County Planning Board Chair Casey Anderson on Thursday said he understands that $8.5 million seems like a large sum for a 0.4-acre sliver of land.
But the proposed county purchase won unanimous support from the planning board because it could give rise to a park in the heart of Bethesda.
“This is an expensive piece of property, but as we heard in closed session, I think this represents a good deal,” Anderson said before the vote. “It’s probably at or below market value, and a crucial piece of the Bethesda downtown plan.”
Anderson said later in a phone interview that park and planning officials have been negotiating the purchase price based on two independent appraisals of the property. While he couldn’t disclose the valuation details before the acquisition is finalized, he said both appraisals “comfortably supported” the $8.5 million purchase price.
He said construction of a retail building would’ve been possible on the property, and the county is on track to acquire the site’s development rights as part of the deal.
The Bethesda plan, which was approved earlier this year, identifies the spot east of Woodmont Avenue near Mon Ami Gabi as a good place for an urban park.
Parks officials have been working for several years to negotiate an agreement with Federal Realty Investment Trust, which owns the land, Parks Director Mike Riley has said. Anderson said he hopes to combine the purchased property with some empty land along Reed Street to increase the urban park’s size to about 0.7 acres.
In the short term, the state likely will need to use the site during Purple Line construction, but officials are hoping to turn the area into a park after the light-rail project’s anticipated 2022 completion. Anderson said that even during construction, the county might be able to find an interim community use for the property.
County Council President Roger Berliner is among those who have been eying the spot for years, as community members clamor for more parks in the downtown area. The site is ideal for attracting shoppers, theatergoers and cyclists on the Capital Crescent Trail, Riley has said.
Planning Board member Natali Fani-Gonzalez said the deal to buy land for the Capital Crescent Civic Green addresses the public’s desire for more open space.
“I’m very pleased that we’re actually delivering for those who say that we never do,” she said.
The proposed purchase will now go to the County Council for a final decision.