Groundbreaking for Lot 31, the public-private StonebridgeCarras-PN Hoffman project on Bethesda Row, in the works since 2004, missed its January target date after being delayed yet again. But lead developer Stonebridge and Montgomery County government officials say it's not because the project is flagging on the home stretch - nor was the delay a response to complaints from local businesses about the closure of the lots and of Woodmont Avenue during construction.
"Just paperwork," said Esther Bowring, Montgomery County public information officer. "The project is still very much full steam ahead. We just need to make sure all the paperwork, all the permits, are in place before we proceed."
Doug Firstenberg, principal at StonebridgeCarras, agreed. "The hard part, the financing [with Northwestern], is already done, we formally closed on that in late November. I'm not sure I would even use the term 'delay.' With a partnership of this magnitude, there are so many I's to dot and T's to cross, we just want to get all the documentation straight." StonebridgeCarras originally set a start date of last summer, then pushed that back to January of 2012.
The SK&I-designed Lot 31 project, which will straddle Woodmont Avenue, is a keystone of the ongoing revitalization of Woodmont Triangle. In addition to 40,000 s. f. of retail space, and two residential units - The Flats, 162-unit apartment complex, and the Darcy, an 88-unit condominium building - the project will also incorporate a massive underground parking garage of nearly 1200 spaces. Of these, around 940 are earmarked for public use, with the rest associated with the two residential buildings. Presently, Lots 31 and 31A offer just under 280 parking spaces, so the finished complex will represent an almost fourfold increase.
Growth comes at a price. The existing spaces will be unavailable once construction starts, and the new garage isn't projected to open until two and a half years from groundbreaking. In addition, a stretch of Woodmont below Bethesda Avenue is going to be closed for twenty months as developers correct the distorted 'x' of the intersection, prompting some local businesses to wonder if they can weather an extended period of (perhaps sharply) reduced foot traffic.
Ultimately, those concerns were outweighed by what some see as Bethesda's urgent need for more parking. The zoning in the area requires zero parking for residential projects, a policy designed to steer people towards public parking and public transit.
Short-term, locals will have a number of alternatives once Lot 31 closes. Aside from increasing Circulator bus service, the county is shifting many long-term spaces out of the immediate area, as well as creating over a hundred new short-term spaces. They're also optimizing the parking that already exists. "We're installing a car-counter at Garage 57 [Bethesda-Elm Parking Garage] so people will be able to get the most out of that facility," says Bowring. "Right now you have to drive all the way to the top to see if there are any spaces, and that can be tight. Hopefully if we have the available spaces displayed on the outside for everyone to see, it will encourage people to use it."
In the big picture, Lot 31 is just one of several projects currently underway in downtown Bethesda. Stonebridge is also building a residential tower on the former Trillium site, Bainbridge Bethesda (formerly the Monty) is coming along on schedule, and JBG/Ross are turning 4900 Fairmont Avenue into a residential rental units. And of course, the Purple Line is on the horizon for 2014.
Bethesda, Maryland real estate development news