Design Guidelines: Vision for White Flint’s Future

Design Guidelines: Vision for White Flint’s Future

One innovation of the White Flint Sector planning process is the development of “design guidelines.” Now used in other Montgomery County plans, the idea of design guidelines as a flexible, non-regulatory planning tool was pioneered in the White Flint plan process. The concept is that the Planning Board can illustrate, through pictures and descriptions, its vision for a particular area — in this case, the White Flint Sector as a whole, and individual portions (“districts”) within a larger Sector. (White Flint is a relatively large area for a Master Plan in Montgomery County, about the same size as Bethesda.)

Today’s Montgomery County Planning Board worksession on the White Flint plan is expected to be a district-by-district review of the staff’s recommendations for design guidelines for each district. Piera Weiss, chief planner for White Flint, opened the meeting: “this is the last informational work session. After this, these will be for decisions.” Accompanying Weiss is Luis Estrada, from the Urban Planning division.

Estrada: begin with Mid-Pike Plaza district. CR Zone provides flexibility to give variety of residential and non-residential uses. Weiss: we’ll bring you the ratios at the next meeting. 60-40% overall, but a sliding scale to allow flexibility of up to 80% residential. Ratio is an effort to get to traffic demand management goals. Trying to have enough “space” in the Master Plan to permit more residential in the far reaches of the Sector. Need the right “spacing.” Chairman Hanson: zones say that within your maximum FAR [a measure of density permitted], your ranges of residential would be this or this, to get full density. Weiss: but you’d need a minimum of each to get full density. Weiss: we listened to the tapes [of earlier meetings] and were able to pull in additional issues. Hanson: is the Board satisfied with this density and distribution? Seems that they are.

Estrada: Issue 2: how to plan area owned by State Highway Administration immediately north of Mid-Pike Plaza and Montrose Parkway? Public facilities and affordable housing. State plans for surface parking. Acre and a half, so park and ride. Hanson: unattractive, especially if paved. Estrada: we are asking for structured parking and use for public facilities on excess right-of-way.¬†We can accomodate a fire and police station and still have room for additional public facilities. Weiss: area on the east after the Pike would have space for these facilities. Any parking should be structured parking. Configuration to the south, but not to the north. Hanson: looking at the surface parking lot to the north, it seems to me that we shouldn’t transfer the old Korvette’s parking lot to the north. But it would be an awful site for housing. Structured parking is not a bad use for it.

Evan Goldman, co-chair of Friends of White Flint and representing Federal Realty, developer of Mid-Pike Plaza: first time we’ve seen this plan, even after years of planning. We have major issues with a fire station at our entrance where we have lots of residential. We think it would be better on the SHA property on the other side. Weiss: we’ve talked to Fire and EMS, and we haven’t gotten to a recommendation for a best site. Cmsnr Robinson: there is a better intersection down at Old Georgetown Rd where there’s a signal. Hanson: did you look at housing on the south side? I like the idea of having the fire, rescue, police separated, but the key thing is having access. Let’s talk to Fire Dept. Less important to police, but Fire and Rescue it’s very important. Weiss: we’ll bring it back to you.

Estrada: Metro West. Issue is building heights at the conference center. Planner Nkosi Yearwood: Question about Civic Green size and location. Weiss: can location “float” or make it completely to the north of Market Street. Robinson: my perception was that we would have the Civic Green as displayed, and it might float left or right. Some discussion of complementary open space as part of a conference center project plan. Cmsnr Alfandre: I gotta go on record here. Best street here is the street to the left of Mid-Pike. We need to recognize that. Concerned about the money we’ll spend on that green. I’m concerned we’re not going to get the best bang for the buck. When we look at the cost for the entire improvements, we’re going to lose the value of that Green if it’s not in the right place and if it’s more than we should have paid. I’m not sold on Market St, more sold on streets bisecting it. So I say, let’s float it and allow it to be in the right location and let’s be very careful about the concept. Hanson: where it is on the block? Alfandre: yes. Hanson: I can see several ways to configure it other than as a north-south parcel. I’d like to see some matching space on the conference center. Part of it depends on how that block develops. Weiss: we wanted to use it as part of an assemblage. We can’t force it, so that’s why we have the two bullets. We should add the matching space point to the Plan. Complementary. Robinson: I agree that we’re showing the Civic Green within the block and we should float it. Weiss: we don’t want to purchase it all, but just enough. So we have some leverage.

Yearwood: building heights. We’re recommending 300 feet. JBG has proposed 390′ at the conference center. Weiss: JBG proposed an iconic building, but the CR Zone will propose a maximum of 300′. Presley: for residents, notion of height is a scary thing. For me, it’s not so much, because it depends on how it’s designed and implemented. What kind of effect does the additional 90′ get? Alfandre: don’t understand absolute height with the CR Zone if there’s a better reason in the zone. Weiss: zone can set any height you want. Alfandre: don’t know the whole story. Robinson: cap is established by the Master Plan. Alfandre: odd way of zoning. Hanson: we can write the zone to fit whatever you’re asking. Implements the master plan, so whatever height the Plan recommends, we’ll write a zone to match that. Cmsnr Cryor: what’s the 300 based on? Weiss: we brought a height map to the Board months ago. Showed that the tallest building (now under construction) was 289′. We wanted a tenting concept with highest at the Metro and stepping down to 50′ or less at the edges. So what’s a reasonable gradation at the core? Even increments caused us to develop a concentric circles plan. So we are now resetting it for each specific area. Reflects that concept of tenting and the fact that certain corners need specific heights. Alfandre: if we are choosing to limit this in the interest of public policy, I just want us to be clear about that. Hanson: unless you allow it all open, we have to do that. Recent legislation requires following the policies established in the plans. There’s no chance of getting five votes on the County Council for a Plan with no height limit. Robinson: in Twinbrook, the Council insisted we put in specifics in the plan. Alfandre: we’re following the plan with the zone. Arbitrarily picking a height, without knowing what it could be. Presley: is there a way to address certainty within the plan? Alfandre: not without the zone. Robinson: I disagree.

Robinson: limerick, ok for family. There was a young man from Peru, who found a mouse in his stew. The waiter said, don’t shout or wave it about, or the others will be wanting one too. That’s the problem with allowing a higher limit.

Hanson: now heights in CBD is 200′. TMX no height limit, but a development plan that must go to Council. I’m sympathetic to your point. But will have to have a height limit. We can tailor the zone to whatever height the Board prefers. Robinson: as a matter of law, the limit has to be absolute. Weiss: question is whether you can get better design at 390′ than 300? Estrada: you can get good design at any height. Alfandre: it’s not just design, but public policy. It’s what incentives you will get. It’s paying for all this, which can include good design. Robinson: if you’re concerned about the impact of a tall building and community expectations, I see no reasoned basis for choosing between comparable blocks.

Hanson: so 300′? Unanimous.

Yearwood: NoBe District. Intersection of Nicholson Lane and Rockville Pike. Weiss: question about the appropriate density for the NoBe project, when it’s right next to residential neighborhoods. Must have careful transition to the townhouses and to the properties across the Pike. We can put FAR as high as 4.0 but have language that the issue is compatibility. We should be emphasizing affordable housing, and so that incentive should be first. Master Plan should say that and we should encourage that in some districts as well. We want to have retail on the corners, green space on the streets, less intensity on the transition block, and more residential by the existing communities.

Weiss: Next problem is the Rockwall site. CR zone won’t be able to help this property. Yearwood: higher FAR than would be allowed today. Weiss: approved in late 60’s under old zone. Grandfathered. Yearwood: they want to add 10,000 feet of retail on the ground floor connecting to the NoBe Market to the north. Won’t be able to get there. They could add 7,500, but not more in the zone. Weiss: we’re taking transfers off the table, so this won’t work. Hanson: change to 10,000 addition? What’s good design and good planning for this area? Weiss: Security Lane is one of the better streets in White Flint. And this would get a better relationship of the building to the street. But maybe they can achieve that with partial changes to the street. Alfandre: we don’t need to do anything. Weiss: so we leave it at 3 and mixed use.

Yearwood: Woodglen and Executive Blvd. Water tower. If no longer use in the future, it should be acquired for parkland. 31,000 sq feet in size. Divided more intense development to the east, from residential to the west, along the Bethesda Trolley Trail. Our recommendation is that if no longer in use, should be parkland. Brooke Farquhar: although owned by WSSC, not inexpensive to acquire. On Rte 29 we had to pay market rate. We don’t disagree with recommendation, but only question is whether we could get language that private sector would do this through assemblage. We don’t want to miss this open space opportunity, but we have some issues. Safety concerns about keeping tower there. “Fall zone” if the tower were to fall. Hanson: we can over-worry that. That’s basically a standpipe. Greg Trimmer, Treasurer of Friends of White Flint, and representing JBG, which has tried to buy the property in the past. Size of the site is necessary for pipes underground and for painting and maintenance. Hanson: just saying it’s a good site. We ought to talk to WSSC about making some use of it. Presley: why don’t we just lease it and propose to maintain it. Yearwood: we just want to have some continuing public ownership. Alfandre: that’s too good a spot for WSSC to continue to use it that way. I don’t know why we would leave it. Only way it will be better is if you give it a life. Weiss: public use space.

Barnaby Zall


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