Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Parking Fuels Anger in Bethesda

LOT 31, Bethesda's stalled mixed-use development, has come under fire again, this time for its $89 million, 1,100-space parking garage. The structures are part of two developments at Woodmont and Bethesda Avenues, a joint project between Montgomery County, PN Hoffman and Stonebridge Associates approved in 2007. In a joint press release this week, The Action Committee for Transit (ACT) and the Montgomery County Group of the Sierra Club blasted the five and four-story parking garages that will comprise Lot 31 as wasteful, poorly-planned targets for taxpayer money.

Designed by SK&I Architectural Design Group, the 3-year project is expected to begin construction at 4712 Bethesda Avenue across from Barnes and Nobel sometime in 2011, but has drawn fire from environmentalists since its inception.

ACT and the Sierra Club object to the what they view as an automobile-centric approach to development so close to public transit, at public expense to boot. As part of the deal to entice developers to build, the county offered to pay for much of the $89m parking garage, or $80,000 per parking space, which developers see as a misallocation of resources that could be better spent on public transit. As in previous requests, ACT and the Sierra Club argue that "the high cost of the garage means that even in the improbable event that the garage fills up, parking fees will not cover the cost of construction," and argue for a 300-space garage instead.

So, why is the cost of construction so high? During a 2008 interview with DCMud, SK&I President, Sami Kirkdil explained that the project is more complex than usual parking structures because it requires construction crews to dig five levels into rock while at the same time "basically, taking Woodmont Avenue away," by slowing the traffic patterns around the garage.

This justification does not sit well with environmental groups who believe the number of Bethesda-area drivers has been over-estimated by the County and that the construction of the planned Purple Line,which could potentially stop just down the street from the planned garage, will further dim the need for parking in downtown Bethesda.

For their part, PN Hoffman and Stonebridge promise a "public atrium" component to the project that will serve pedestrians by acting as a meeting point between existing shops along Bethesda Row and their planned mixed-use buildings, with 357,000 square feet of ground-floor retail and residential space.

Perhaps with all of the drivers heading to Bethesda to take advantage of the safer pedestrian environment, all that extra parking will come in handy.

Bethesda Real Estate Development News


Anonymous said...

In many neighborhoods such as downtown Bethesda or U Street, there is free curbside parking or free parking available in municipal garages on weekends yet demand for parking is often highest during the evening or weekend periods because of the high concentration of retail and entertainment amenities. This subsidy to drivers discourages transit use at exactly those times when the amount of congestion may be the greatest in these neighborhoods. Charging market-based prices for parking during these periods will encourage some drivers to shift to transit instead, reducing the need for this wasteful 1,100 space garage.

Alex B on Dec 2, 2009, 9:58:00 AM said...

i rent an apartment right there and i see the action. in my mind, that lot is the one nice breath of fresh air and space that exists in bethesda row. people also forget that you have the capital crescent trail right where bikers, joggers, walkers, etc, congregate. so what happens to that??? honestly, i'd rather see them turn that area into an open space than place more building, parking and unnecessary junk there. i'm not saying that because i rent there. if i owned there maybe i'd be more biased. i just don't think the extra parking is worth adding more cluster to an area. but that's just me. i value elbow room.

Ken on Dec 2, 2009, 10:01:00 AM said...

For the record, Hoffman-Archstone is not getting rid of the bike trail. In fact there would be several amenities added to the trail for improvement.

Critically Urban on Dec 2, 2009, 2:58:00 PM said...

Wasteful parking lot, great above-ground development.

IMGoph on Dec 2, 2009, 8:41:00 PM said...

it would have helped to mention that the big problem that those protesting this have is that part of the justification for the parking was an assumption that more people will drive to bethesda once the purple line opens. seems very counterintuitive.

MattF said...

Part of the problem is that many people feel (with some justification) that on-street parking and surface parking lots are safer than parking ramps (or worse, five-level, underground parking ramps), so there's a prospect that the proposed facility will be underused.

In any case, it looks to me like both sides are holding to unrealistic positions. Given the large, rich, and growing 'hinterland' of downtown Bethesda, congestion and continuing increases in the concentration of people and cars is inevitable, and it's going to get worse, no matter what. I think the important thing is to design for livability in a dense environment. If this means spending some of the garage money on improving street life, without pretending that we're really all longing for a rural idyll, I'd be for it.

Anonymous said...

KILL THE PARKING GARAGE! Its insane. $80k/space?! If you financed that space at 6% that would be $500 per month. Makes no sense. People should walk.

Anonymous said...

Making this building accessible only to those coming by Metro would only work if those of us who work, dine, and shop in Bethesda lived anywhere near Metro. Many of us do not and therefore the parking is essential to us. I suspect that many people only come to Bethesda to shop, dine or go to the movies and that they have the same issue. The parking is essential.

Anonymous said...

As someone who has grown up in Bethesda and works literally right across the street from this proposed site I can tell you that this parking garage is essential to the further growth and prosperity of downtown Bethesda. As it is it is nearly impossible to find a space in that lot, the Elm street garage, or on the street surrounding that area during the weekday. On the weekends or evenings when people are walking around and shopping, dining, etc. It just flat out is impossible. I'm fortunate enough to have a space in a corporate garage there provided by my company but when I meet people in Bethesda for dinner on a Friday or Saturday night I am always shocked by how long it takes them to find parking...we're talking an hour or sometimes even more. If this development is going to reach its potential then parking is a MUST. Does it have to be 5 levels and 1100 spaces? I don't know but 300 isn't enough. The metro isn't for everyone.

IMGoph on Dec 3, 2009, 4:40:00 PM said...

when I meet people in bethesda for dinner on a friday or saturday night i am always shocked by how long it takes me to get to the metro from my house...we're talking an hour or sometimes even more. if this development is going to reach its potential then access for EVERYONE to metro is a MUST. do we need a line on every street in the entire DC area? i don't know, but the red, orange, yellow, blue, green, silver, and purple lines aren't enough. driving isn't for everyone.

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