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Do Not Require Excess Parking at Woodmont View

Testimony submitted to Planning Board meeting, July 11, 2013

The Action Committee for Transit supports the reduction of required parking at the proposed Woodmont View apartments at the corner of Woodmont Avenue and Battery Lane in Bethesda.

However, we are mystified by the staff recommendation for an approval condition that sets the minimum number of on-site parking spaces at 83, when the zoning ordinance only requires 60 spaces for the proposed number of residential units. If the waiver of required commercial spaces is granted as requested by the developer, the condition should read either “The minimum number of on-site parking spaces provided for the development will be 60...” or “The minimum number of on-site parking spaces provided for the development will be 60 and the maximum number will be 83...”

It is well established county policy to discourage unnecessary use of the automobile. For that purpose, the zoning ordinance offers bonuses to developers who build less parking than would otherwise be required. Why, then, should the planning board insist that a developer must build more parking than the ordinance requires, especially when you have told the County Council that the current requirement is too high?

Even if the developers go forward to build 83 spaces, as our recommendation would permit, the wording of the condition has practical consequences. Underground parking could easily cost as much as $50,000 per space, especially given the constrained layout of the building site. Unless the building owner forces tenants or condo buyers to pay for parking they don't want (by refusing to rent or sell apartments to those who don't want to pay for parking, or by charging less for parking than the cost of building the spaces and making up the difference in the price of the apartments), we expect that many spaces will go unused. Many recent projects in D.C. have had such experience, and this location near NIH, Walter Reed, and downtown Bethesda will be especially attractive to people who want to walk to work. Setting the minimum number of spaces at 60 would allow the owner to convert unused parking spaces to productive uses, such as storage closets or restaurant kitchens, in the future.

Ideally, we would recommend that the parking requirement at this building be waived entirely. There is no need to require parking when there is an underused public garage so close by. If the building has only enough parking for those residents willing to pay for the convenience of on-site parking, thriftier residents will still be able to park across the street. Their housing will be more affordable, and the fees they pay would help relieve the current financial stress on the Bethesda parking district.