- The Washington Times - Monday, February 27, 2017

Parking spaces or green spaces? For Bethesda residents, the answer may be both.

An effort to turn parking lots in downtown Bethesda into parks is gaining traction, despite pushback from some residents and businesses.

As of Monday, more than 650 people have signed a petition in support of turning four Montgomery County-owned parking lots into mixed-use recreational parks.

The Coalition of Bethesda Area Residents is circulating the petition, which asks county officials to consider converting the plots of land — currently occupied by 500 metered parking spots — into five acres of community green space.

“Surface parking in urban areas is becoming obsolete,” says coalition founder Mary Flynn. “The parking lots have a big bullseye on them already.”

According to the petition, the surface parking lots just off Wisconsin Avenue will be sold for new building development if they are not converted into park spaces.

“These four parking lots are the only readily available areas for park development in downtown Bethesda,” the petition states. “Outdoor recreational space is necessary to serve the thousands of new residents and office workers in the years to come.”

A heavily developed urban area of about 61,000 people, Bethesda features many retail, business, medical and residential properties just northwest of the District.

But Ms. Flynn said that Bethesda lacks natural or historic points of interest and needs designated outdoor gathering spaces.

“Without something to attract people, we’re worried we’ll end up with three-hundred-foot buildings, and they’re not all going to be filled,” she said. “That’s our biggest worry.”

While the proposal has received strong support from residents and city council members, other Bethesda residents are hesitant to cut parking in the heavily-trafficked area, said Ms. Flynn, a Chevy Chase resident.

“They’re worried that they’re going to lose the parking they enjoy today,” she said. “And the reality is that they’re going to lose it anyway. It’s not that they’re going to lose the parking spaces, but they’re going to lose the convenience of surface parking.”

But the 500 spaces might not be lost completely. County officials already had planned to consider moving parking underground or relocating it to another area as part of its downtown Bethesda Master Plan.

“We’re not proposing something radical and saying ‘no parking,’” she said. “We just want parking and parks. If we can get that, it’d be terrific.”

The project, which would be considered as a revision to Master Plan, received praise from Montgomery County Council President Roger Berliner.

At a recent briefing with reporters, Mr. Berliner called the parking lots a “prime candidate for parks” and said the council would discuss the group’s proposal.”

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