Archives May 2011

White Flint Charettes: June 1 & 16

The Montgomery County Director of General Services, David Dise, has “cordially invited” all members of the public to yet another set of “charettes” about White Flint. These are the additional opportunities for public comment promised by Diane Schwartz-Jones, County Executive Ike Leggett’s chief staffer on White Flint, after numerous questions were raised about the funding and contracting of the process.

The charettes will be held at Walter Johnson High School, 6400 Rock Spring Drive, Bethesda. (Note: this is not in White Flint, but about fifteen minutes away in Rock Spring, behind the Old Georgetown Square shopping center.)  

The sessions will be held at 7-9:30PM on Wednesday, June 1, and at the same time on Thursday, June 16.

The Department of General Services has set up a new website with more information.

The June 1 meeting is described as:

Community Meeting 1: Community Perspectives
The purpose of this facilitated meeting will be to gather input from the community, stakeholders, property owners, and tenants regarding both the needs and programming of public amenities within the White Flint Sector Plan area. The focus will be to move from the general ideas contained in the Sector Plan to more specific ideas that can be the basis for an implementation plan. Community input will be sought to understand the key criteria and principles to be considered in developing the public amenities implementation plan.

The June 16 meeting then takes the results of the first meeting and presents a new plan:

Community Meeting 2: Plan Presentation
This meeting will present a proposed amenities implementation plan based on the previous meeting.

Barnaby Zall

White Flint Update

Last week’s White Flint Implementation Committee meeting was postponed, but White Flint planning staffer Nkosi Yearwood offers an update on several White Flint initiatives (I added the explanatory links in a couple of the section titles to supplement Nkosi’s laconic reportage):

WF Charrette

The County’s Public Facilities Charrette will have two upcoming public meetings: Wednesday, June 1, 2011 and Thursday, June 16, 2011 at 7: 30 p.m. at Walter Johnson High School on Rock Spring Drive.

See this link for more information.

[Ed. Comment: Why are these meetings being held at Walter Johnson? Although that’s the designated high school for much of White Flint, there are similarly-sized venues within the White Flint Sector that don’t require driving. For example, the County Council’s Town Hall was held at Tilden Middle School. Friends of White Flint’s 2009 Town Hall was held in the auditorium at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, next to the White Flint Metro. And, of course, there is the County’s own Conference Center, technically named the Bethesda North Conference Center. Is this a continuation of the County’s traditional view that White Flint is just another part of North Bethesda? Shouldn’t the most important part of a process designed to identify needed elements of White Flint be held IN White Flint?]

Planning Board Chairman Royce Hanson addresses the 2009 Friends of White Flint Town Hall Meeting at the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission

Implementation Guidelines

The Draft WF Implementation Guidelines will return to the Planning Board on May 26. See the completed draft

Chapman Avenue Extended

The Council has introduced Bill 14-11, Special CIP Project for the planning, design, and construction for Chapman Avenue Extended. This extension will connect Maple Avenue to Chapman Avenue, which today terminates at White Flint Station. The Public Hearing is scheduled for June 14 at 1:30 p.m. at the Council.

WF Subdivision Staging Amendment

The White Flint Subdivision Staging Policy Amendment public hearing is scheduled for June 14, 2011 at 1:30 p.m.

Thanks to Nkosi for keeping us updated.

Barnaby Zall

Mid-Pike Plaza Public Meeting

Federal Realty welcomes your attendance at a public meeting regarding the upcoming Preliminary Plan of Subdivision and Phase 1 Site Plan submission for redevelopment at Mid-Pike Plaza.  Please see link below for additional details.

Date / Time: May 24, 2011, 7:00pm
Location: Federal Realty Investment Trust, 1626 E Jefferson St, Rockville MD, 20852
Invitation: Mid-Pike Plaza public meeting invitation (click on link to view)

[Posted by Tommy Mann]

A Walk in Montgomery County

In all the discussion of urban and suburban development in Montgomery County, of how fast cars go through intersections, and how asphalt should give way to trees, it’s sometimes difficult to remember the quiet treasures that remain near us. You don’t need to go far to find solitude, where the birds sing, the creek burbles, and the leaves dance in the wind.

Just up 270 is Little Bennett Regional Park, the largest in Montgomery County. It’s at the northern tip of the county, by Clarksburg.

Just off Maryland Route 75 is the Kingsley Trail, a smooth, mostly-flat, broad gravel path that winds next to Little Bennett Creek.

On Mother’s Day, we ventured through the woods, just on a lark. It’s “Spring Migration,” when the birds are in full plumage and singing their hearts out, hoping to get lucky. Birders follow, similarly hoping to find just that wonderful look at our feathered neighbors.

We heard and saw hundreds of birds, from massive turkey vultures, wings tipping side-to-side in the morning air, to tiny warblers, flitting through the undergrowth. Some stand-outs on a lovely day included a perula, a Maryland yellow-throat, prairie warbler, and many, many catbirds. We kept hearing a pesky oven-bird (leading one awful birder to ask: “is a juvenile oven-bird half-baked?”).

The path circles past the old Kingsley single-room schoolhouse, tucked away in the woods, far from anything, in a place called Froggy Hollow.

Yes, it’s tame. It’s also beautiful. The spring air is light, not wet, even after the rains. The green is so fresh it’s almost yellow, hiding the songbirds who otherwise seem to glow at your backyard feeders. The sound of the busy Clarksburg road fades into the soft sussuration of the wind through the baby leaves, just emerging and stretching their legs.

Just a few minutes from home. Oh, and if you go, remember sunblock and bug spray.

Barnaby Zall

Young People Flocking To DC

This article highlights the transformation D.C is going
through, and how new mixed use developments are attracting young
professionals in droves to neighborhoods in the district.

[Posted by Akil Lester]


The JBG Companies (a member of Friends of White Flint) has unveiled the newest piece of public art in Montgomery County: “Alluvium,” a huge and stunning work by reknowned sculptor Jim Sanborn. Alluvium is in the Paseo, the central area of the new North Bethesda Market in White Flint, just across Rockville Pike from White Flint Mall.  Friends of White Flint has always been a strong proponent of public art (along with the late Jean Cryor, a member of the Planning Board), and Alluvium is a remarkable addition to the County’s art treasures.

The opening of "Alluvium" at North Bethesda Market

Here’s the official explanation of the piece:

Renowned artist Jim Sanborn’s latest large-scale art installation, Alluvium, spans more than 300 feet and is designed for public participation in North Bethesda Market’s outdoor plaza. Commissioned by the JBG Companies, Alluvium is a three-part concept representing geological features of Montgomery County and Maryland. Alluvium began with a literal interpretation of the White Flint name, derived from the underground seam of white quartz that transverses much of Montgomery County. A water feature and red granite are also used, representing the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries, as well as the Piedmont Region. “Water flows from a basin and cascades over white granite into a shallow pool. A ‘river’ of white granite extends down a curved seat wall toward Rockville Pike, where it spreads out into a representation of an alluvial fan entering the Chesapeake Bay,” as described by Sanborn.

The artist has also incorporated a signature element, a bronze projection cylinder perforated with waterjet-cut text. In daylight, the texts can be read directly from the 4-by-8 foot cylinder or from the surface of the adjacent paving where the sun will project the texts. At night, an interior light will project the texts over a wide area of the paving and architectural surfaces. Viewers will see illumination of historic ecological passages relating to the mountains, the Piedmont, sustainability, and the Chesapeake Bay from the likes of John Muir, George Alsop, and Thomas Jefferson.

Sanborn, who now lives on a private island in the Chesapeake Bay, is best known for his work Kryptos at the Central Intelligence Agency in Langley, Virginia. That work was featured in author Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol, and the code hidden in it has still, several years after its opening, not been broken. Sanborn said he thought the code would be broken quickly, and he has released several clues, but still “it hangs like an albatross around my neck.”

Jim Sanborn and cylinder at Alluvium

For Alluvium, Sanborn drew on his childhood in the Maryland hills and the Shenandoahs, as well as visions of Great Falls, reflected in the granite waterfalls and the “river” of granite.

Sanborn was careful to note, however, that the Great Falls he used as his inspiration was in Montana, not Maryland. But what was he trying to tell us about Maryland by invoking the grand vistas of the Rockies and the high plains?

And, that perhaps more than most, triggers the mind to wonder. This sculpture, like all art, is meant to evoke emotions and thought, not to be an accurate representation of its subject. So it is with Alluvium.

It is at once incongruous and yet appropriate to have a work intended to represent the sweeping alluvial fan from Maryland’s mountains to its Bay hemmed in by soaring buildings and Rockville Pike. How can a small granite waterfall invoke feelings of height and power when it is only a few feet from the doors of a 300′ tall building, itself appearing to touch the sky in the way the granite spikes do out West?

Waterfall at "Alluvium" in the Paseo at North Bethesda Market

Indeed, almost all visitors first focus on the copper cylinder at the middle of the installation, which rivets the eye by the juxtaposition of its dark, harsh metal and the light shining through the precision-cut letters.

The centerpiece cylinder at "Alluvium" at North Bethesda Market in White Flint

People circle it, brows furrowed, trying to parse the lines, and figure out what in the world Thomas Jefferson is saying in ancient Greek. Watch someone in the plaza, perhaps rushing to a reservation at the nearby restaurant, they glance and see nothing, but then they stop, and peer at the cylinder. If you ask them what Alluvium is about, they will tell you about the words cut in the metal. Only later do they notice something in the granite paving near the cylinder, and their head lifts and swivels, following the odd words cut in the granite. And even later they notice that the rushing noise in the background is not traffic from nearby Rockville Pike, but a waterfall nearby.

This is the opposite reaction of someone to the vast visions of the mountain West, where the horizon is what draws the eye, with the brittle edges of the mountains against the sky, and perhaps the tumbling of a waterfall from high in the Canadian Rockies. Here, in the East, people tend to notice human intervention as much as nature; in the West, the landscape presses down on you.

Zion National Park in Utah

And perhaps that, not the announced intention of the artist, is the real power of Alluvium. It is a dynamic representation of the difference in Eastern and Western landscapes. There is as much visual interest in a Maryland alluvial fan, sweeping down from the narrow crevices of Hagerstown and Frostburg, to the lush estuaries of the Chesapeake Bay, as there is in a reddish Utah canyon scene. The folded, twisted sediments revealed in the great “cuts” along the highways west through the Maryland mountains attest to the local application of the same titanic geologic forces working in the Rockies. And the recent early-morning Gaithersburg earthquake was, literally, a wake-up call of the same.

But Maryland’s vista is subtle, older, eroded, smoother. Sanborn told me last night that he doesn’t consider Alluvium finished because it doesn’t have enough trees: “it’s not green enough yet.” The Maryland landscape can be viewed from above, from Interstate 68, for example, and it spreads quietly before you, where the treasures of Zion National Park in Utah are seen mostly looking up.

In Maryland, in fact, we don’t see the vistas. They are covered with trees. In the West, they are in-your-face clear.  No interpretation required. And those sweeping vistas are often barren; here we have people almost everywhere (except in Green Ridge State Park, where miles of dirt roads wind along mountain passes every bit as interesting as Utah).

Green Ridge State Park in Maryland (picture from

Sanborn often focuses on a theme of “making the invisible visible.” But here Sanborn is playing a trick on his viewers and doing the opposite. He draws them in with his razor-sharp letters, with tricky word-play that raise more questions than answers. But he has a purpose — revealed as you step back and contemplate the entire installation. But only in part. Even the obvious scope of the installation hides some of what Sanborn had in mind.

To understand what was at work in the artist’s mind you have to listen carefully: he says he was showing you the huge alluvial fan from mountains to sea. But he also says he was really highlighting the vast seams of white quartz underlying much of Montgomery County, and White Flint in particular. That’s where White Flint gets its name, he points out, from some early explorers who mistakenly thought the translucent rock was flint.

A piece of White "Flint" (actually quartz) pokes through the dirt in Montgomery County's Little Bennett Regional Park

Flint and quartz, he says, are much the same material, but one sparks and the other does not. He brings out both in his sculpture, but unless you’re looking for it, you won’t see that.

Sanborn is showing us that Montgomery County and White Flint in particular have many structural elements, many of them hidden or subtle. We build on, and out of, these materials in what we do locally. And never think of them as we rush from place to place.

So there is a final puzzle piece to add: the name of the area in which Sanborn placed his sculpture. JBG calls it a “paseo.” A paseo is a place for an evening stroll, a leisurely saunter as the soft air carries hints of olives and simmering tomatoes, named for the stately procession of Spanish bullfighters and their assistants into the ring. What the eye and ear notice at first is not the whole, but a mere foretaste. This is a place for thoughts, some romantic, others deeper. Not everything is revealed all at once. Some things are sharp and hard, others hidden but telling. What you see first may not be the most important.

And so it is with Alluvium.

Barnaby Zall

White Flint Rising – Part 3; Now We Can SEE It

Every few months, we take a look at the progress of the renovation of White Flint into a walkable, sustainable, transit-oriented community, part of North Bethesda, Maryland.

But, frankly, for many months now, it’s been tough to see the future White Flint, except in shades of gray. Earlier installments have looked at walking tours, new sketch plans, and about-to-open buildings. Listen to the plans, look at the artists’ pretty pictures, with happy people who always look a little thinner than most of those on the real streets.

White Flint along Rockville Pike (from the 17th Floor)

Close your eyes and dream.

But no longer. Standing in Seasons 52 restaurant in the new North Bethesda Market, Montgomery County Councilmember Roger Berliner, who represents the White Flint area, told me: “People have been asking me for years when they would see the new White Flint.”


He spread his arms in a wide circle: “NOW.”

North Bethesda Center, home of the new Harris Teeter grocery store, the Wentworth House residential building, and the rising new U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission building, can also boast a blooming green roof, as promised:

Green roof at North Bethesda Center (picture from

And North Bethesda Market, across Rockville Pike from White Flint Mall, has also emerged from a former motel parking lot, with residential buildings, a huge new Whole Foods Market (which, in a nod to its past, calls itself the “Rockville” branch), a branch of the national healthy-but-tasty Seasons 52 restaurant, LA Fitness gym, Arhaus furniture, and a spectacular new “paseo” plaza area with a stunning sculpture, called “Alluvium,” representing the piedmont area of Maryland, the “alluvial fan” from the moutains to the sea. Starting with a granite waterfall and lake representing the mountains and the rivers flowing down from them, meandering past native granite slabs with the word “piedmont” in many languages, with an internally-lit green copper cylinder with the words of scholars and authors from centuries past describing links to the land, the mountains and the sea, down steps drawing closer to a minature representation of the Chesapeake Bay (right next to buzzing Rockville Pike).

The 26-story residential tower at North Bethesda Market

Shoppers at the new Whole Foods Market in White Flint

Dessert selection at Seasons 52

The signature dish at Seasons 52: flatbreads

The open kitchen at Seasons 52

The grand staircase at Arhaus Furniture

Waterfall at "Alluvium" in the Paseo at North Bethesda Market

Artist Jim Sanborn and the centerpiece of his sculpture “Alluvium”

 All of this in a walking-distance community.

Barnaby Zall

May 9 White Flint Implementation Committee Meeting is Cancelled

Nkosi Yearwood, chief planner for the White Flint Sector Plan and staff for the White Flint Implementation Committee announced today that the WFIC will not hold its usual meeting on the second Monday of May. “The agenda is light,” Yearwood noted, so it would be better to postpone the discussions until the regularly-scheduled June 13 meeting.

He then updated a few White Flint items:

First, the Implementation Guidelines discussion with the Board continues next week. This section addresses public facilities and amenities. The staff report is linked below:

There is a follow-up discussion scheduled on May 26 with the Board.

Second, the CR zone text amendments will be before the Planning Board next week. The Council’s Public Hearing on the zone is scheduled for May 17 at 7:30 p.m. Let me know if you have any questions or comments.

Happy Mother’s Day to all mother’s on the committee.

Barnaby Zall