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Design Workshop Provides Coloring Assignment For Residents, Developers

By Aaron Kraut

Monday - 3/3/2014, 3:15pm  ET

Maps at the Planning Department's Design Session for its Downtown Bethesda Plan, Saturday at B-CC High School

The roughly 125 folks who came to Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School’s cafeteria on Saturday morning were given a coloring assignment, of sorts.

At a Planning Department-hosted design workshop for the downtown Bethesda Sector Plan rewrite, attendees were given colored pencils, a map of Bethesda and a number of tasks.

First they were asked to define the neighborhoods of downtown Bethesda. Then, they were asked to identify connections, central gathering spaces, difficult to navigate intersections and a host of features that could make Bethesda better.

The county’s Planning Department isn’t quite halfway through its work in coming up with recommendations for the Sector Plan rewrite, recommendations that are scheduled to be presented to the Planning Board late this year.

But after nearly 40 meetings with civic associations, developers, prominent land owners and residents through public open houses, it seems there’s a pretty well-formed list of to-do items.

One would be to enhance the connection between Woodmont Triangle and Bethesda Row, the two sides of town increasingly viewed as “Old Bethesda” and “New Bethesda.” Another would be to increase the amount of civic and green space.

Saturday’s event matched up residents, property owners and land use attorneys at different tables. Most came back with maps showing a downtown Bethesda divided into Woodmont Triangle, Bethesda Row and the area around the Bethesda Metro station, with a number of neighborhoods on the outside.

Planners asked for toughest intersections to cross, areas where more bike infrastructure is needed and what attendees considered the heart of Bethesda and the “local activity centers” within surrounding neighborhoods.

The six main questions planners posed:

Where would Downtown Bethesda’s central gathering space be? If there’s more than one, where?

What types of public open space are currently in Downtown Bethesda? What’s missing?

Are there good connections between neighborhoods and destinations?

Where are the local centers? Where could they be?

What do you consider “Downtown” Bethesda?

What are the different neighborhoods within Downtown Bethesda?

The Sector Plan, a rewrite of the 1994 master plan, will set guidelines for zoning, land use, transportation infrastructure and other aspects of the area.

The Planning Department is undertaking an extensive online and social media effort to collect as many opinions as possible and also get examples of what’s working and what’s not.