Yesterday, the White Flint Downtown Advisory Committee (DAC) held its monthly meeting at the Bethesda North Conference Center, located at 5701 Marinelli Road, Rockville, directly across the street from the White Flint metro station. This very juxtaposition (Bethesda, North Bethesda, Rockville, White Flint) is why the subject of our area’s naming was on the agenda.
While we had hoped for a presentation by the White Flint Partnership, an organization of developers within the sector (all of whom are members of FoWF), what we got instead was a letter. The letter says that the Partnership has “begun to move forward with an effort to identify a unifying brand for a larger area along the Rockville Pike corridor, an area that would extend in both directions beyond the White Flint Sector Plan boundaries.” This shift, they say, would establish a “forward-thinking identity” which has the “potential for local, regional and national impacts” and would “empower property owners to express their individual identities, working collectively for the greater good while simultaneously preserving the individuality of existing residential communities.”
The letter was distributed at the start of the meeting and seemed to take several committee members off-guard – though the potential expansion of the urban district has been floated anecdotally in the media and on this blog, this was the first many committee members had heard of it. No details were offered as to the boundaries of this newly-enlarged area but Ken Hartman, our regional services director and to whom the letter was addressed, surmised that the area would stretch north to include new development taking shape in Twinbrook and, perhaps, south to include Strathmore. As he noted, “this would double – maybe triple – the geography” of our boundaries. He also rightly noted that there is little distinction along this stretch of Rockville Pike. If you look at a Google Earth image of the area from White Flint Mall up to Twinbrook metro (see below), it does look like one large commercial center. Are we well-served by drawing an arbitrary line through the center of it?
From Google Maps
I would submit that I have not yet seen any downside to an expansion. One issue that White Flint, with its current boundaries, will always face is regarding revenue generation. Unlike similar regional undertakings, like Tysons and Rosslyn-Ballston, our area is constrained to the surrounds of one metro stop. This already limits the sources of revenue which would be used for maintenance, streetscapes and programming (like the community contributions made by Bethesda Urban Partnership). Other urban districts in Montgomery County are funded in large part by parking fees. White Flint is not set up this way. We will have few, if any, county-owned parking and, what we will have, is expected to be poached by the Department of Transportation. We do have a special taxing district established here but, for the foreseeable future, all funds collected through it will be used on infrastructure projects. So, expanding the urban district’s borders to include more opportunity for funding is an up-side in my view.
Also, if we’re looking to create a destination that will be marketed nationally – and if we’re building a destination worth visiting – why not make it as bold as possible? I see no down-side there, either. As newly-elected committee Chair Cliff Cohen noted, a larger, “more visible, more identifiable” district offers a greater chance of success. It will attract great tenants and shops and really only has an impact on the big picture of the district. The small picture remains the same – neighborhoods maintain their identity.
Committee members, however, were generally displeased with the Partnership’s letter and, unfortunately, the Partnership did not send a representative to lend voice to the text. Resident committee member Paul Meyer, who lives in The Wisconsin, particularly did not like feeling that this discussion was so “developer-driven” and he wanted to ensure that the community, and the committee, had adequate say in the process. Another resident committee member, Bernie Meyers, was “angry” that he feels “not plugged-in.” Business member Bob Daley was not pleased that the Partnership had “just sent a definitive letter” without even coming to the meeting for a discussion. In any event, an expansion of the district would require modification of the DAC’s mission which is presently restricted to the White Flint Sector Plan area.
But, a more positive flip side was offered by business member Andy Shulman. The name of this district has been stalled for seven years because the developers couldn’t agree. At least now, progress is being made!
We are told to expect a full presentation by the Partnership at the July DAC meeting and we’re hoping it’s going to address a few of the concerns we have:
First, an expansion north might broach the borders of Rockville City, adding a burdensome and unnecessary bureaucratic layer to our work. We hope this is not being contemplated.
Second, Friends of White Flint is all about community engagement and finding consensus for smart solutions in moving White Flint forward. We are pushing to be part of this process and want to hear thoughts FROM YOU! Do you think there are advantages or disadvantages to expanding and/or branding the White Flint Sector area? Or, do you think that these types of decisions won’t have much impact on your day-to-day life? Sound off here on the blog or email me directly at Lindsay.Hoffman@whiteflint.org.