Thursday, October 27, 2016

Bethesda Downtown Plan - Woodmont Triangle Action Group Testimony

The following is testimony from the Woodmont Triangle Action Group regarding the Bethesda Downtown Plan.  The testimony was delivered by WTAG member Any O’Hare to the County Council on October 20, 2016.  Full written testimony can be found here

Woodmont Triangle Action Group
 Statement Regarding the Bethesda Plan
October 20, 2016

Good evening Council Members. My name is Andy O’Hare and I am here on behalf of the Woodmont Triangle Action Group or WTAG. 

The WTAG was formed as an outgrowth to the Woodmont Triangle amendment to the 1994 Bethesda Sector plan, completed in 2006.  WTAG was tasked with reviewing development projects in the Triangle pursuant to the vision outlined in the sector plan amendment. 

We appreciate the Council’s leadership in encouraging the update to the 1994 Bethesda plan, now more than 20 years old.  There have been a lot of economic and demographic changes to Bethesda since the prior plan was conceived and a new Bethesda vision was necessary. 
We offer the following recommendations regarding the new Plan:

1.      More Specifics on Plan Implementation are Necessary: There is a great deal of concern that the Plan does not address how the Plan elements will be implemented and specifically how they will be funded.  This is worrisome because street and infrastructure improvements included in the prior plan still have not been made 20 years later.  The Plan needs to address how short term and long term improvements will be funded through the capital improvement program (CIP). 

2.      All Parks and Public Space Maintenance Should be Coordinated: The new plan envisions a number of new public parks and spaces.  We believe that the maintenance of these facilities should be done by a single entity and specifically recommend that the Bethesda Urban Partnership be assigned this responsibility. 

3.      Amenity Fund Dollars Should be Spent Locally: We appreciate that the amenity fund concept, included in the 2006 Woodmont Sector Plan amendment, is being continued.  We believe that the funds collected through this program should be spent on public amenities in the Bethesda Plan area.   Developers will likely be more willing to consider the fund alternative if they can be assured that the funds will be used in the area where they are making investments in new development.  

4.      Preserving Right-of-Way on Wisconsin Avenue for BRT Not Feasible: The plan recommendations regarding bus rapid transit (BRT) include extending the proposed MD 355 South BRT corridor to the intersection of Elm Street and Wisconsin Ave to provide direct connections to the Purple Line. We are concerned that preserving right-of-way (ROW) along Wisconsin Avenue in downtown Bethesda is no longer feasible. A number of properties along Wisconsin have been built without the necessary BRT ROW.  We don’t envision a circumstance where such ROW will be available until these sites are redeveloped, likely many years into the future. Moreover, preserving ROW for BRT stations and dedicated lanes could result in excessive setbacks, leaving streetscapes along Wisconsin Avenue with unnecessarily wide and empty sidewalks/spaces.

5.      Facilities for Youth Need to be a Priority: We would like the plan to address the needs of youth.  We believe a community center for youth recreation will be necessary to address the large number of new residents envisioned by the Plan. 

6.      Existing Public Spaces Need to be Activated: Attention should be focused on activating those public spaces that have already been created as part of the old plan.  Many remain lifeless and inaccessible to the general public.  We note the space adjacent to the Residence Inn on Wisconsin Avenue and the public space at the intersection of East Land and Montgomery Avenue as prime examples.

The Community Advisory Group Recommended by the Plan is Necessary:  The Plan calls for the formation of a new advisory group to advise the Planning Board on implementation of the new Plan.  We strongly support the creation of such a group and believe it should be modeled after the WTAG, though tasked with overseeing implementation of the entire Plan.