Archives February 2017

Highlights from the Feb. 23 WF2 Work Session

Last Thursday, the Planning Board took up the Rockville Pike-Montrose North section of the White Flint 2 Plan, and they also reviewed a few properties on Executive Boulevard.

Some highlights:

While the staff recommended a floating zone for 6100, 6110,6116, 6120, and 6130 Executive Boulevard, some of the property owners argued for CR or CRT zoning. The property owners cited proximity to transit, the need for flexibility, ability to build more residential space in response to market conditions, and the provision of enhanced community amenities, including bike paths, pedestrian paths, and additional grid roads as reasons for the change in zoning.

The Hebrew Home/JCC/Charles E. Smith complex reiterated their view that no roads should be built through their property.

Cherrington Townhouses reiterated their desire to retain a wooded area behind their townhome community on Montrose Road.  Montgomery Parks also argued for retaining the wooded area as a linear park, but Chair Casey Anderson said he didn’t see how an isolated strip of woods could add value and be successful as a park. Other Planning Board members said they’d have to think about how best balance to environmental and development needs.

Here are some of the more interesting slides from the Planning Staff’s presentation.

WMATA Board Agrees To Allow Development Next to Grosvenor-Strathmore Station

From Bethesda Beat:

A new neighborhood could rise over the next decade on the site of a surface parking lot at the Grosvenor-Strathmore Metro station in North Bethesda.

On Thursday, Metro’s board of directors authorized the transit system to negotiate a development agreement for its 412-space parking lot with the developer Fivesquares Development of Washington, D.C. The agreement would allow the company to begin the planning and design process for a mixed-use residential project that would include at least 534 residential units.

The existing surface parking lot at the Grosvenor-Strathmore Metro station. Credit: Andrew Metcalf

Metro board member Michael Goldman said during the meeting the project could bring up to 1,000 units to the site, but Fivesquares Principal Ron Kaplan told Bethesda Beat on Thursday the number could be higher than that.

The number of residential units permitted will be determined by Montgomery County officials, who are working on a “minor master plan amendment” for the property to determine its development potential.

“I don’t think there’s a limit yet,” Kaplan said. “They’re exploring a whole range of opportunities.”

In the past few years, county officials have typically granted higher height limits and increased density to projects on property next to or within walking distance of Metro stations as a way to promote development where residents are more likely to use mass transportation and to minimize the traffic impact on local roads.

The price Metro receives for the lot will be negotiated between the two parties based on the density approved by the county and the fair market value of the project, according to Metro board documents. To replace the lost parking spots, Metro plans to add 412 spaces to the existing parking garage at the station.

Metro is facing a projected $125 million shortfall in fare and parking revenue as well as declining ridership this year. Given the transit system’s funding issues, Montgomery County Council President Roger Berliner in December urged Metro leaders to sell valuable land it owns near its stations as a way to provide needed revenue.

Thursday’s board decision appears to show Metro is making efforts to find other sources of income, while Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld also pushes for a regional tax to provide the transit system with a dedicated source of revenue.

Kaplan said local residents shouldn’t expect construction on the project to begin soon. The proposed development, which could contain between four to six residential buildings with ground floor retail and a village green, first must be approved by county planners. Then Fivesquares plans to build in phases, constructing one building and then taking real estate market conditions into account before beginning work on another in two or three years, according to Kaplan. He projected construction on the first building could begin in 2021 once plans are approved and that development may extend into the 2030s before the project is completed.

A slide from a Metro board presentation showing sketches of what the project could look like along with information about Montgomery County’s minor master plan approval process.

However, the agreement approved by the Metro board also includes elements that commuters can expect to see implemented soon.

The board waived its longtime ban on selling food and drinks at Metro stations in order to allow Fivesquares to experiment with pop-up retail stands outside the station during the afternoon and evening.

Goldman, the Metro board member, said the retail stands would allow commuters or those riders going to the nearby Music Center at Strathmore to pick up food or drinks and be entertained by musicians at the plaza in front of the station. It would be “kind of like a tailgate party,” Goldman said.

However, Kaplan tempered that statement by saying Fivesquares is trying to determine what kind of permanent retail stores the community wants by piloting the pop-up shops in the plaza. He said vendors would sell items such as flowers, family meals or bread and there could even be kiosks for weekly needs—such as a place to drop off dry cleaning.

The retailers would most likely be outposts of local shops interested in expanding their presence, according to Kaplan. He said commuters may start seeing them as soon as late May. The pop-ups that fare the best at the plaza may be added to Fivesquares’ permanent retail lineup at the development as the buildings are constructed, according to Kaplan.

Fivesquares is confident Metro can fix its issues and be an asset for the new development, Kaplan said. The transit system has been addressing a growing list of well-publicized issues ranging from safety concerns to declining ridership over the past few years. Kaplan said Wiedefeld is doing a “fantastic” job by implementing an improvement plan to make the system sustainable in the future.

“We are very much a believer in transit-oriented development,” Kaplan said.

Info from the Joint Rock Spring/White Flint 2 Planning Board Work Session on Schools

On February 16, the Planning Board held a joint Rock Spring and White Flint 2 Work Session to discuss schools. You can see the slides from the staff presentation here.

Some quick, interesting tidbits from this work session:

1) The projected enrollment of students from the Rock Spring, White Flint 2, and Grosvenor-Strathmore plans:  655 additional elementary students, 277 additional middle school students, and 377 additional high school students.

2) Including current homes and full build out of White Flint 1, Rock Spring, White Flint 2, and Grosvenor-Strathmore, there is a projected space deficit for 1,500 elementary school students, 900 middle school students, and 1,600 high school students.

3) Potential School Sites include:

White Flint 1 Sector Plan: White Flint Mall Site an Luttrell Site

White Flint 2 Sector Plan: Wilgus/Willco and Rocking Horse Road Center

Rock Spring Master Plan: Rock Spring Centre and Marriott

4) MCPS wants to reserve Rocking Horse Road Center for a either a middle or high school since it is an 18 acre site.


MCPS To Hold Informational Meetings on Woodward HS Reopening

From Bethesda Beat — Superintendent forming study group on best use of additional school space

School officials are planning a series of information-sharing meetings on the reopening of Woodward High School in Rockville.

Superintendent Jack Smith has called for a study group to discuss using the high school to alleviate overcrowding at Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda and other area high schools. The group will also look at addressing capacity issues by moving alternative and vocational programs to nontraditional spaces, like commercial buildings, according to a Montgomery County Public Schools explanation.

Parents can learn more about the study group, which will meet over the spring, at meetings scheduled for Feb. 23 and March 2 at Tilden Middle School in Rockville. The sessions will run from 7 to 8:30 p.m. in the school cafeteria.

The study group will be comprised of cluster coordinators, high school representatives, students, MCPS central office staff and advocates. The group will offer guidance as the superintendent crafts recommendations for the Board of Education.

Tell Montgomery Parks What You Want in Future Parks and Recreation

Montgomery Parks just launched an outreach campaign called “Parks and Rec of the Future” to solicit public input. They have a dedicated online open town hall where people can very quickly and easily submit comments and/or take a survey to let them know what people would like for their parks and recreation amenities in the future.

Give your input today by clicking here:

Extraordinary Mention of our WMATA Advocacy Campaign in The Washington Post

I want to make sure you saw this article in The Washington Post. It’s quite wonderful. Robert Thomson (Dr. Gridlock) spends half his piece directly quoting the Friends of White Flint letter to WMATA which I had also sent to the Transportation Planning Board. After the link to the article, you’ll find the part of his story that mentions us.

Thank you all for your dedication and help fighting service cutbacks to the White Flint metro station.

I saw one example of local concern at Wednesday’s meeting of the Transportation Planning Board. The regional panel has been discussing Metro’s service and budget problems for months. On Wednesday, the board acknowledged receipt of a letter from the Friends of White Flint, a civic and business coalition in Montgomery County that’s focused on turning the area along Rockville Pike into a walkable, bikeable, transit-friendly “neighborhood of residents of all ages, unique shops and restaurants, and large and small businesses.”

With Metro in a tight spot financially, leaders of the White Flint group look with alarm on the proposals for service cuts and fare increases that the Metro board is likely to vote on in March. They expressed their concerns in the letter, stating first what they’ve staked on their community development effort. “Hundreds of millions of dollars are being invested in this area by dozens of property owners and by Montgomery County, and significant additional investment is planned over the next 20 years.” Like so many communities across the D.C. region, they’re hoping that Metrorail service will leverage their investment: “A central tenet of the Pike District/White Flint redevelopment is easy access to transit, primarily Metrorail.”

“We use Metro to get to jobs, homes, and entertainment, and we believe Metro is an indispensable part of our community,” the group wrote. “It is because we believe in Metro that we are convinced that service cutbacks as described in WMATA’s proposed budget would be extraordinarily damaging to not just the White Flint/Pike District area but also the entire metropolitan area.”

Pop Ups in the Park in the Pike District

The Pop Up in Montgomery Parks campaign is part of an ongoing “activate urban parks” initiative that was launched last year. There are two coming to the White Flint area.

Touch a Truck

Whether they are climbing into the cab of a backhoe, riding in a bucket truck or turning a police cruiser lights on children of all ages can explore and learn about the trucks that help upkeep Montgomery County’s urban parks.

Rock Wall

Have you ever wanted to go rock climbing but just haven’t worked up the nerve? Why not give Montgomery Parks mobile climbing wall a try first? The climbing wall is twenty- six feet tall and you can try your hand at rock climbing skills in a local park.

In honor of Valentine’s Day …

Things I love about the Pike District/White Flint area. (Ok, ok. I got caught up in sappy fun of Valentine’s Day.)

The new bike lanes and the Trolley Trail that allow me to ride around the area without fear of getting smushed.

The Walter Johnson cluster — my kids received terrific educations, and I managed to eke out some useful knowledge when it was called the Woodward cluster.

All the delicious dining options — old favorites like Ize’s Bagels, the nearly-new restaurants at North Bethesda Market, and the brand spanking new ones at Pike and Rose.

Music, music, music — outdoor concerts at North Bethesda Market, entertainers at AMP at Pike and Rose, and nationally-known performers at Strathmore.

Places to get pretty and buy pretty things.

An energy you can feel that previews the extraordinary things yet to come to our beloved community.

Amy Ginsburg, Executive Director

Takeaways from the MD 355 BRT Open Houses

If you weren’t one of the hundred or so folks who attended one of the recent MD 355 BRT Open Houses, here’s what you missed. (You can view their presentation here … and I urge you to do so.  It discusses in detail what I’ve summarized here, and their boards are higher-resolution and easier to enlarge than what you’ll find in this blog.)

Purpose: to present the MD 355 BRT Conceptual Alternatives and review the results of the Preliminary Analysis.

Alternative Routes:

Alternative 1 No-Build: No improvements to infrastructure or bus service along the MD 355 Study Corridor beyond those improvements already planned and programmed in the Constrained Long-Range Plan.

Alternative 2 Transportation System Management (TSM): Consists of enhanced bus service operating in mixed traffic in existing lanes in addition to minor infrastructure improvements. The infrastructure improvements would consist of queue jumps and Transit Signal Priority (TSP) at select intersections.

Alternative 3A: New BRT service from Clarksburg Outlets to the Grosvenor Metrorail Station. The service would be in mixed traffic from the Clarksburg Outlets to Middlebrook Road along Observation Drive and on dedicated median lanes from Middlebrook Road to the Grosvenor Metrorail Station along MD 355.

Alternative 3B: New BRT service from Redgrave Place in Clarksburg to the Bethesda Metrorail Station. The service would be mostly on dedicated median lanes from Redgrave Place to the Bethesda Metrorail Station along MD 355.

Alternative 4A: New BRT service from Redgrave Place in Clarksburg to the Grosvenor Metrorail Station. The service would be mostly on dedicated curb lanes from Redgrave Place to the Grosvenor Metrorail Station along MD 355.

Alternative 4B: New BRT service from Redgrave Place in Clarksburg to the Bethesda Metrorail Station. The service would be mostly on dedicated curb lanes from Redgrave Place to the Bethesda Metrorail Station along MD 355.

Preliminary Analysis of Options: 

Providing service along Observation Drive increases ridership due to higher number of large trip generators.

Extending service to Bethesda increases ridership by expanding the BRT market and providing improved transit access to additional activity centers without having to transfer to Metrorail.

In general, the median running way sections have up to 20% shorter travel times generating higher ridership within those sections.

Median running way has a wider footprint and results in more than 25% higher property impacts and 60% higher construction costs compared to the curb running way.

Alternatives 3A and 4A causes BRT travel times that are up to 25% longer.

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