one local and two from the Midwest -- are competing for the right to build a 1,000-car public garage and a high-rise residential building on county-owned land near the Bethesda Metro station as part of Montgomery's push to get housing in that community's central business district.

County officials said the project is the first time the county ever has entered into such an involved joint venture with the private sector.

The developers -- Caldwell American Investments Inc. of Troy, Mich.; Carley Capital Group, based in the District, and Forest City Dillon Inc. of Cleveland -- have until Nov. 26 to submit detailed design, financial, architectural and landscaping proposals, said Thomas Huff, of the county's department of transportation.

The land in question is 2.3 acres north of the Metro station at Wisconsin Avenue and East-West Highway. The property, owned by the transportation department, is bounded by Old Georgetown Road, Woodmont Avenue and Edgemoor Lane, Huff said.

The developer will be required to build the 1,000-car parking garage in addition to supplying adequate parking for the commercial and residential uses on the property.

About 200 residential units will be built although as many as 400 are allowed under present zoning, Huff said. "Not that many units will go in, though, because of height restrictions and the difficulty in marketing something that dense. Four hundred units would leave too much of a footprint on the site and be too large for the amenities we want to see there."

No more than 20 percent of the total floor area may be commercial, Huff said, with the remaining 80 percent used for housing.

The public garage -- to be operated by the county -- will be mostly underground. "The garage deck must be totally covered by a pedestrian plaza" -- a park or other space the public can use, Huff said.

The elevation of the garage cannot significantly exceed that of the existing plaza decks at the nearby Bethesda Metro station and Hyatt Hotel.

The three competitors are being tight-lipped about their design proposals until the selection is made in early December.

"The major element, of course, is the market-rate rental apartment unit with a podium or plaza level that will connect to the Metro plaza" and another residential and commercial development across Old Georgetown Road by way of a county-financed pedestrian bridge, said Fred F. Psolka, director of eastern U.S. development for Forest City Dillon Inc.

Locally, the Dillon group is involved in a shopping development at the Ballston Metro station and has built the Delta Towers in northwest Washington, Chinatown's 150-unit Wah Luck House at 6th and H streets and more than 600 units at three separate projects in the Fort Lincoln area, Psolka said.

"The program the county's put out is a good one. Instead of just putting in a parking garage they want an exciting mixed-use project to emphasize much-needed housing for the downtown area," said Ernie Marcus, project manager for the Carley Capital Group.

There will be 30 office spaces and about 10 retailers, Marcus said, adding, "The three teams are really very good, and the design of all three proposals is bound to be very exciting."

Currently, Carley Capital is completing the Penn Theatre Project on Capitol Hill -- a mixed-use area with an art-deco market -- and has done restorations of the Phoenix Park Hotel (formerly the Commodore) near Union Station and of Gallery Row at Seventh and D streets NW, Marcus said.

Curt Clouser of Caldwell Investments Inc. was not available for comment.

The county has hired a professional consulting firm to review the financing components of the three proposals, Huff said. A seven-member panel of county officials from the department of transportation, the economic development office and the office of management and budget will make the final selection.