Visit this page often for information about the site, the Bethesda Downtown Plan as it progresses through zoning and the council, photos and renderings of potential future uses, FAQs, events and ways you can get involved to help protect open space in Bethesda.
Why protect Bethesda Open Space?
We have a unique opportunity in the heart of downtown Bethesda for public, open space that transcends its size and location and brings life to a place for refuge, gathering and activity. The draft Downtown Bethesda Plan, currently moving through the planning and zoning process, calls the lack of urban parks and open space one of the greatest challenges for downtown Bethesda. However, their solution to-date is to target locations on the periphery of the planning area, where demolition of current buildings and/or zoning changes must be made to accommodate open space.A coalition of concerned citizens, community organizations, local businesses and stakeholders, including Bethesda-based Clark Enterprises Inc. have come together to protect this valuable open space for current and future generations.
Who owns Bethesda Metro Plaza?
Bethesda Metro Plaza is owned by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA). Brookfield Properties holds a ground lease for the plaza.
Why is Clark Enterprises invested in the future of Bethesda Metro Plaza?
Clark Enterprises is a stakeholder in the future of the plaza it helped pay for when it was created as a public amenity in the 1980s in exchange for higher development density. The company owns the office building at 7500 Old Georgetown Road, which is on the plaza. It has many tenants and—as one of Downtown Bethesda’s largest employers—thousands of employees who work in the building.The county Planning Department invited input from all property owners on the Bethesda Downtown Plan, which includes the Bethesda Metro Plaza. Clark believes the possibilities at Bethesda Metro Park offer tremendous benefits not only for our tenants, employees and visitors – but for the entire Bethesda community. We believe that any development at the plaza should be done in a way that protects the current large, visible open space.
What is Brookfield Properties’ plan for Bethesda Metro Plaza?
Brookfield Properties currently proposes a 25-story building in the middle of the existing open space along Wisconsin Avenue with a much smaller interior park hidden behind it. Not all open space is equal — Bethesda already has such “hidden” parks and plazas and these go largely unnoticed and unused.
What is Clark’s vision for a compromise solution?
Clark offered a plan for a redeveloped Plaza that moves the location of Brookfield’s building to the space that housed the former food court near the rear of the food court. Most critically, the large, visible community open space would be retained and enhanced along the Wisconsin Avenue frontage.
What is possible at Bethesda Metro Plaza?
Bethesda Metro Park could be an activated, expansive and visible green space at the corner of Wisconsin Avenue and Old Georgetown. This could include a great lawn and things like moveable furniture, ping-pong tables, a Bocce ball court, a splash fountain and a number of other features. In addition, it could include retail kiosk—perhaps for a coffee shop—and other measures to further enhance and activate retail around the park. The benefits of urban, open space include increased private and commercial property value, stormwater runoff control and new, recreation opportunities for our families.
What’s at stake?
Since 2014, millions of square feet of office and retail development have been approved in downtown Bethesda. The Bethesda Downtown Plan lists “parks and open space” as one of its biggest challenges. However, their solution to-date is to target locations on the periphery of the planning area, where demolition of current buildings and/or zoning changes must be made to accommodate open space.In the draft Bethesda Downtown Plan, the Planning Board recommends designation of three locations as “civic greens.” We believe that Bethesda Metro Park more than meets the requirements for a “civic green” and should receive the same designation, thus protecting it as open public space in perpetuity.
Brookfield is a good developer and neighbor, but they’ve got it wrong at Bethesda Metro Plaza. We need more open space – not less. It is their responsibility to maximize the public utility of the existing visible, open space when contemplating new development.
We have addressed below their description of plan features for their proposed tower at Bethesda Metro Plaza.
BROOKFIELD: Owns the real estate interest in this location to bring parks, promenades and a world-class building to Bethesda Metro Plaza.
FACT: The land at Bethesda Metro Plaza is owned by the Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority (WMATA). While Brookfield does hold the ground lease, giving them development rights on the site, they have a responsibility to the community to protect what is one of the last remaining open spaces in downtown Bethesda. The current sector plan for downtown Bethesda envisions Bethesda Metro Plaza, in the heart of Bethesda, as an open, public gathering space. The building that Brookfield has proposed at the site will diminish its public usability, creating a small green space located in between the new and current buildings - hidden from view.
BROOKFIELD: Will develop an inviting park and gathering place by transforming the under-used plaza into a multipurpose destination including promenades with opportunities for cafes and other retail.
FACT: The City of Bethesda has a plethora of retail centers. Unfortunately, we can’t say the same for public parks and green space. Brookfield’s proposed tower is planned for the center of the plaza, forever removing the opportunity for large programmable space. Their vision includes less than a quarter acre of interior green space, hidden from public view and largely inaccessible to the public. But there is another option. Moving their development to the rear of the plaza, at the location of the former food court, could result in half an acre of street-facing, open space. We need more open space in downtown Bethesda – not less. When contemplating new development, we should prioritize the preservation of open space and work to create programmable space that embodies our social identity and reinforces the sense of place and community we value.
BROOKFIELD: Will provide full funding for a new Bethesda Central Park and has capacity to finance and pay for Bethesda Metro Center redevelopment
FACT: “Bethesda Central Park” is an exaggeration. The space they envision is half of what currently exists as open space - .22 acres. Their plans hide the space from public view – overshadowed by current buildings and their new development.
BROOKFIELD: Will work with local arts groups and fully fund programming at Bethesda Central Park through the nationally renowned Arts Brookfield
FACT: Larger, street facing open space is significantly more appealing and accommodating for the arts and other programming. Brookfield owns numerous office buildings in Bethesda, but programming through Arts Brookfield has not been present in the area to date.
BROOKFIELD: Plans for Bethesda Metro Center are consistent with Planning Board recommendations in the Bethesda Downtown Plan
FACT: The Bethesda Downtown Plan, currently moving through the planning and zoning process, calls the lack of urban parks and open space one of the greatest challenges for downtown Bethesda. However, their solution to-date is to target locations on the periphery of the planning area, where demolition of current buildings and/or zoning changes must be made to accommodate open space. In contrast, we have open space in the heart of downtown Bethesda today, ripe for preservation and activation. The center of Bethesda Metro Plaza should be designated a “civic green” in the Bethesda Downtown Plan and protected in perpetuity.
BROOKFIELD: Provides quiet and traffic-protected park for community
FACT: The green space envisioned by Brookfield would be a “quiet and traffic-protected park” because it would be an interior space, hidden from public view and over-shadowed by current buildings and their new tower, much like Bethesda’s “Pancake House” plaza and Edgemoor plaza – hidden gems which go largely unused. We should protect and activate gathering space that is street-facing, easily accessible and enhances the overall character of downtown Bethesda.