Merchants Worry About Economic Impact of Lot 31 Construction
Business could be affected when construction of parking garage begins, merchants say.
As the groundbreaking date nears for Lot 31, a large public/private parking garage and residential and retail space above it near the corner of Bethesda Ave. and Woodmont Ave., concerns are being aired about the construction’s impact on local merchants.
For the first 20 months after the project breaks ground in the fall, a portion of Woodmont Avenue south of Bethesda Avenue is expected to be closed to traffic, and the existing 270-spot surface parking lot will be out of commission.
“I’m very concerned, I think it will definitely impact business,” said Amy Hugo, owner of Amethyst on Bethesda Lane. “…I’m right on the end, so I’m sure I’ll be impacted. I won’t have as much walk-by traffic. People can go to another jeweler if it’s easier to park someplace else.”
Project developer Stonebridge Associates met with residents last week to display some of the project’s renderings and to talk about the timeline and construction impacts.
Once the re-route of a major Verizon line is completed – likely around June – ground is expected to break on the project sometime in the fall. From start to finish, construction is expected to take about 36 months, according to Jane Galbraith Mahaffie, a principal at Stonebridge. The garage is expected to open 30 months from the start of construction, and the two residential buildings will be completed at 36 months.
The project will consist of two condominium buildings on the east and west sides of Woodmont, south of Bethesda Avenue. The building on the east side of Woodmont will be nine stories high with 88 units, and the building on the west side will be five stories high with 162 units.
The $86 million parking garage was originally intended to have about 1,450 private and public spots, but the county is looking into reducing that number to 1,150 to save on cost. Some of those spots would be reserved for private residential parking, so the total number of public spots would likely be around 800. Initially, the estimate for public spots was just under 1,150.
At a Western Montgomery County Citizens Advisory Board meeting last Tuesday, some residents who live nearby the development aired their concerns. Robert Smythe, who lives in a neighborhood south of the development, said the closure of Woodmont would impede pedestrian access to downtown Bethesda from the south and add foot traffic to the Capital Crescent Trail. He also worried it would affect local businesses.
“It puts a heavy load on the Capital Crescent Trail of pedestrians and shoppers rather than people who use the trail for recreation,” Smythe said. “It chokes the entire downtown Bethesda area for almost two years. I’m glad I’m not a shop owner – I have a feeling this would do me in if I were.”
Lynne Loube, another neighbor of the development, raised concerns about rats that may cause problems to neighboring homeowners during the excavation of the garage. “It’s a serious thing because they come in to the house,” Loube said.
Ken Hartman, director of the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Regional Services Center, said he would look into the issue.
In order to help combat parking issues caused by construction, more short-term parking will be made available in the Bethesda-Elm garage, Bethesda Circulator service will be increased, and private parking alternatives will be advertised, Hartman said. Capital Crescent Trail users will be encouraged to use the public lot east of Wisconsin Avenue near Waverly.