The new 2nd District Police Station planned for Bethesda has turned into the first major test of a recent law that requires Montgomery County to assess whether it can provide affordable housing in all new county buildings.
On Tuesday, the County Council unanimously agreed to a “declaration of no further need” for the land of the existing police station at 7359 Wisconsin Ave. That clears the way for the county’s land swap with Bethesda-based developer StonebridgeCarras. In exchange for the land of the existing station, StonebridgeCarras will build the county a much-needed new station at 4823 Rugby Ave.
The discussion generated much talk about the feasibility of adding affordable housing to the new police station. Department of General Services staff, County Housing Department Director Richard Nelson and County Council staff all agreed pursuing affordable housing at the new station would be too costly.
The facility plans so far call a four-story station, about 60 feet tall, that would be 32,000 square feet and about 100 feet deep, backing up to the county’s Lot 35 garage.
Department of General Services Deputy Director Greg Ossont told the Council that putting residential units on top of the police floors in the building could be done. Based on the zoning, the county could be able to build three floors with about 18 total affordable units.
But there are security and operational requirements with the police station that would raise costs.
“DGS won’t say it can’t be done, it’s just a question of its best use,” Ossont said.
Councilmember Roger Berliner, who sponsored the affordable housing assessment law earlier this year, said he didn’t think high costs — especially in traditionally expensive Bethesda — should dissuade the county from considering the idea.
Berliner frequently mentioned an affordable housing project on top of a fire station in Alexandria as an example of how the law could be used.
Nelson said he is in favor of locating affordable housing in Bethesda, regardless of high land values, but the police station project doesn’t make sense for it.
“At this point, it wouldn’t be something I would recommend to the county executive,” Nelson said. “It wouldn’t be where I would want to put our resources at this time.”
The original project included a $9 million construction contribution from the county. That money has been kept in the budget as a placeholder amount.
Ossont said the county is looking at placing affordable housing in a planned fire station for White Flint.
Councilmember Marc Elrich said he’d like to see county officials lay out opportunities for affordable housing in a future Planning Committee meeting.
The new 2nd District Police Station would require some parking space from the Lot 35 garage for private police parking. It will also mean the loss of the Rugby Avenue entrance and exit to the garage, which will used as a secure entrance and exit for police officers.