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. The debate has grown testy.
Jeffrey Slavin, mayor of the town of Somerset, south of the fire station, called the fire department’s board “very adversarial” and “tone deaf” to community concerns. He dismissed as “scare tactics” statements made by department leaders that they can’t continue to provide proper fire-rescue service without a modern station.