• Bethesda Sector Plan Heads to Montgomery County Council for Vote
  • September 29, 2016 | Author: Stacy P. Silber
  • Law Firm: Lerch, Early & Brewer, Chartered - Bethesda Office
  • Developers and property owners in Bethesda may soon have alternative means to add density and reposition their properties despite the proposed sector plan’s strict limits on new density.

    After more than a year of public hearings, work sessions and community outreach, the Bethesda Sector Plan is heading to the Montgomery County Council for final adoption. The council is expected to hold public hearings on the plan in mid-October, with final adoption expected later this year or in early 2017. The Montgomery County Planning Board voted in July to recommend the plan be sent to the council.

    The planning board’s draft plan recommends retaining existing densities for all properties in the Bethesda Central Business District. However, it does recommend that specific properties be provided with greater height to encourage redevelopment. This means if a building is 50 feet tall and the plan says it can go to 100 feet, the developer needs to buy additional density to fill the space.

    Typically, the planning board increases density to encourage development. However, this time there was too much density, so they gave height and facilitated buying density from neighbors.

    Under the new plan, there are three ways for this to occur:
    1. Density Averaging: Use the existing allowance that allows density to be averaged between properties that are located within a quarter-mile of the other. One may use this additional density to reach the Sector Plan mapped heights.
    2. Bethesda Overlay Zone: Acquire ‘bonus’ density from a finite pool. The planning board allocated approximately 3.1 million square feet available to be ‘bought’ through this process. When the pool is depleted, this option will be closed. To use this density, one must pay a Park Impact Payment (the board recommended $10 per square foot), provide 15% Moderately Priced Dwelling Units (MPDU), and be subject to a Design Review Panel, among other requirements. Note: The planning board will have ultimate review authority over how much density can be allocated to a property as part of its plan review.
    3. Priority Sending Sites: The board identified Priority Sending Sites throughout the sector plan area. Put simply, these sites - deemed worthy of being preserved as a community resource, a park or affordable housing - aren’t using as much density as they legally could. By accepting the PSS designation, they would give up their right to use the potential density but gain the ability to sell it to other projects. To encourage developers to buy from these sites, the board recommended various incentives, including lifting the quarter-mile restriction, removing the Building Lot Termination (BLT) requirement, eliminating the 15% MPDU requirement on the bonus density, and waiving the Park Impact Payment.
    The County Council is expected to hold public hearings on the Plan in mid-October, with final adoption expected in late 2016 or in early 2017.

    Find the draft plan may be found on the planning board’s website.