Proposal to Build Apartments on Bethesda (MD) Fire Station Sparks Debate

Zoning battles aren’t unusual when developers propose high-rise buildings amid single-family homes, but some Montgomery County residents are fighting the development plans of an unusual opponent: their local fire department.

The Bethesda Fire Department’s board of directors says it needs to replace or renovate its 46-year-old headquarters to keep pace with emergency calls as downtown Bethesda continues to transform from a leafy suburb into an urban hub. As part of one plan, the board is seeking a zoning change that would incorporate a new station into an eight-story apartment building. The apartment developer, the board says, would build a modern, more efficient fire station — estimated to cost about $14 million — at no cost to the fire department or taxpayers.

But some residents say that although they’re fine with a new fire station, an eight-story building would be out of character with long-established neighborhoods nearby. Others say it would mar the “Green Mile” — a stretch of otherwise heavily developed Wisconsin Avenue between downtown Bethesda and Friendship Heights that is now lined mostly with homes and a golf course. The fire department, they say, should explore other ways to fund construction.

Montgomery planners have recommended denser zoning for the nearly two-acre station site at the southwest corner of Wisconsin Avenue and Bradley Boulevard. A higher building, planners say, could provide more affordable housing and “enhance” the fire station as a public facility.

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