Today, Wall Park at Nicholson Lane and Executive Boulevard is home to a playground, a basketball court and the Shriver Aquatic Center. In the future, it could not only become White Flint’s main outdoor hangout, but a place to live as well.
Representatives from Montgomery Parks and developer Gables Residential presented their plans for a revitalized Wall Park and an adjacent apartment complex at the White Flint Implementation Advisory Committee’s monthly meeting last Monday. They would share a 900-space parking garage behind the aquatic center, which would allow the park’s surface parking lot to be replaced by a community green.
The two projects are made possible by a new street network called the Western Workaround, intended to create an alternative traffic route to Rockville Pike. Executive Boulevard would move east and connect to streets in Pike + Rose, while a new east-west street called Market Street would be built between Executive and Old Georgetown Road. This creates a new city block north of Wall Park where the apartments would go. The Western Workaround is still being designed by county transportation planners, according to Dee Metz, White Flint Implementation Coordinator.
Rachel Davis Newhouse, a landscape architect and planner for the Parks Department, describes the new Wall Park as White Flint’s “primary recreational destination.” The park would be built in two phases, starting with the parking garage and the parking lot’s replacement, a “large, open lawn” measuring about 200 feet by 360 feet, a little more than half the size of a football field.
Newhouse wants to create “interim” programming for the lawn, like concerts and festivals, to get activities happening there sooner rather than later. It’s also an opportunity to test-drive ideas for the park’s second phase, which would add features including dog parks, a new playground, and sports courts. Wall Park’s existing forest buffer along Old Georgetown Road would preserved and get picnic tables and a “natural play area” where kids could climb logs or play in the dirt. Meanwhile, the aquatic center would get a 15,000 square foot addition, while a new 35,000 square foot recreation center would be built behind it.
With limited space, Newhouse emphasized the need to create versatile areas that could compliment each other as well. For instance, the sports courts could accommodate multiple sports, while a skate park could be designed as a sculpture, making it public art as well. A plaza could accommodate farmers’ markets or an outdoor dining area for food trucks, which Newhouse hopes to attract to the park. “Not everything can happen in this park, but with flexible spaces they can be used in different ways,” she said.
Wall Park’s location on the future White Flint Recreation Loop means it’ll be connected to the rest of the area with foot and bike paths, while a special kiosk could help guide visitors to Josiah Henson Park two blocks away. Named for freed slave Josiah Henson, that park is home to the plantation that inspired the classic novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
John Malone, development director for Gables, previewed their concept for an apartment complex north of the park on what’s currently a 3-acre surface parking lot. They propose building three 6-story apartment buildings containing between 450 and 500 apartments and 31,000 square feet of ground-floor retail space along Executive Boulevard.
Two of the buildings would flank a new street that would connect to the park and Marinelli Drive, while a third would face Old Georgetown Road. Since the site slopes from east to west, the buildings would step down towards Old Georgetown Road, providing a transition to the single-family homes on the other side. Each building would have its own courtyard and direct access to the parking garage.
Renderings Ashtary showed suggested that the complex would be built in a modern style, with large glass windows and private balconies. Each building would have different materials and finishes to create the “feeling it’s built over time,” he said. “Each building has its own identity.”
Architect Daniel Ashtary of Torti Gallas and Partners described the street as a “via,” a sort of courtyard wrapped by bridges that connect the two buildings, some of which would contain apartments. He compared it to Bethesda Lane, which Torti Gallas also designed.
While the bridges allow residents to access the apartments’ common areas and parking without going outside, it also takes them off the street. Not only does this mean fewer “eyes on the street” to improve public safety, but it also cuts the complex off from the larger community. The bridges also obstruct views of Wall Park, which would be a very desirable amenity to many residents, and they might be worth reconsidering.
However, members of the advisory committee were more concerned about the proposals’ shared parking garage. “Based on the numbers I’ve been playing around with, you’re about 1000 spaces short,” said Paul Meyer, who lives in the Wisconsin condominium. Each unit there has 2 parking spaces, he noted, adding, “I will guarantee that everyone who is in their 30’s or 40’s and has two people [in their apartment] will have two cars.”
Nkosi Yearwood, the county’s lead planner on the White Flint Sector Plan, noted that the point of the plan is to reduce car use, and that changing demographics suggest that future White Flint residents may not bring cars at all.
Both proposals are far from finished. Newhouse hopes to have a public meeting where residents can offer their input on the park design soon. Once the design is finalized, it’ll go to the Planning Board for a sketch plan presentation, presumably some time later this year. Meanwhile, Gables plans to file a sketch plan for the project in May; if it receives all of the necessary approvals, construction could begin in 2015 and last for about 2 years, meaning it could open by 2017.