With the adoption of the Bethesda Downtown Plan in 2017, the County Council implemented a hard cap on development, with the total gross floor area not to exceed 32.4 million square feet. The Sector Plan also included a “soft cap” of 30.4 million square feet, which was just recently exceeded in September.
By exceeding the “soft cap,” the County Council may now consider requiring certain actions to address needed infrastructure and/or achieving certain Non-Auto Driver Mode Share (NADMS) goals and progress toward the acquisition of the recommended new parks, before additional development is permitted. Exceeding the “soft cap” also provides the County Council with the opportunity to revisit the overall concept and purpose of the cap, if they so desire.
The Planning, Housing, and Parks Committee of the Montgomery County Council was briefed by the Planning Department on September 18 on the 2023 Bethesda Annual Monitoring Report and current status of the cap. Similarly, Planning Staff briefed the Planning Board during their regularly scheduled meeting on September 28.
In their presentation to the Board, Staff focused on the successful advancements in achieving the Sector Plan’s goals to-date. Specifically, Staff noted that needed infrastructure is being implemented by private developments throughout Bethesda and that NADMS goals are positively trending toward the Sector Plan goal of 55% (with an average employee/resident NADMS of over 50% in 2021).
Per the annual monitoring report, $14,563,926 has been collected through Park Impact Payments to-date. In addition, the Parks Department has leveraged private development to help realize new parks in Bethesda. Staff notes that the Bethesda Overlay Zone and the Park Impact Payment “…have been phenomenally successful generators of economic growth, jobs, affordable and market-rate housing, progress toward spectacular new parks, and improved transit, bicycle, and pedestrian facilities.” Additional private investment from development is key to the continued advancement of these goals.
Although there is still almost 2 million square feet remaining under the current hard cap, Staff recognizes the importance of providing certainty for developers looking to do business in Bethesda. As such, Staff is recommending a multi-prong approach that includes: (1) a Zoning Text Amendment to eliminate the 32.4 million square foot hard cap from the Zoning Ordinance, and (2) a minor master plan amendment to address the cap contained in the Sector Plan (although Staff has not yet made a specific recommendation on how to address the cap). The Planning Board appeared supportive of Staff’s suggestions.
The Planning Board is holding a follow-up BOZ Briefing on October 12, at which time they will be taking public testimony and will make a recommendation to the Montgomery County Council, who will discuss the issue this Fall. If you are interested in testifying before the Planning Board on this issue, you can sign up directly at the following link: Sign Up to Testify Form – Montgomery Planning Board.
Should you have questions about the BOZ cap or the impacts it may present for your property, or your potential testimony, please do not hesitate to contact us.