The Montgomery County planning board has approved a new office building in Bethesda on the condition that developers create a ride-share program not only for the new building but for neighboring office buildings as well.
The board voted last week to approve the 218,000-square-foot building within the Washington Science Center office complex on Executive Boulevard in North Bethesda and lauded the developers for cooperating with the ambitious ride-share condition.
"I'd never thought we'd be saying this three months ago, but . . . we would like an option to continue operating the ride-share program when our obligation expires in 10 years," John J. Delaney, attorney for the developers, told the beaming board members.
In the past year, county planners have increasingly made ride-share programs a condition of approval for office buildings and residential subdivisions as a way to cope with the pressure rapid development is exerting on the county's limited road system.
In the past few months, the county has continued this policy into neighboring developments, requiring the developers of new projects to help create ride-share programs within the established development that has come before them.
"I think at first the developers of the Washington Science Center were taken aback by our proposal," said planning staff member Douglas Alexander, who said negotiations between the county and the developers, Ward Hall & Associates AIA, have dragged on for months. "But then they got into the spirit of the thing."
The ride-share program will cost the developers $45,000 a year for the next 10 years, when their obligation to the county to run the program expires, according to a report.
Initially, the developers had offered to reduce the expected 392 vehicle trips the new building will create every rush hour by 72 trips, the report stated. But county staff countered with a request that the reduction be increased to 196 trips every rush hour, necessitating the involvement of neighboring buildings as well.
"We felt the entire Washington Science Center should be presented with an opportunity of ride-sharing potential," Alexander said. "Secondly we wanted to conserve road capacity.
"But this does send a clear message to others that it's time to get on the bandwagon and pull their weight," he said.
Using an established program in Silver Spring called Share-A-Ride as a model, the developer proposes to canvas workers in its office building and neighboring structures for potential car-poolers, then match them up by computer, Delaney said. A full-time employe of the developer will keep the program rolling by distributing promotional materials and maps, he said, and a meeting place for carpoolers will also be established.
After 10 years, the county-funded Share-A-Ride program will assume control of the ride-share program, although Delaney said the developers want the option to keep the program because it may be a selling point to tenants.
If the developers default on the program, they will lose a bond they must post every year for $45,000, Alexander said.
Delaney said that other building owners along Executive Boulevard have been enthusiastic about the program and are willing to help out with personnel and printing costs.