Archives August 2009

“North Bethesda” vs. “White Flint”

Today’s Gazette has an article on the continuing (and sometimes quite heated) debate over the name of the area north of Grosvenor and south of Rockville. Some people call it “North Bethesda,” citing long-term useage and real estate listings. Others insist on “White Flint,” pointing to the Metro station, and the fact that “North Bethesda” is also used in Grosvenor and Rock Springs to the south and west of White Flint.

Even the Post Office is divided. The Post Office in the White Flint Mall (which Friends of White Flint uses) is the “White Flint Station,” but has a “Kensington” zip code, 20891, and address. Just across the Pike, mail is delivered to “Rockville” at zip code 20852. And what about “Garrett Park,” zip code 20896? Some people consider that part of the White Flint area.

The question comes up at almost every community presentation on the White Flint Sector Plan, and audiences are often strongly divided. The former White Flint Advisory Group, which advised the Montgomery County Planning Board from 2006 until 2008, dealt with the question for several years, and didn’t come to a resolution. As the Advisory Group’s September 2008 final report said:

Image and Identity

There is a consensus on the need for a unifying identity, but no consensus on what that name or identity should be. The Advisory Group put off further discussion on this point. There was a proposal to create a separate working group to create an image and explore means to “brand” the image; the working group could review information such as the public opinion work done by some developers in creating their project names (which include both White Flint and North Bethesda in titles).

There are good arguments on both sides, and today’s article, by Jen Beasley, summarizes the positions pretty well:

Barnaby Zall, founder of the nonprofit Friends of White Flint, an organization that provides resources and information about the White Flint sector plan, supports the handle given to the area’s Red Line Metro stop. As he sees it, right now White Flint is not a destination moniker because “there’s no ‘there’ there,” but the major development slated to occur in the area over the next 30 years demands an independent name to set it apart.

“One of the reasons people don’t like White Flint is because they say there’s nothing here, there’s just a mall,” Zall said. “But in a few years there will be and we need to be in a position to identify ourselves.”

Mike Smith, of LCOR development, said the company decided to use North Bethesda Center as the name for its residential and retail project on Rockville Pike at Marinelli Road, partly due to feedback it received five years ago from citizens’ associations. “There’s an opportunity to rebrand the neighborhood and make a distinction between Rockville, Bethesda, the nomenclature of those two communities,” Smith said. He said White Flint has the danger of only being associated with the White Flint Mall and the Metro station.

The whole article can be found at:

What do YOU think? Please comment by clicking “comment” below (requires registration if you haven’t registered already).

Barnaby Zall

Walkability: A Weighty Topic?

OK, we strive for balance at the FLOG, so now that we’ve posted an article on how walkability increases home values in the area (see below), we must search for one on why walkability is a bad idea. Coincidentally, the always-perspicacious Jen Beasley at the Gazette has offered us just that point. Today’s Gazette includes an article on Kensington, in which a new resident shows us the downside to walkability:

When she moved to Kensington, Alice Kessler thought she would lose weight from walking to the train station, grocery store and shops.

“The problem is, you can walk to Continental Pizza, you can walk to Baskin Robbins, you can walk to Dunkin Donuts, you can walk to the Tea Room, you can walk to Hong Kong restaurant,” said Kessler, who has lived in the Fawcett Street Apartments for six years.

For better or for worse, that walking convenience is something county planners are trying to capitalize on in the Kensington Sector Plan, encouraging more multi-family housing units, like apartments and townhomes, to be built near the town center and MARC train station. Residents who already live in Kensington’s apartment communities — sometimes overlooked in a town known for its Victorian single family homes — say it’s a lifestyle they already enjoy, but don’t necessarily want expanded.

(emphasis added, and pun surely intended.) 

So, there you have it. Walkability does not cure all ills. It may even lead to new problems: when your choices expand, perhaps your waistline does as well?

The whole article can be found at:

Walkability Raises Home Values

One of the criticisms raised about the new White Flint Sector Plan is that the Plan is designed to help people who aren’t even there yet, at the expense of people who already live there. Leaving aside the question of whether that’s true, a new article is being circulated in e-mails about how New Urbanism walkable communities actually help those already nearby.

The report, by Joe Cortwright, CEO of Impreza, Inc., was commissioned by the organization CEOs for Cities. CEOs for Cities describes itself as “a national network of urban leaders dedicated to building and sustaining the next generation of great American cities.” Impreza is a Portland, Oregon-based consulting firm that describes itself as “specializing in metropolitan economies and knowledge-based industries. We work with business and civic leaders to understand what it takes for organizations and places to be successful in the global knowledge economy.”
The report, “Walking the Walk: How Walkability Raises Housing Values in U.S. Cities”, analyzed data from 94,000 real estate transactions in 15 major markets. In 13 of the 15 markets, higher levels of walkability were directly linked to higher home values. The “levels of walkability” were measured by “Walkscore,”

Walkscore calculates the distance to amenities such as schools, libraries, restaurants, parks, stores, and so on, and publishes a “Walk Score” from 0-100. Communities with a Walkscore of 70 or above are considered to be walkable, without a regular need for a car. CEOs for Cities reports that “The study found that in the typical metropolitan area, a one-point increase in Walk Score was associated with an increase in value ranging from $700 to $3,000 depending on the market.  The gains were larger in denser, urban areas like Chicago and San Francisco and smaller in less dense markets like Tucson and Fresno.”

The “metropolitan area” listed first on the walkable list was Arlington, Virginia. Friends of White Flint consciously models its plans for White Flint on the successful transformation of Arlington from car-centric suburb to a transit-oriented, walkable community. In the first presentation of Friends of White Flint’s Speakers’ Series in May, Chris Zimmerman, of the Arlington County Board, pointed out that Arlington has increased its population substantially in the last twenty years, but traffic congestion has actually gone down.

So we’ll have to revise our estimates of the value gain expected from the transformation of White Flint into a walkable community. We have been using the Montgomery County Planning Board’s estimate of $2.1 billion in additional property and income tax revenues, but that only counted new construction and new residents. See our discussion of the economics of the White Flint Sector Plan here.

What the Cortwright study shows is that there will also be some increase in property values in the existing housing values in the area. The amount of the increase will depend on how walkable the community actually becomes, but for each point in White Flint’s new “Walk Score”, existing property values can also be expected to rise between $700 to $3,000.

So the new White Flint should be good for existing residents, as well as newcomers. The benefits should be in reduced traffic, greater amenities and opportunities, and in actual dollar value of homes and properties.

You can find the Cortwright study at:

Barnaby Zall

New Website on White Flint Town Hall

Friends of White Flint is sponsoring the White Flint Town Hall on September 23, 2009, at 7PM (doors open at 6:30PM). The Town Hall will be held at the NRC Auditorium. Planning Board Chairman Dr. Royce Hanson will present the White Flint Sector Plan, and former Planning Board Vice-Chair John Robinson will moderate the discussion.

FoWF has created a new website with more details on the Town Hall:

Comments welcome.

Barnaby Zall

Broad Coalition Supports “Sustainable Transportation Corridor”

A broad coalition of organizations, including the Sierra Club, Bethesda-Chevy Chase Chamber of Commerce, and Friends of White Flint, has asked Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley to designate Rockville Pike as a “Sustainable Transportation Corridor.” Earlier the City of Rockville also asked the Governor for this designation.

STC designation would permit intergovernmental cooperation between local governments and Metro, and would prioritize the Pike for funding and other government support. Under the White Flint Sector Plan, the Pike is recommended for comprehensive evolution from a traffic-snarled, pedestrian hazard, to a green, walkable boulevard with special transit features.

The STC support letter can be found here:  STC Support Letter

Barnaby Zall

Every day, a pedestrian in MoCo is struck by a car

Shocking statistics from the Montgomery County Police Department, reported in today’s Sentinel:

  • At least 14 times a year, a pedestrian in Montgomery County is struck and killed by a car.
  • At least 430 times a year, a pedestrian in Montgomery County is struck by a car.
  • That last figure counts only those accidents where the parties call police.

Brian Karem writes in the Sentinel that we should use those ubiquitous traffic cameras to deal with this problem. Another solution might be to engineer safer streets, intersections and communities, where walkability does not interfere with drivers, and vice versa.

Glatting Jackson Rockville Pike section

Karem’s article can be found at:

I-270 Debate Heats Up. Make Driving “Easier” or is Transit Better?

As the hot, sticky summer weather broke a bit this morning, the debate over mobility in the northern part of Montgomery County heated back up. The debate boils down to whether transit or the automobile should be the centerpiece of the project.

The big question is whether the County Council will vote, tentatively scheduled for Sept. 15, to spend up to $4 billion on expansion and improvements to Interstate 270, the major highway through Montgomery County. The biggest change would be the use of “toll lanes” on 270.

Activists, including Friends of White Flint member Action Committee for Transit, told the Gazette that the same number of people can be moved through the county on transit, with a savings of up to $1 billion, while improving the roads, such as Rockville Pike, which could be made into a “boulevard like in Paris.” Councilmember George Leventhal of Takoma Park, responded that “People are going to drive and we should make it easy for them. That’s our job.”

Today’s Gazette has an article about the major players and positions.

The Passing of a Giant

Yesterday, the White Flint area, and the world, lost a towering figure. Eunice Kennedy Shriver, 88, Stanford graduate, former social worker in penitentiaries, awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Reagan, was best-known for her life-long efforts on behalf of those with intellectual disabilities.

Eunice Kennedy Shriver (from Facebook)

Her home for many years was “Timberlawn,” just off Rockville Pike in White Flint, down Edson Lane. It was a “farm,” studded with trees, with a narrow, gravel track for a driveway, just one car-width wide. The estate itself was a wide, sweeping green lawn set below a manor house.  Today it is covered with houses. The Shrivers moved to Potomac, Maryland, in 1986.

In 1962, Shriver started a summer camp for the mentally-challenged on her big lawn in White Flint, intending to build their self-confidence by showing them that they could do the things that other summer campers were doing. It was the same year she revealed to the world that her sister Rosemary was mentally disabled. Today, the Special Olympics, which started on her “farm” in White Flint, operates in 170 nations, serving more than 3 million athletes.

My first job in White Flint was at Timberlawn in 1975, campaigning on her husband’s run for the Presidency. As far as I know, Sargent Shriver is the only major party Presidential candidate to have resided in White Flint, and his New Hampshire campaign built one of the first computerized networks connecting polling places across the state on Election Day.  It wasn’t enough for victory; at Shriver’s press conference withdrawing from the race, the media, including Connie Chung from CBS News, scrambled for pictures of “the wife,” not the candidate. In a sign of the times, one member of the family said that, if she had been a man, Eunice would have run for, and won, the Presidency.

That may not have been her true interest. CNN reported that at an event honoring her in 2007, as her health was rapidly failing, Shriver said: “Most people believe I spent my whole life really interested in only one thing and that one thing is working to make the world a better place for people with intellectual disabilities.

“As important as it has been, it is not the whole story of my life. My life is about being lucky as a child to be raised by parents who loved me and made me believe in possibilities. It is also about being lucky to have had these extraordinary children. … It is also about being especially lucky to have a wonderful husband.”

Debbie Krieger, a White Flint resident, told me that she remembers sledding on the snow-covered hills at Strathmore many years ago, and having the Shriver family come out to join them. Krieger blushed a little and said, “We felt like they were royalty.”

Barnaby Zall