The location for a planned park extension in downtown Bethesda is in flux, now that the Montgomery County parks department determined a proposed location is not adequate and is looking to sell the property.
Montgomery Parks acquired the parcel on Wisconsin Avenue in 2020 with plans to extend the existing Veteran’s Park as one of the goals of the 2017 Bethesda Downtown Sector Plan. The plan reflects the county’s vision and priorities for development in the Downtown Bethesda area.
The $9.6 million purchase encompassed two lots, 7800 Wisconsin Ave., the former longtime home of Union Hardware, and 7810 Wisconsin Ave., which houses retail shop Ultimate Home, Inc. The site is near the Marriott International headquarters at 7750 Wisconsin Ave.
“After extensive independent evaluation of the development and park planning scenarios as well as discussions with the existing developer, Parks concluded that a park at this location would be infeasible and cost prohibitive, largely because the Parks Department owns only a portion of the properties necessary to fully realize the Veteran’s Park Civic Green on this block,” said Brenda Sandberg, real estate management supervisor for Montgomery Parks.
“A park developed on the parcels currently owned by Parks would be constrained in size and would not connect to the existing Veteran’s Park,” Sandberg said.
There are three other locations within the area of Wisconsin Ave. and the existing Veteran’s Park that were identified in the initial master plan as potential park sites and officials say still have potential for use.
Now, a developer, Crescent Construction, has submitted a plan for a complex on the site that would include affordable housing. Novel Bethesda is a proposed high-rise apartment complex. In the proposal, 25% of apartment units would qualify as affordable, or as moderately priced dwelling units under county housing guidelines. It would sit on the 7820 block of Wisconsin Avenue.
“We did identify some other locations for the civic green, and those are still on the table,” said Robert Kronenberg, Montgomery Planning deputy planning director . “Even if this site gets purchased by this developer or someone else, we still have an opportunity to look at other sites within the area.”
The parcels in the 7800 block were originally acquired as a real estate asset to allow the Parks Department to negotiate for the appropriate park via land swaps and development agreements with other property owners and developers on the block, Sandberg said. According to county documents, Parks staff indicated that the future park may or may not be on the actual location of these two parcels when seeking approval for the land acquisition from the Planning Board.
Now that the Parks Department has deemed the site infeasible for a park, it is currently seeking to sell the properties at fair market value to reimburse the Bethesda Park Impact Payment account, and will pursue development of the Veteran’s Park Civic Green in another
recommended location, according to Sandberg.
Sandberg said the department expects to recoup all costs associated with these properties.
“Contrary to some recent media reports, Parks did not come to the conclusion to not put the park in this location nor make the decision to sell the properties based on the ownership status of the two parcels on the Southwest and West sides of the block,” said Bridget Broilliere, spokesperson with Montgomery Planning.
The proposed development still must go through a few stages of concept proposals before the Planning Board can make a decision, Kronenberg said. Ideally, the development would come to a vote before the board in about four months, he said.
Meanwhile, the Parks Department is moving ahead to establish a location for the park. Sandberg said the Parks Department is also currently developing two other Civic Greens in downtown Bethesda: the Capital Crescent Civic Green, the Farm Women’s Market Civic Green and adjacent portions of the Eastern Greenway.
“From everyone’s perspective, we look at the master plan and the recommendations and we take it very seriously because it has a lot of community, board and council input in it,” Kronenberg said.
Planning Board chair Jeffrey Zyontz was unable to comment on the development as it is an active regulatory case that has not come before the Planning Board yet.
Apps Bichu contributed to reporting for this story.