Marriott also plans to open a hotel with at least 230 rooms and meeting spaces for conferences. The site, now occupied by low-rise commercial buildings, is near the famous greasy spoon the Tastee Diner, a popular relic of a bygone Bethesda.
The county and the state have agreed to provide up to $62 million in subsidies and tax benefits to keep Marriott in Montgomery County and relocate about five miles from its current site. Montgomery County has also agreed to lease Marriott a public parking garage for weekday use during business hours, and the company expects to build its own underground garage with about 800 spaces.
Marriott expects to enter into a long-term lease with the owners/developers, Boston Properties and the Bernstein Companies, said Carolyn B. Handlon, executive vice president finance and global treasurer of Marriott International.
Company officials were excited to be moving to a more urban setting, where employees will be able to walk, bike or take the Metro to work, Ms. Handlon said.
Planners and public officials predict that other large companies may follow Marriott.
“All of that land is very desirable,” said Nancy Floreen, a Montgomery County council member, chairwoman of the council committee that reviewed the new plans for Bethesda.
Ms. Handlon said: “We asked our associates what they wanted. There was a common theme. Besides state-of-the-art technology, there was a real sense people wanted that vibrant, mixed-use urban community that you could walk to.”
Marriott’s decision to get away from its car-centric office park and move its employees into an urban setting is the latest in a broader effort by Montgomery County planners to bring more people to its existing urban centers, and to create new ones, like the White Flint development a few miles north.
Currently about 10,000 people live in what is considered Bethesda’s downtown — an area stretching roughly from Bradley Boulevard to the south to Battery Lane to the north. About 37,700 people work there. According to county projections, the propose changes in Bethesda could bring another 14,200 new jobs in the next 20 years. The community is also set to become a terminus on the Purple Line, a proposed light rail currently embroiled in a court battle.
The new plan, which the Montgomery County Council accepted much of in a straw vote on April 25 before an expected formal vote in late May, also proposes a series of new, small parks and more bike lanes and walkways. Council members on April 25 endorsed limiting heights of commercial buildings closer to residential areas.
The planners also want to encourage developers to include more affordable housing in their plans, by giving them additional density if they add extra moderate-priced housing into their mix. Affordable housing has been difficult to find in Bethesda for years.
Many of the condos in downtown Bethesda sell for more than $1 million, and rentals for one-bedrooms can be expensive in newer buildings.
Some residents in neighborhoods just across Wisconsin Avenue from the Metro and the Marriott site are worried that the new development will lead to traffic jams and other problems. They said they were fearful even though county planners proposed placing a cap on density that would allow no more than 4.2 million square feet in new construction if the plans are approved, as expected.
“The pace and scale of the development has gotten to the point that I feel the county is unable to keep up with it,” said Amanda Farber, an East Bethesda resident and co-vice president of the East Bethesda Citizens Association.
Many nearby public schools are already overcrowded, according to county data. Gwen Wright, Montgomery County’s planning director, said the county’s public school system could opt to reopen some closed schools for younger students and might need to whether or not the new plan brings new students. Eventually, however, she said the community would have to come to grips with the need for a new high school in the Bethesda area.
Allison M. Macfarlane, a professor at George Washington University and former chairwoman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, lives near the new Marriott site and is among those who are worried about the changes.