Ourisman Honda to create garden, overpass next to Capital Crescent Trail, public unimpressed


Ourisman Honda’s garage renovation encroaches onto the Capital Crescent Trail. In a meeting May 15, multiple parties created a plan to solve this issue. Renovation work began in December 2015 until the Department of Permitting Services ordered them to stop in November 2016. Photo by Rebecca Hirsh.

By Rebecca Hirsh

Bikers and walkers on the Capital Crescent Trail can expect a better view of Bethesda in the near future. In a meeting May 15, Ourisman Honda and the MCPS Department of Permitting Services (DPS) proposed renovations to add features to enhance the visual appeal of the trail and block out noise.

Renovations to Ourisman Honda began in December 2015, but due to urging from community activists who worried the renovation project would encroach on the county-owned trail, the DPS ordered the dealership to stop renovations in November 2016. Ourisman Honda appealed the order and has a court hearing date in October.

However, both Ourisman Honda and the DPS hope to avoid a legal battle and developed the plan to compromise with the community. The plan includes adding a buffer, a small plaza, landscaping, an overpass for service vehicles and a screen next to the car dealership.

Despite DPS and Ourisman Honda’s hopes, the plan has not alleviated the public’s concern for the area. County Councilmember Marc Elrich spoke on behalf of those who felt dissatisfied with the plan.

“This plan is bupkis,” Elrich said in the meeting. “Personally, I would rather fight something than surrender.”

Community members expressed that they didn’t want to settle for a compromise that would allow Ourisman’s “disruptive” and “intrusive” garage to occupy the space.

“I feel like this project is a beautification and cosmetic project,” one neighbor said during the meeting.

During the presentation, DPS director Dianne Schwartz Jones told residents that settling this issue outside of the courtroom would benefit both Ourisman and the community because legal arguments could take years to process and waste money on lawyers.

“If the money goes into making the garage more integrated into the area, that is a pretty sizeable investment,” Jones said. “If it ends up being better in the long term for Bethesda and for a business that has served this community for the past 30 years, that would be a win-win.”

Ourisman Honda president Chris Ourisman agreed with Jones in regards to efforts to save time and money by focusing on catering to the community.

“While we believe our legal position is strong, the litigation process is expensive and time-consuming,” Ourisman wrote in an email. “We would rather invest our resources in making the trail experience better for the public and our neighbors than in fighting a prolonged battle with the county.”

Despite negative reactions to the plan at the public meeting, Jones and Ourisman will continue seeking a compromise between the community and the dealership.

The purpose of the public meeting was to get feedback and suggestions for the plan, Jones said, which will be incorporated into an updated design. After another public checkpoint, the DPS and the dealership hope to create franchise agreements and a final pitch to the County Council.

“The intent was to bring the Ourisman business to the Bethesda standard and expectation,” Ourisman said. “Our intention was never to encroach on the Capital Crescent Trail.”