A new neighborhood could rise over the next decade on the site of a surface parking lot at the Grosvenor-Strathmore Metro station in North Bethesda.
On Thursday, Metro’s board of directors authorized the transit system to negotiate a development agreement for its 412-space parking lot with the developer Fivesquares Development of Washington, D.C. The agreement would allow the company to begin the planning and design process for a mixed-use residential project that would include at least 534 residential units.
The existing surface parking lot at the Grosvenor-Strathmore Metro station. Credit: Andrew Metcalf
Metro board member Michael Goldman said during the meeting the project could bring up to 1,000 units to the site, but Fivesquares Principal Ron Kaplan told Bethesda Beat on Thursday the number could be higher than that.
The number of residential units permitted will be determined by Montgomery County officials, who are working on a “minor master plan amendment” for the property to determine its development potential.
“I don’t think there’s a limit yet,” Kaplan said. “They’re exploring a whole range of opportunities.”
In the past few years, county officials have typically granted higher height limits and increased density to projects on property next to or within walking distance of Metro stations as a way to promote development where residents are more likely to use mass transportation and to minimize the traffic impact on local roads.
The price Metro receives for the lot will be negotiated between the two parties based on the density approved by the county and the fair market value of the project, according to Metro board documents. To replace the lost parking spots, Metro plans to add 412 spaces to the existing parking garage at the station.
Metro is facing a projected $125 million shortfall in fare and parking revenue as well as declining ridership this year. Given the transit system’s funding issues, Montgomery County Council President Roger Berliner in December urged Metro leaders to sell valuable land it owns near its stations as a way to provide needed revenue.
Thursday’s board decision appears to show Metro is making efforts to find other sources of income, while Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld also pushes for a regional tax to provide the transit system with a dedicated source of revenue.
Kaplan said local residents shouldn’t expect construction on the project to begin soon. The proposed development, which could contain between four to six residential buildings with ground floor retail and a village green, first must be approved by county planners. Then Fivesquares plans to build in phases, constructing one building and then taking real estate market conditions into account before beginning work on another in two or three years, according to Kaplan. He projected construction on the first building could begin in 2021 once plans are approved and that development may extend into the 2030s before the project is completed.
A slide from a Metro board presentation showing sketches of what the project could look like along with information about Montgomery County’s minor master plan approval process.
However, the agreement approved by the Metro board also includes elements that commuters can expect to see implemented soon.
The board waived its longtime ban on selling food and drinks at Metro stations in order to allow Fivesquares to experiment with pop-up retail stands outside the station during the afternoon and evening.
Goldman, the Metro board member, said the retail stands would allow commuters or those riders going to the nearby Music Center at Strathmore to pick up food or drinks and be entertained by musicians at the plaza in front of the station. It would be “kind of like a tailgate party,” Goldman said.
However, Kaplan tempered that statement by saying Fivesquares is trying to determine what kind of permanent retail stores the community wants by piloting the pop-up shops in the plaza. He said vendors would sell items such as flowers, family meals or bread and there could even be kiosks for weekly needs—such as a place to drop off dry cleaning.
The retailers would most likely be outposts of local shops interested in expanding their presence, according to Kaplan. He said commuters may start seeing them as soon as late May. The pop-ups that fare the best at the plaza may be added to Fivesquares’ permanent retail lineup at the development as the buildings are constructed, according to Kaplan.
Fivesquares is confident Metro can fix its issues and be an asset for the new development, Kaplan said. The transit system has been addressing a growing list of well-publicized issues ranging from safety concerns to declining ridership over the past few years. Kaplan said Wiedefeld is doing a “fantastic” job by implementing an improvement plan to make the system sustainable in the future.
“We are very much a believer in transit-oriented development,” Kaplan said.