The Bethesda Fire Depart­ment’s risky plan

The Washington Post Sunday - - LOCAL OPINIONS -

Bethesda res­i­dents are learn­ing more about a pro­posal to re­zone the fire sta­tion site at Bradley Boule­vard and Wis­con­sin Av­enue to al­low the fire sta­tion to be em­bed­ded in an eight-story residential build­ing. The pro­posal calls for a mixed-use de­vel­op­ment with zon­ing that could in­clude com­mer­cial uses as well as residential.

The fire sta­tion serves about 30,000 res­i­dents and work­ers. How­ever, nearby town gov­ern­ments, civic and con­do­minium as­so­ci­a­tions and an um­brella or­ga­ni­za­tion rep­re­sent­ing 19 com­mu­ni­ties, al­to­gether rep­re­sent­ing more than 12,000 res­i­dents, have ex­pressed to the Mont­gomery County Plan­ning Board and elected of­fi­cials their de­sire to keep a stand-alone fire sta­tion at this site.

What about the degra­da­tion of emer­gency re­sponse? This site ef­fec­tively has five sides. One is greenspace ad­ja­cent to another prop­erty, two are state roads ( Wis­con­sin and Bradley) and two are county roads (Chevy Chase Drive, a nar­row, con­gested street, and Not­ting­ham Drive, which ends at Nor­wood Park). Emer­gency ve­hi­cles exit the sta­tion di­rectly into the Bradley/Wis­con­sin in­ter­sec­tion. Re­de­vel­op­ment pro­pos­als call for mov­ing their exit to the nar­rower Bradley Boule­vard, near its in­ter­sec­tion with Chevy Chase Drive, mak­ing turns more dif­fi­cult for the fire trucks — adding to their re­sponse times.

Traf­fic from added com­mer­cial and residential uses will in­crease con­ges­tion at the Bradley/Wis­con­sin in­ter­sec­tion, al­ready among the top 10 in the county for con­ges­tion mid­day and dur­ing af­ter­noon rush hour. Added traf­fic also means added haz­ard for pedes­tri­ans and cy­clists.

A mixed-use build­ing at this site would re­quire one set of drive­ways for emer­gency ve­hi­cle en­try and exit and another at the nec­es­sary un­der­ground park­ing for fire per­son­nel, res­i­dents, guests and com­mer­cial visi­tors. There is al­ready a short­age of on-street park­ing here. The build­ing will need a dump­ster some­place, ac­cess for a garbage truck and a load­ing dock. The con­cepts pre­sented to the public en­vi­sioned all of these on Not­ting­ham and Chevy Chase drives. These po­ten­tial ob­sta­cles are un­ac­cept­able. They would be in the only route that emer­gency ve­hi­cles could take into the sta­tion, where they would have to re­peat­edly pre­pare quickly to re­spond to one of the more than 330 calls they get each month.

The up­dates the fire depart­ment wants could be ad­dressed within the ex­ist­ing build­ing. These in­clude sep­a­rate sleep­ing quar­ters for women, higher garage ceil­ings, im­proved heat­ing and air-con­di­tion­ing sys­tems, a larger kitchen and an ex­er­cise room. Dingy build­ings far older than this one have been mod­ern­ized.

If fea­si­bil­ity stud­ies, mar­ket­ing stud­ies or fi­nan­cials have been done, they haven’t been pub­licly re­leased. The Bethesda Fire Depart­ment is only now look­ing for bids for a study to de­ter­mine the pro­jected life of the build­ing’s sys­tems. The con­do­minium and apart­ment prop­er­ties in the area date from the same era as the sta­tion. Own­ers in those build­ings have in­vested in build­ing im­prove­ments and up­dates. Why can’t the Bethesda Fire Depart­ment?

In terms of fire safety, what’s there works well and can be up­graded with­out ma­jor dis­rup­tion. Re­con­fig­ur­ing the in­ter­sec­tion and greatly in­ten­si­fy­ing the den­sity and mix­ture of uses is iffy and costly. Why mess with it if it isn’t bro­ken?

COUR­TESY OF BETHESDA FIRE DEPART­MENT

A ren­der­ing of the pro­posed re­de­vel­op­ment of the Bethesda Fire Depart­ment’s Sta­tion 6.

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