County planners had a tough job last week.

Their aim last Wednesday night was to introduce the emerging, but loosely defined planning concept of an ecodistrict to the public. Without actual ideas for how an ecodistrict might apply in downtown Bethesda, many in the room seemed miffed.

Those who came to the meeting learned an ecodistrict could look like many things. The word itself is written in many ways, depending on which city or organization is describing it. (There are ecodistricts, Ecodistricts, EcoDistricts and even an ecoDistrict, for example.)

The basic idea is the same: It’s more effective to set goals for energy reduction and sustainability measures for an entire neighborhood than individual properties and developments.

An ecodistrict could look like the SW D.C. Ecodistrict Plan approved in January 2013 for 15-blocks of massive, aging federal government buildings south of the National Mall.

Otto Condon, an architect at the firm of Zimmer Gunsul Frasca, worked on that plan and presented along with county planners on Wednesday at the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Regional Services Center.


The SW D.C. Ecodistrict vision includes reuse of stormwater for flush loads and irrigation, solar thermal systems on the roofs of buildings, a solar panel canopy above the L’Enfant VRE Station and cisterns in the dead space under 10th street to collect 92 million gallons of stormwater each year.

The goal is net zero energy, meaning the total amount of energy used by the buildings in the area is about equal to the amount of renewable energy created on the site.

It’s a plan on a scale that downtown Bethesda very likely wouldn’t be able to match. But there are many other examples, including redevelopment of low-income housing, an established central business district and the site of a power plant.


Over a 20-year period, the NCPC hopes the plan will result in most  of the area’s energy, water, and waste being captured, managed, and then reused. Greenhouse gas emissions would be reduced by 51 percent, even with the potential addition of 4 million square feet of development.

Potable water consumption would be reduced by 70 percent, all stormwater will be managed and 80 percent of waste could be diverted from landfills.

It’s those types of goals that county planners are vetting with stakeholders before making any specific recommendations. Tina Schneider, an Environmental Planner on the project, said an ecodistrict could consist simply of landscaping in public right-of-ways to capture rainwater.


The presentation on a future Bethesda ecodistrict emphasized stormwater management, green building initiatives and carbon reduction as areas where existing county regulations could come into play.

After the presentation, planners asked attendees to split into groups and identify which sustainability measures were most important to them in four general areas: Woodmont Triangle, Bethesda Row, the Wisconsin Avenue Corridor and the Pearl District — a new idea envisioned by property owners along East-West Highway and Montgomery Avenue.

Planners hope to present their recommendations for the Bethesda Downtown Plan this fall to the Planning Board.


Rendering via National Capital Planning Commission via Montgomery County Planning