David Smith, chairman of the committee.

Trawick said she would form a separate committee to review the recommendations and determine what was best for the site.