Update 6/11/20 – Though their project began more than three years ago and has faced community disapproval throughout its progress, 1784 Capital Holdings and Bethesda Self Storage Partners are seeing renewed opposition to their development on River Road in response to current events. On Monday, protesters gathered at Macedonia Baptist Church and then moved to the self-storage construction site. Its proximity to a historical black cemetery has come under rekindled fire as citizens worldwide demonstrate against racial injustice spurred by the recent police killing of African-American George Floyd, according to the source.
The self-storage site has remained controversial, even though the adjacent Westwood Tower apartment building and parking lot are the actual burial-ground location. During the demonstration, protesters called attention to Finan Berhe, Emmanuel Okutuga and Robert White, three black men who were killed by police in Montgomery County, the source reported.
The apartment property was acquired by the Montgomery County Housing Opportunities Commission in December 2017, though it has no specific or near-term development plans for the site. A 1.8 million-square-foot project had been proposed for another site across the street, but plans were scaled down significantly in 2018, according to the source. It wasn’t clear from the report if that project is expected to continue.
12/18/17 – The Montgomery County Planning Board has approved the 1784 Capital Holdings and Bethesda Self Storage Partners project on River Road, but opposition to the development continues. Members of the Macedonia Baptist Church plan to boycott the facility because they believe a portion of it encroaches the Moses African Cemetery, a historical burial site for members of a community built by freed slaves, according to the source.
A parking-garage project next to the self-storage site has been suspended indefinitely due to pending legal action. Plans called for the structure to be built on an existing parking lot laid in the 1950s, but historians say the lot covers the cemetery, which dates to the early 1900s. The self-storage developers maintain that the piece of land in dispute is within a portion they already gave back to the county, the source reported.
"Hopefully wounds will be healed and [the church members] will be receptive to it because we want them to be a part of it," McKone said. "We are doing the benches and the display cases to celebrate the history of the black community and all the history of Bethesda and the River Road community."
Church members protested the project during last week’s meeting, carrying signs that read, “Black Lives Matter.” The planning board instructed them to turn the signs backward, which prompted some to claim their First Amendment rights were violated. The board has a posted policy indicating that any signs larger than a standard piece of paper aren’t permitted in the chamber, according to the source.
12/11/17 – 1784 Capital Holdings and Bethesda Self Storage Partners LLC are facing opposition in their quest to build a multi-story facility, due to the site’s proximity to a stream and future greenway corridor. The facility in the Westbard neighborhood is along the stream-valley buffer for the Willett Branch Creek. The plans include four levels below ground and five above, comprising 195,527 square feet of storage space, according to the source.
The developer has agreed to offer the parks system .39 acres of land that will feature grass and trees. The dedication would be the first section of the greenway, which city officials and advocates hope will one day border the stream.
Still, local environmental groups and some community members claim the developer’s actions are inadequate and have asked for adjustments. In a letter to the county’s planning staff last month, Sarah Morse, executive director for Little Falls Watershed Alliance, expressed the opinion that existing plans won’t do enough to revitalize the stream. “How the storm water is managed, how the buffer is treated, how the landscaping is done, and how the park is accessed will all have a huge impact on the success of the new park and restoration of the Willett Branch,” she wrote.
The facility’s design wouldn’t allow for enough rainwater to filter into the ground, which is a critical element to improving the area’s water quality, Morse added. She also noted that the building would be too large for the site, and asked the developer to reduce the footprint to create more open space and a wider path into the park from River Road. The alliance also requested that the building’s façade facing the park blend with the natural environment via the addition of a plant-covered wall.
Patricia Kolesar, a member of Save Westbard, also hopes the developer will revisit the overall design for the project. In an e-mail to 1784 Capital Holdings and the city’s planning staff, she wrote, “Please know that even if the Westbard Self-Storage plans meet all necessary county requirements and regulations (we presume that they do), the residents’ collective opinion of your project will not change, and we have no power in this situation other than to refuse to patronize Westbard Self-Storage.”
In addition, an online petition asking for plan changes had gathered more than 40 signatures as of last week, the source reported.
Timothy Dugan, an attorney representing the developer, noted the proposal “fully addresses” the county’s environmental design requirements and “meets or exceeds the applicable development standards.” The developer has been receptive to the requests and adjusted the building plans. The facility will stand outside the stream buffer, and will include a green roof and planter boxes. In addition, the wall façade facing the park has been redesigned to allow the parks system to erect art along a large area of the building’s pathway-facing side, according to the source.
The Montgomery County Planning Board will review the project on Dec. 14. The planning staff has recommended approval of the preliminary and site plans with conditions.
1/6/2017 – 1784 Capital Holdings LLC intends to develop a self-storage facility on 1.5 acres in Bethesda, Md. The company acquired the property at 5204 River Road for $11 million. It will redevelop the site, which currently houses an automotive body shop, according to Bryn Merrey, senior vice president and division manager of the firm’s mid-Atlantic and Southeast offices.
“The Bethesda area has extraordinary demographics and extraordinary market fundamentals,” Shane Albers, chairman and CEO of 1784 Capital Holdings, said in a press release. “It is a significantly undersupplied market with three times the national average for rent. We chose the site because it’s one of the last zoned and developable parcels of land for self-storage in Bethesda. We have allocated $250 million for the development of class-A, institutional-quality self-storage as we continue to expand our national portfolio under the direction of executive vice president Kelly McKone.”
The local market is described as an affluent, “high barrier-to-entry community,” with “historically high occupancies and rental rates,” by The Mele Storage Group of Marcus & Millichap, the commercial real estate firm that brokered the deal. “Very rarely does a development opportunity of this quality come to market,” Robert Bloch, an investment associate in the company’s Washington, D.C., office, said in the release. “The unprecedented price per acre is a testament to the nature of the opportunity, and the buyer had a clear vision that enabled [it] to compress [its] due diligence and win the deal in a very competitive process.”
Michael Mele, senior vice president of investments in the Marcus & Millichap Tampa, Fla., office assisted Bloch in representing the seller, a “single-asset corporation,” and securing 1784 Capital as the buyer.
Founded in 1971, Marcus & Millichap is a commercial-property investment firm with more than 1,500 investment professionals in offices throughout Canada and the United States. The firm closed more than 8,700 transactions in 2015 with a value of approximately $37.8 billion.
Founded in 2013 and based in Scottsdale, Ariz., 1784 Capital acquires, develops, constructs and owns self-storage facilities. Its subsidiary, 1784 Solar LLC, provides short-term construction financing for solar projects in Canada and the United States.
BisNow, Protesters Oppose Construction Near Historic Black Cemetery In Bethesda
Bethesda Magazine, Westbard Self-Storage Plans Rile Some in Bethesda
Commercial Property Executive, Self-Storage Development Site Sells for $11M
Fox 5, Another Battle Between Bethesda Church and Developers Over Historic Black Cemetery