Montgomery County planners are looking to buy 0.4 acres near Bethesda Row for a dual purpose: to support Purple Line construction and create a new urban park.
A proposal to buy the land for $8.5 million is set to come before the Montgomery County Planning Board for a vote on Thursday, as officials try to cement the deal by the year’s end, board Chairman Casey Anderson said. If the planning board approves the purchase and all goes well, the site could someday become one of downtown Bethesda’s most significant civic spaces, he added.
“That was the site that was identified by members of the public during our meetings leading up to the Bethesda plan as being the center of Bethesda, the heart of the downtown. So the ability to turn that into an actively programmed and well-maintained park is going to be, I think, a huge step forward,” Anderson said.
Officials said the proposal has been years in the making. The property east of Woodmont Avenue near Mon Ami Gabi is identified in the Bethesda Downtown Sector Plan as a desirable location for a park.
The Bethesda Purple Line Station Plan Minor Master Plan Amendment also describes the importance of providing open space in this area.
Parks officials are ironing out final details of the purchase agreement with Federal Realty Investment Trust, which owns the land, Anderson said. The transaction hinges on getting the County Council’s permission to tap into the Advance Land Acquisition Revolving Fund, a pool of money dedicated to acquiring property for future public use.
In this case, county planners expect the state will need the property during the Purple Line project, expected to wrap up by 2022.
“That’s kind of the bad news. For a period of time … this is going to be a fenced-off construction area,” Parks Director Mike Riley said.
Once the project is finished, the Maryland Transit Administration will retain the right to cross the property to access the light-rail tracks, but that won’t prevent the county from transforming the entire area into a park, he said.
Moreover, the county expects to recoup a significant percentage of the purchase price from the state in exchange for letting MTA use the site. The county is still working out the arrangement with the state, so the exact amount hasn’t been finalized, Anderson said.
Council President Roger Berliner said he’s long supported putting a public park in that spot and fought development plans that would’ve consumed the empty space. The popularity of the plaza in front of Barnes & Noble demonstrates the need for gathering places in that area, he said.
“That part of Bethesda is among the most vibrant parts of Bethesda, and there is a yearning for a public commons,” Berliner said.
He said he’d like to see plenty of green space and some seating in a future park.
During Purple Line construction, parks officials will gather community feedback to begin designing the public park, Riley said. The park could draw everyone from theatergoers and shoppers on Bethesda Row to cyclists traveling the Capital Crescent Trail as it emerges from the Apex building site, Riley said.
“We just want to make it a place where people want to stop and a place where people want to be,” he said.
Figure showing potential features of the Capital Crescent Civic Green. Parks Director Mike Riley said if the land is purchased, parks planners will work with community members to develop a design. Via Bethesda Downtown Plan Design Guidelines
Amanda Farber, a Bethesda resident who has advocated for park development, said a new public park would be nice, but it’s just one piece of addressing the community’s need for open space.
“It’s great that it’s going to be a park, but it’s hardly like a big, grand Central Park,” she said, adding that $8.5 million seems like a large sum to pay for the slice of land. “It’ll be nice to have something there after all these years of nothing.”
Farber said she hopes the park can at least provide a “splash of green” in the area and won’t become a brick plaza like the area in front of Barnes & Noble.
Officials are also pursuing opportunities to create adjacent open spaces. Anderson said they’re hoping to add part of the empty land along Reed Street, possibly increasing the size of the park to 0.6 or 0.7 acres.
Across the street, Ourisman Honda has agreed to widen the Capital Crescent Trail and build a plaza as part of a potential deal with county officials. The Planning Board approved the deal in July, but it still needs the County Council’s approval.
Riley said the County Council in December likely will take up the recommended land purchase for the Capital Crescent Civic Green.