Friday, May 26, 2017

Bethesda Downtown Plan is the worst of both worlds

The Montgomery County Council passed the Bethesda Downtown Plan by a vote of 8-1 yesterday. Councilmember Marc Elrich cast the lone dissenting vote. While the plan, in relative terms, is better than the Westbard sector plan the Council passed a year ago, it offers the worst of both worlds. The growth allowed is the wrong type, and insufficient to make downtown Bethesda an appealing destination for corporate headquarters. Yet the lack of infrastructure and staging guarantees that that lackluster, mostly residential, growth will be sure to strain already-jammed roads and classrooms - and County services.

Parks won't be of the size needed, and aren't guaranteed. Even the aspirational park sites were simply the low-hanging fruit, such as the parking lots at the edge of town. While that may or may not create a small buffer for the Town of Chevy Chase, those are poor locations for parks, which should be more centrally-located. Where is the green space with trees that can give a respite to pedestrians in the concrete jungle?

There is a slightly-greater commitment to affordable housing downtown, as there should be in an urban center near services and Metro. In contrast, the Westbard sector plan places a greater proportion of affordable units in that neighborhood, where there is little transit and no social services or County facilities. Ultimately, some of the growth that should have occurred downtown near Metro has been shifted to Westbard, a complete violation of smart growth principles.

Speaking of facilities, the Bethesda Downtown Plan is lacking in those, as well. At least a recreation center is under discussion. Westbard was completely shut out, despite having gone without a recreation center for decades.

On the flip side, the heights and density allowed in the core of the Central Business District near Metro are too low for the kind of major corporate tenants we need. One can argue that the question is moot, as the demand for office space in moribund Montgomery County is so weak, that no major corporate tenants will be interested anyway. But under this plan, downtown Bethesda will not be competitive with Tysons in ten or even twenty years. One of the main reasons is that most of what density is allocated will be eaten up by mediocre residential buildings, and Marriott, by the time the 2018 or 2022 County Councils can create a more business-friendly climate (assuming voters don't elect the "new" faces from the old cartel, who will be among the candidates on the ballot). How much will be left, for example, when Federal Realty potentially redevelops part of Bethesda Row, when Landmark Bethesda Row Cinema's lease runs out later in the next decade?

Unbelievably, the increased population downtown will be "accommodated" with lower speed limits and no additional highway capacity on Wisconsin Avenue. The major commuter route is already overloaded with interstate-level traffic, thanks to the cancellation of the Northwest Freeway.

In casting his dissenting vote, Councilmember Elrich noted that, "When you put it all together, the Bethesda plan has no transportation solution, no guaranteed amenities and no binding connection between increased density and the infrastructure necessary to support it.” His vote was an important one, regardless of the overwhelming support the plan had from his developer-beholden colleagues. It sends a clear message, and ensures that the dissenting views of actual residents have to be given at least a mention in media coverage.

In fact, given that the Bethesda Downtown Plan is better than the Westbard plan, I'm honestly puzzled as to why Elrich voted "no" on the former, and "yes" on the latter, instead of no on both.

Perhaps the only thing worse about the Downtown Plan than Westbard, is the uncertainty. Westbard-area residents know they were ripped off, will be getting no amenities at all, and a couple of postage-stamp-sized "parks." They know they're going to get 3000+ people and all their cars dropped into a block-and-a-half area, transformed into a concrete canyon of Soviet-style apartment blocs. And they know there are no plans for new schools, in a cluster where some kids are currently taking gym class in hallways.

In contrast, there's no clear vision at all as to what downtown Bethesda will look like in twenty years. After a promising start between the arrival of Metro and the late 1990s, the vision for downtown went off the rails after the turn of the century. The signature developments of that early period (Newlands Building, Chevy Chase Bank Building, Bethesda Lane, to name a few) have given way to a period where form lags far behind function.

Architectural and public art mediocrity and economic development malaise combine with a lack of real parks, public space and large-scale events (St. Patrick's Day parade? Halloween? Mardi Gras?) to weaken any sense of civic identity. We couldn't even pull off Strut Your Mutt this year. Downtown Bethesda deserves better, and was promised better, decades ago.


Anonymous said...

I have seen that photograph before. I wish there was more than one protest sign that could be used.

Roald said...

I feel like the Council has taken their eyes off their crown jewel, downtown Bethesda, for awhile now.
A lot of focus on making White Flint the county's "downtown" and a rival to Tysons. Hasn't happened yet! (I do like Pike & Rose, but White Flint will never be a center of gravity for the region. And never a rival to Tysons for corporate headquarters.)

Anonymous said...

Get your eyes off Hans' junk, you pervert.

Anonymous said...

Roald! You're back! We were worried after your medical scare yesterday.

You ok, bro?

Anonymous said...

"The major commuter route is already overloaded with interstate-level traffic, thanks to the cancellation of the Northwest Freeway."

My God, Dyer. I can't believe you're still stuck on this. All plans for the Northwest Freeway were cancelled 44 years ago. Building that freeway would require the taking and demolition of hundreds of homes and businesses in Silver Spring and Takoma Park, and hundreds if not thousands more in the District.

Roald said...

7:53 doing well. got to get the cholesterol down though. The Missus is having me eat more greens and cutting back my grill time.

Roald's Better Half said...

Honey I told you to stay off this site. The salt in the comments is not good for you. And the trolls get your blood pressure up.


G. Money said...

So let's look at Dyer's alternative plan:

Build more parks in central downtown Bethesda
Increase highway capacity through central downtown Bethesda
Increase height/density in central downtown Bethesda
Increase public facilities/amenities throughout Bethesda
Increase parades in central downtown Bethesda
Increase affordable housing in central downtown Bethesda
Prevent growth outside of central downtown Bethesda

Here Dyer, I came up with a slogan for your plan:
"Downtown Bethesda, where everything fits!"

Roald said...

"Soviet style apartments" Really Robert? I think whatever the final design is will be a far cry from the brutalist style of those buildings. Your gross exaggerations aren't helping your cause. As for public art, you need to be careful with requirements for that, public art spaces often become sterile spaces that end up similar to those Soviet Style Apartments you fear. #Birdbrain

Anonymous said...

"A lot of focus on making White Flint the county's "downtown" and a rival to Tysons. Hasn't happened yet!"

Do realize that it took Tyson's Corner a half-century to become what it is now?

And Lord & Taylor hasn't helped.

Anonymous said...

I love the jagged edges on the left and bottom of the sign. They were too lazy to use a good pair of scissors or knife.

Anna Van Horn said...

The county has never known what to do with Bethesda.
Seems they still don't.

They might start with a cohesive plan, but after all the various alterations to that plan, the result is a hobnosh of unrelated crap.

Welcome to Bethesda.

Amazon ships bubble wrap boxed with bubble wrap

Rugby said...

Dyer I hope you take time to stretch before trying to shoehorn Westbard into every article on this site. It must take a lot of work. Its almost as impressive as it is annoying.

Anonymous said...

"The growth allowed is the wrong type, and insufficient to make downtown Bethesda an appealing destination for corporate headquarters."

So remind me why the Connor Building, the motel, Tako Grill and the Blackwell Building are being torn down?

Robert Dyer said...

8:01: I think you are confusing the Northwest Freeway with the North Central Freeway. The Northwest would have run from Rosslyn past Georgetown University via Glover Archbold Park to Tenleytown, then parallel/east of Wisconsin Avenue out to the Beltway. Most of the right-of-way was open already.

8:39: It's very relevant to compare the Westbard and Bethesda Downtown plans.

8:22: Have you seen the rendering? They - for good reason - won't show us anything but the shopping center site, which has 3 boxes lined up, and row after row of Quonset hut-townhomes behind those. It's also identical to the architect's plan for the McMillan Filtration site.

Anonymous said...

"3000+ people and all their cars dropped into a block-and-a-half area"

Dyer's articles are really just a single article that keeps getting longer and longer. Same old lame talking points that have been debunked many times previously.

Robert Dyer said...

9:05: That's already happening. I'm talking about the future under the new plan. Marriott got what they wanted. It's unclear how many other office projects will. Some of the development attorneys warned about that last week, in regards to being able to deliver the floor plate sizes tenants will want.

Anonymous said...

Tysons is a disaster, nobody wants to live or work there these days. As leases come due businesses will be looking to relocate and DC, Bethesda, Silver Spring will be high on the list.

There is plenty of office space on the horizon in Bethesda, see APEX, see 4733 Bethesda, see Marriott plus the 2 new office buildings that delivered in the last few years. Multi family residential is tough to finance these days so you're likely to see more office in the near term.

Anonymous said...

The Northwest Freeway was dropped a decade earlier than the rest of the freeway network. I don't understand why you keep beating this dead horse.

There are several small parking lots in downtown Bethesda that are along the then proposed path of the freeway, but apart from that, thousands of homes and businesses would need to be demolished.

I don't think the Town of Chevy Chase, AJ Bhatt or Deborah Vollmer would be happy to see a freeway built through their neighborhood.

And since you propose clear-cutting the Glover-Archibold Parkway, I don't ever expect to hear you wringing your hands over the Capital Crescent Trail again.

Robert Dyer said...

9:16: "Nobody wants to live or work there?" "As leases come due businesses will be looking to relocate?"

All those businesses you're talking about just comparison shopped among the jurisdictions you mentioned, and they chose Tysons. Intelsat, Hilton, Volkswagen, etc. There's also a new residential tower with a skybridge right to the Metro. What they did right was to have the jobs first, then add housing.

9:24: Wrong. If you look at the map, the only significant obstacle was and is houses in East Bethesda. Once you get to Jones Bridge Road, it was clear to the Beltway. You can see the green strip along Elmhirst Parkway that goes right to the Beltway. No part of the Northwest Freeway would have demolished homes in the Town of Chevy Chase.

Glover Archbold Park is a highway facility, not a park, much like Little Falls Stream Valley Park.

Anonymous said...

"Glover Archbold Park is a highway facility, not a park, much like Little Falls Stream Valley Park."


Kenwood Coalition said...

so its cool to bulldoze east bethesda but not Chevy Chase? could you imagine the spaz attack you'd have if you were to finally get your Freeway but it went through your precious westbard? If we bulldozed all two blocks of westbard and bethesda was 100x better for it would you be ok with it? If Bethesda became better than Tysons at the expense of your cemetery precinct?

Robert Dyer said...

9:41: There's no highway facility "through Westbard." There were no detailed plans for the Northwest Freeway that show what they would have done in East Bethesda. It's a few streets - they could have tunneled underneath, especially back then when the feds were paying 90% of the tab.

9:38: You don't know your D.C. freeway history, son.

Hannity said...

This county council including Elrich voted 100% in favor of overdeveloping Westbard and now Bethesda. They are all complete failures (losers) in representing the voting public but rather voting in favor of their developer friends and business partners. Power and corruption are a powerful thing. How many high rises can an already overcrowded small community like Bethesda handle with the same 1950's schools and roads? The 495 beltway system is a living, breathing, horrible constant nightmare too and getting worse daily.


Anonymous said...

I agree with Robert that the downtown Bethesda sector plan is far better than the Westbard plan (and that it's valid to compare the two), but disagree with many of his additional points:

1. Corporate headquarters are possible under the Bethesda sector plan-- provided that development is concentrated in a few high-rise projects on the west side of Wisconsin Aveenue. Granted, that's unlikely to happen due to the waning demand for office space-- but that's the state of the market, not the fault of the planners.

2. While I agree with Robert's position on Westbard (much too dense/tall for the surrounding area), the block-and-a-half meme (as Robert well knows) is inaccurate *because the so-called block on Westbard Avenue is the size of 3-4 standard blocks.* Why Robert doesn't deep six this tired description is anyone's guess. It only undercuts his (accurate) position on Westbard.

3. Glover-Archibold Park runs in part along Massachusetts Avenue in upper NW DC. That's not a freeway area. What freeway is being referred to? If it's Dalecarlia Parkway, that's really not a freeway.

4. Punching a highway into downtown Bethesda might accelerate the kind of high-rise corporate development that Robert desires (*if* the market is there*, but it would only exacerbate the problems faced by settled, single-family neighborhoods like East Bethesda. A highway extending into downtown Bethesda is a bad idea.

Anonymous said...

In 1947, Senator Carl Hayden proposed to build a four-lane divided highway called Arizona Avenue through the Glover Archbold Park, from Canal Road in Georgetown to Wisconsin Avenue in Friendship Heights.[1]

Hayden's proposed highway was not built; the path is now the Glover Archbold Trail and the Massachusetts-39th Trail.

Weaver Street and Weaver Place were renamed Arizona Avenue in 1954[5] after a suggestion by the American University Park Citizens' Association.

This park is one of the "finger parks" of Rock Creek Park, administered by the National Park Service

[1]Rogers, Harold B. (December 21, 1947). "Hayden Bill Asks Developing Arizona Avenue: Four-lane Freeway Would Be Built from Canal Road". Washington Evening Star. p. 33.

Robert Dyer said...

11:17: You need to look a bit further back and forward. Long before the Senator suggested that road (and indeed Arizona Avenue is another Potomac River crossing that was axed), the federal government set aside many stream valleys to reserve them for a network of parkways (this was before the Eisenhower freeway era). Among the completed parkways are Rock Creek, Little Falls and the George Washington.

This is why, when Montgomery County made the foolish decision to give part of Little Falls Stream Valley Park to developer EYA, they needed permission from the federal level.

When the "freeway fights" Astroturf sabotage campaign started, many of these facilities ended up as permanent parks.

Second, the road you're referring to is not the later Northwest Freeway, which was to be I-266 crossing the Potomac, then up Glover Archbold Park to Tenleytown and Bethesda. This was still under discussion as recently as the 1970s.

Robert Dyer said...

11:04: On the freeway questions - the Northwest Freeway would have crossed the Potomac over the unbuilt Three Sisters Bridge into Georgetown, and then followed the path of Glover Archbold Park. It would actually have crossed underneath Massachusetts Avenue by the synagogue, and continued to Tenleytown. It would pass under Tenley Circle, and then travel behind businesses on the east side of Wisconsin out to Friendship Heights and Bethesda. Most of the right-of-way would have been the parking lots behind Wisconsin Avenue businesses.

The freeway would pass behind the Chevy Chase Club, as well. Once at the Naval Hospital, it would have followed Elmhirst Parkway to the Beltway (another green strip on the map set aside for this purpose).

The freeway is very unlikely to be built now, with all that's been built in the right-of-way, without extensive tunneling. Very costly. What I can say, is that it would have likely been depressed in a trench where you see all the public parking lots and parks today east of Wisconsin Avenue. It is possible to deck over a depressed freeway and build a park on top (such as the Big Dig in Boston), or even to sell air rights to developers to put buildings on top of the freeway.

Anonymous said...

Employees are fleeing Hilton for Marriott, and this is a trend that is likely to continue. Sure Tysons looks great at first glance but once these leases begin and employees are unhappy the companies suffer and when renewal comes they reevaluate. Marriott is moving to Bethesda specifically to attract employees.

Norm Bates said...

If Dyer gets his freeway perhaps he could open a little motel for traveling councilmen.

Anonymous said...

"It would pass under Tenley Circle, and then travel behind businesses on the east side of Wisconsin out to Friendship Heights and Bethesda. Most of the right-of-way would have been the parking lots behind Wisconsin Avenue businesses.

"The freeway is very unlikely to be built now, with all that's been built in the right-of-way,"

The "right-of-way" was already completely built up at the time the freeway was proposed back in the 1950s. To suggest that the entire stretch from the north end of Glover Archibold Park to Jones Bridge Road could have been squeezed into "parking lots behind businesses" is complete denial of reality.

"'Freeway fights' astroturf sabotage campaign"

More complete denial of reality.

Anonymous said...

No mention of Bethesda Place, where the old Discovery Channel was located before they took off for Silver Spring. They completely missed the mark, behind those buildings that butt up against Safeway and the Pancake house, a big art park, well sort of, but it's almost walled off from the public. Most use it as a cut-thru to get from Wisconsin Ave to Woodmont Ave. What a waste of space, IMO.

Robert Dyer said...

2:02: Anybody can bring up the route on Google Maps and see for themselves that the highway would have fit. As the planners expected, much along Wisconsin would redevelop anyway, but the elected officials never built the road to support it.

The "reality" is that the Northwest Freeway would have been much less impactful on existing neighborhoods than the North Central Freeway.

Anonymous said...

"transformed into a concrete canyon of Soviet-style apartment blocs"

a couple good points in the article, but then you have to revert to the typical extreme exaggerations and characterizations.

Anonymous said...

Glover Archibold Park was not created in 1947. It was created in 1924 after Charles Carroll Glover and Anne Mills Archbold, who donated its land. It was 23 years before anyone suggested building a road through it.

Also, Dyer has conveniently omitted the remainder of the proposed Northwest Freeway, which would have continued southeast from the junction with the road through Glover Archibold Park. That portion of the freeway would have plowed through Cleveland Park, Woodley Park and Adams-Morgan before terminating at the proposed Inner Loop Freeway along Florida Avenue.

Anonymous said...

"Anybody can bring up the route on Google Maps and see for themselves that the highway would have fit"

WTF does "fit" mean? Building the freeway would have required the demolition of thousands of homes and businesses in Bethesda, Friendship Heights, Tenleytown, Cleveland Park, Woodley Park amd Adams-Morgan.

Robert Dyer said...

2:16/2:32: You're simply incorrect. There were no homes in the way until you get to East Bethesda, and it was never stated that the road would for certain go through those. Building the Northwest Freeway did not require the part toward the Center Leg, even though both should have been done for the good of our region.

The road would have run BEHIND the businesses along Wisconsin Avenue.

Anonymous said...

"The road would have run BEHIND the businesses along Wisconsin Avenue."

This is magical thinking. "Behind the businesses" are houses, and in many cases, more businesses. This is true all the way from Jones Bridge Road down to Massachusetts Avenue.

And interchanges would be required where the freeway crossed major roadways - Jones Bridge Road, East-West Highway, Bradley Boulevard, Western Avenue/Military Road, etc.

Anonymous said...

If one or both roads had been built back then, it would have altered the landscape of where they built new houses and businesses over the past 50 years.

We'd probably end up with the same bad traffic problems. Just in different places than they are now.

Robert Dyer said...

6:47/4:44: If both roads had been built, it would have altered traffic patterns for the better. One could have traveled from downtown Bethesda to the National Zoo or Kennedy Center in about 15 minutes, even at peak times.

Again, you have to look at the map. There is a wide gap between the streetfront businesses along Wisconsin and the homes behind them. Yes, there would have been interchanges, but no plans detailed enough were ever produced to show which roads would have them.

There is a huge space for an interchange where the freeway would have crossed under Massachusetts Avenue, by the way.

Anonymous said...

"One could have traveled from downtown Bethesda to the National Zoo or Kennedy Center in about 15 minutes, even at peak times."

Ha ha ha... that's the best laugh I've had all weekend.

"Again, you have to look at the map. There is a wide gap between the streetfront businesses along Wisconsin and the homes behind them."

Again, you keep cherry-picking a single part of the route, and claiming that the entire five miles between Jones Bridge Road and Massachusetts Avenue would have been exactly the same. You're completely wrong.

"Yes, there would have been interchanges, but no plans detailed enough were ever produced to show which roads would have them."

Not sure what your point is. There would have been interchanges at the major roadways and they would have required huge amounts of land.

Anonymous said...

"'Freeway fights' astroturf sabotage campaign"

Translation: (((Teh Jooz)))

Anonymous said...

"Building the Northwest Freeway did not require the part toward the Center Leg, even though both should have been done for the good of our region."

Once again, Dyer is trying to have his cake and eat it too, and ignoring the point that building the southern part of the Northwest Freeway would have been even more destructive than building the northern part.

Robert Dyer said...

8:15: There is no "northern" and "southern" part, just the "Northwest Freeway." But if you want to split it up, you've got it backwards - the "southern part" between the Potomac River and Tenley Circle had nothing in the way at all until you reach the end of Glover Archbold Park at Tenleytown. There, it was supposed to go underground, under Tenley Circle, and what's there just before the circle is government/utility land, a gas station, and a later American University building.

7:17: Do you know something I don't?

Anonymous said...

Dyer @ 4:30 AM -

Wrong. The road would have required the taking of at least 8 houses just in the one block between Tenley Circle and Warren Street.

Robert Dyer said...

7:15: That article isn't accurate when it says "downtown Bethesda as we know it likely wouldn't exist." The sketch of the planned highway showed it on the east side, having zero impact on Bethesda Row, the Metro Center, Woodmont Triangle, etc.

8 houses is a joke compared to the demos for the Purple Line. Much of this road would have been out of the way in a trench, which could have been decked over for parks, or air rights development.

Downtown Bethesda to National Zoo or Kennedy Center in 15 minutes - and a masterful freeway system allowing easy access to every destination in the area - would have been well worth the minimal impacts.


Anonymous said...

Dyer, your reading comprehension sucks. Eight houses IN A SINGLE BLOCK. With many other blocks in the path of the proposed freeway facing similar or greater devastation.

Somehow your warped mind interpreted that to mean "only eight houses in the entire five mile long path".

Robert Dyer said...

8:03: Not any significant number until you get to East Bethesda, Again, the Purple Line you support is more destructive than the freeway would have been.


Anonymous said...

Dyer, did you even bother to look at all those maps which showed the hundreds of then-existing buildings in the path of the proposed freeway?

Anonymous said...

Robert Dyer has the worst case of Confirmation Bias that I've ever seen.

G. Money said...

7:15: Dyer, Google maps says it would take 20 minutes to get from downtown Bethesda to the zoo and 26 minutes to get the Kennedy Center right now. Is it really that important to get the zoo five minutes faster that you'd want to demolish an important park space that adds significant value for the residents of NW DC?

Anyway, I guarantee you that I've driven that route more than you have, and spent more time in those parts of DC than you have. A freeway through that part of DC would be a total waste and would ruin what's great about that part of the city.

Robert Dyer said...

7:58: I suspect the times would be quite different if one were, for example, trying to reach a show at the Kennedy Center during rush hour. But those were only two examples of popular destinations. I frequently drive to Union Station, and it is not only a chore with the ridiculously low speed limits and gotcha cameras, but the street layout between Dupont Circle and the approach to Union Station is insane. I suspect I could be there in 15 minutes with a completed freeway system.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
G. Money said...

8:13: How so? Union Station is nowhere near the Northwest Freeway. Are you now proposing that we should bulldoze the U St. corridor to build an inner beltway so that you can shave a few minutes off of your trip to Union Station (which you could also do by taking Metro)?

Robert Dyer said...

I would bulldoze anything illegally built in the way of the freeway facilities, such as those blocking the North Central Freeway in D.C. and Maryland in very recent years. We're talking about a functioning transportation system, not building luxury apartments for the private profit of a few. Nobody seems to have a moral issue with throwing people out of their homes in D.C. for luxury apartments - why the hangup, then, on something that benefits everyone? Interesting.

Anonymous said...

You're as crazy as Douglas Willinger.

Anonymous said...

"anything illegally built in the way of the freeway facilities, such as those blocking the North Central Freeway in D.C."

What law is being broken?

G. Money said...

9:26: Many people have a problem with throwing people out of their homes for luxury apartments. That is not the issue here. That being said, the economic development of 14th St., U St., and other nearby neighborhoods certainly benefits more than just luxury apartment owners. Further, you haven't established that building a freeway through downtown DC would benefit "everyone." You've established that it would help you. If you want to be able to get to Union Station faster, move downtown.