Archives 2020

One last chance to support Friends of White Flint in 2020

Friends of White Flint makes sure you are informed about everything happening in our area, and we advocate for a transit-oriented, walkable neighborhood. Whether it’s working for pedestrian improvements, supporting local businesses and placemaking initiatives, testifying on policies that affect us, or educating the community, Friends of White Flint strives to create the vibrant community we all want.

Will you make a donation to support our essential work? Whether it’s $10 or $100, we are incredibly grateful for your contribution. Click here to make your donation easily and safely.


Friends of White Flint had a surprisingly busy year advocating for pedestrian improvements, tracking the Western Workaround, testifying on the new growth policy, supporting local business,  nurturing relationships with elected and government officials as well as with residents, creating a new improved website, and keeping the community informed about what’s happening in our community through online meetings, social media, our daily blog, and our weekly e-newsletter.— one of our most important tasks.

This year we enjoyed tangible progress in the fulfillment of the White Flint sector plan:

  1. Foulger Pratt and Promark started construction of its East Village apartments on Nicholson Lane.
  2. LCOR is ready to open its Arrowwood apartments near Harris Teeter.
  3. Willco continues to move its Wilgus Tract/Northpark at Montrose project through the Planning Board approval process.
  4. Federal Realty is leasing its new office building and even opening a new restaurant at Pike at Rose.
  5. The Planning Department is focused on the White Flint area with its Advancing the Pike District initiative. (Please visit our blog for an update.)
  6. Finally — after years and years and years of advocating — we’re going to see the elimination of the hot right/slip lanes at Old Georgetown Road and Route 355.
  7. The Western Workaround project is considerably further along than in 2019 as we create a grid of streets, sidewalks, and bike lanes in the Pike District.
  8. The new Growth Policy/Subdivision Staging Policy is favorable to smart growth construction and eliminated the dreaded moratorium.
  9. Placemaking efforts, including drive-in movies,  Market Park, and other initiatives, were launched this year in response to the pandemic.
  10. Beach Drive opened to pedestrians and cyclists every weekend. (Yes, technically not within our borders but darn close.)

I’d also like to share just a couple of email snippets I’ve received over the year that demonstrate the importance of Friends of White Flint in the transformation of our neighborhood into a walkable, vibrant, smart growth hub:

“Thank you, Amy. Your call paid off, the entrance to the trail at Woodglen and Edson looks great. I hope this is a new beginning and we can all work to keep it looking great.” Resident Member about our work getting MCDOT to clean up the Trolley Trail.

“Thanks so much for the excellent newsletter. I was very interested in the maps – so much so that I went to the video to see the original pictures. Your coverage is top notch.”Resident Member 

“By the way, thank you for all your great efforts in keeping Friends of White Flint in the spotlight, staying on top of current events and actions, and coming up with great agendas for community meetings.  You do an awesome job and we do appreciate you!!!”Resident Member

Thank you for your support!

Can this intersection be made safer for pedestrians?

Dave Helms, Four Corners Resident and Pedestrian and Bicyclist Advocate, is proposing a better intersection at Route 355/Grosvenor Lane/Rock Creek Parkway due to the pedestrian who was struck and killed in the marked crosswalk across Rockville Pike/355 at Grosvenor Lane in North Bethesda on 11/20/20. You can see all the slides here, but below are a few that show the problems and solutions of this difficult, dangerous intersection.

Actually, 2020 Was A Good Year For White Flint, Despite The Pandemic

2020 —  what a year!  A very short sentence that’s bursting with anxiety, Zoom calls, Covid restrictions, elections, and chaos. Friends of White Flint, despite the pandemic and its economic fallout, successfully pivoted so we could continue our essential advocacy and education work without interruption. 

Tracking the Western Workaround, advocating for pedestrian improvements, speaking at the North Bethesda rotary via Zoom, testifying on the new growth policy, supporting local business,  nurturing relationships with elected and government officials as well as with residents, creating a new improved website, etc.– Friends of White Flint had a surprisingly busy year. And of course, one of our most important tasks — keeping the community informed about what’s happening in our community — continued through online meetings, social media, our daily blog, and our weekly e-newsletter.

This year we enjoyed tangible progress in the fulfillment of the White Flint sector plan:

  1. Foulger Pratt and Promark started construction of its East Village apartments on Nicholson Lane.
  2. LCOR is ready to open its Arrowwood apartments near Harris Teeter.
  3. Willco continues to move its Wilgus Tract/Northpark at Montrose project through the Planning Board approval process.
  4. Federal Realty is leasing its new office building and even opening a new restaurant at Pike at Rose.
  5. The Planning Department is focused on the White Flint area with its Advancing the Pike District initiative. (Please visit our blog for an update.)
  6. Finally — after years and years and years of advocating — we’re going to see the elimination of the hot right/slip lanes at Old Georgetown Road and Route 355.
  7. The Western Workaround project is considerably further along than in 2019 as we create a grid of streets, sidewalks, and bike lanes in the Pike District.
  8. The new Growth Policy/Subdivision Staging Policy is favorable to smart growth construction and eliminated the dreaded moratorium.
  9. Placemaking efforts, including drive-in movies,  Market Park, and other initiatives, were launched this year in response to the pandemic.
  10. Beach Drive opened to pedestrians and cyclists every weekend. (Yes, technically not within our borders but darn close.)

I’d also like to share just a couple of email snippets I’ve received over the year that demonstrate the importance of Friends of White Flint in the transformation of our neighborhood into a walkable, vibrant, smart growth hub:

“Thank you, Amy. Your call paid off, the entrance to the trail at Woodglen and Edson looks great. I hope this is a new beginning and we can all work to keep it looking great.” Resident Member about our work getting MCDOT to clean up the Trolley Trail.

“Thanks so much for the excellent newsletter. I was very interested in the maps – so much so that I went to the video to see the original pictures. Your coverage is top notch.”Resident Member 

“By the way, thank you for all your great efforts in keeping Friends of White Flint in the spotlight, staying on top of current events and actions, and coming up with great agendas for community meetings.  You do an awesome job and we do appreciate you!!!”Resident Member

Friends of White Flint makes sure you are informed about everything happening in our area, and we advocate for a transit-oriented, walkable neighborhood. Whether it’s working for pedestrian improvements, supporting local businesses and placemaking initiatives, testifying on policies that affect us, or educating the community, Friends of White Flint strives to create the vibrant community we all want.

Will you make a donation to support our essential work? Whether it’s $10 or $100, we are incredibly grateful for your contribution.

Click here to make your donation easily and safely. Thank you so much for your support!

What Happened to White Flint?

I don’t generally copy a blogpost word for word (it’s just not the right thing to do,) but yesterday’s article from Seventh State by Adam Pagnucco deserves to break the rules. It’s that good. This article ought to be required reading for every resident, business, property owner, and politician with an interest in the White Flint/Pike District area.

Ten years ago, White Flint was regarded as the future crown jewel of MoCo. With a shiny new master plan, a tax district for infrastructure and an assortment of regulatory breaks, the area was supposed to create new high-end high-rises combining office, retail and residential uses that would generate billions of dollars in county revenues over coming decades. Everyone who lives here knows that vision is still largely unrealized. And now a new report by county planning staff lays out why.

First, let’s revisit what White Flint was envisioned to become in its 2010 master plan: a smart growth, walkable mecca around a transformed Rockville Pike which would be transit-heavy and pedestrian friendly. The plan required substantial infrastructure investment including streetscaping, a new road network and a bus rapid transit route. Unlike many county master plans, this one had a mechanism for financing infrastructure: a new special taxing district. Properties inside the taxing district would pay into a fund used to pay for the new infrastructure needed to bring the plan to life. In return, impact taxes were set to zero. The council set an infrastructure project list through a resolution and projects in the district were exempted from county traffic reviews. This combination of high density, infrastructure investment and regulatory exemptions was revolutionary for MoCo at the time and still has not been fully replicated. MoCo politicians love to throw around the word “bold” like peanut shells, but White Flint (now marketed as the Pike District) truly deserved the adjective.

So what happened?

In simple terms, the planning staff describes a negative, self-reinforcing feedback loop that has no identifiable end. The loop functions like this. Low levels of development led to low proceeds for the tax district. It was supposed to raise $45 million in its first 10 years but only generated $12-15 million. Low tax district revenues held back the construction of some of the transportation improvements and other infrastructure necessary to make the area more attractive to investment. Developers seeking financing for projects were hindered by the inadequate infrastructure along with the “prominence of underutilized properties.” One of those properties, the mammoth White Flint Mall site, was tied up by years of litigation. The lack of financing, along with construction costs and market conditions, has held back development. And of course the lack of development holds back tax district revenues necessary to pay for infrastructure, so the cycle continues.

This map from the report shows the vast majority of land in White Flint is underutilized (areas marked in red and orange) relative to its zoning.

The most interesting part of the report summarizes comments from White Flint property owners, who comprise a who’s who list of prominent MoCo developers. First, let’s identify what they don’t complain about. They don’t complain about the plan itself; indeed, they think the area still has potential. They don’t complain about market demographics; they find the wealth and education levels in the area attractive. They don’t intend to sell their existing properties, which generate enough cash to cover operating costs and taxes, but they’re not in a hurry to redevelop them. And not a single one of them complained about taxes or requested a tax abatement.

Here are a few excerpts from the report on their take on White Flint’s problems.

*****

All developers interviewed cited Montgomery County’s limited job growth as a fundamental challenge to continued construction in the Pike District. Low levels of new jobs limit the number of new families seeking to occupy units in the county (household formation), decreasing demand for new development. In addition to limited employment growth, construction costs increased dramatically since 2010, office users occupied less space per employee, and retail demand declined with the rise of online shopping, all factors that continue to reduce demand for or limit the financial feasibility of new development.

Multiple developers noted without providing details that their firm managed to solve issues of high construction costs in other submarkets where there is a higher pace of job growth and household formation, which in turn supports rent growth.

Developers interviewed affirmed that the Pike District is accessible to fewer jobs within a reasonable commute than its peer non-downtown submarkets, and that this reduced access to job centers limits demand for additional multifamily units.

All developers interviewed cited Montgomery County’s limited job growth as a fundamental challenge to continued construction in the Pike District. Low levels of new jobs limit the number of new families seeking to occupy units in the county (household formation), decreasing demand for new development. Developers cited the reduced pace of household formation as a key contributor to stagnant rents, a major concern for the feasibility of future projects.

Several developers independently stated that the attraction of a major employer to the Pike District, such as a life science campus, would significantly increase the feasibility of new multifamily projects.

Developers are not currently willing to build speculative office projects in Montgomery County due to the lack of underlying job growth and the uncertainty about the future of the office sector. Several developers mentioned that they would still consider speculative office construction in Tysons and along the Silver Line corridor, highlighting the continued job growth in Northern Virginia and the contrast with suburban Maryland.

Several interviewees contrasted recent Northern Virginia economic development wins, such as the expansion of Microsoft in Reston, with news that a large distribution center project in Gaithersburg for Amazon is in jeopardy due to delays in the entitlement process. These interviewees stressed that while the number of jobs in these deals is modest, there is a constant drumbeat of positive economic news from Northern Virginia that is unmatched from suburban Maryland.

*****

Let’s boil this down to three words: jobs, Jobs, JOBS. Employment growth was the dominant theme for these developers, but they had a few things to say about business climate and regulations too.

*****

Interviewees related that development projects ultimately deliver equivalent profits as similar projects in neighboring jurisdictions, but that Montgomery County’s reputation as generally “a difficult place to do business” limits developer interest.

Developers agreed that the difficulty of the business environment issue is primarily about perception rather than the ultimate profitability. Interviewees cited as examples a range of policy issues such as a minor energy efficiency tax that Montgomery County leadership presented and implemented as a temporary measure but that never expired.

Multiple interviewees stated that in competitor counties they feel that the entitlement review process is oriented to enabling and facilitating a project, whereas in Montgomery County it feels like an oppositional relationship. Related to this, developers feel the County continually creates new policies and initiatives that adversely affect development, and which ultimately encourages them to focus on assets elsewhere in the region.

*****

The county council and the planning staff are focused on tax abatements as a way to stimulate development, especially housing. But developers in White Flint weren’t complaining about taxes. In fact, tax revenues are NECESSARY to finance infrastructure required to make development happen and function well. It is the absence of tax revenues that resulted in under-financing of infrastructure in White Flint, a key part of the area’s negative feedback loop.

Instead of taxes, the key issue identified by White Flint developers is the absence of job growth, which they believe would stimulate demand for housing and eventually make the economics of housing construction work even with high construction costs. In short: if you want more housing, create more jobs. All of these developers know what we have been saying on Seventh State for years: MoCo has one of the worst records on job growth and business formation of any large jurisdiction in the metro area.

The county’s terrible record on job growth and business formation must be reversed.

All of this points to the need for a strategic decision. MoCo can focus like a laser on job creation, doing everything possible to help entrepreneurs grow their organizations and create employment for residents. If the county does that, the vision of White Flint and other smart growth plans can be realized. Or MoCo can keep handing out tens of millions of dollars in corporate welfare as it has done for decades, thereby depleting its ability to construct infrastructure that facilitates economic growth. Or it can do nothing.

Those are the choices. What will MoCo choose?

An update on the Josiah Henson Museum

You have probably noticed the wonderful new Josiah Henson Museum building as you drive along Old Georgetown Road. The museum has delayed its opening to 2021 due to Covid, but its construction has continued throughout the pandemic.

Here are some images to tide you over until the official opening.

The story of Reverend Josiah Henson, a man enslaved from 1795 to 1830, is one of character, integrity, honesty, and courage. As he grew into adulthood, increasingly trusted with responsibility for other enslaved people, perseverance, difficult choices and survival characterized his daily journey. After experiencing heartbreaking disappointments and unthinkable abuse, his actions grew determined and redemptive. Henson eventually escaped to Canada in 1830, where he established a fugitive slave community called Dawn Settlement and became a minister, speaker and writer. He returned to the United States several times between 1831 and 1865 as a conductor on the Underground Railroad.

Real estate developer LCOR opens 294-unit community in Montgomery County

The Daily Record reported that LCOR has opened its 294-unit Arrowwood apartment community in North Bethesda’s Pike District. LCOR developed Arrowwood, at 5410 McGrath Blvd., in a joint partnership with the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.

Apartments include junior one- and two-bedroom apartments, standard one- and two-bedroom apartments, and one-bedroom apartments with dens (perfect for working from home!) There are tons of amenities — bike storage, courtyard with a firepit, floor-to-ceiling windows, tech lounge, fitness center to name just a few.

Located in the heart of North Bethesda’s Pike District, Arrowwood is situated in a lively, walkable neighborhood that offers countless retail, dining, outdoor recreation, and nightlife options. In fact, Starbucks and a 24-hr Harris Teeter are literally just steps away 

Will you support our education and advocacy?

Friends of White Flint, despite the pandemic and chaos of 2020, continues to make sure you are informed about everything happening in our area and to advocate for a transit-oriented, walkable neighborhood. Whether it’s working for pedestrian improvements, supporting local businesses and placemaking initiatives, testifying on policies that affect us, or educating the community, Friends of White Flint strives to create the vibrant community we all want.

We know it’s been a rough year for many people and businesses, but if you can, will you make a donation to support our essential work? Whether it’s $10 or $100, we are incredibly grateful for your contribution.

Click here to make your donation easily and safely. Thank you so much for your support!

‘Advancing the Pike District’ advances to the Planning Board

On Thursday afternoon, December 17, the Montgomery County Planning Department’s Advancing the Pike District project team will provide an overview of key findings and potential solutions from the Development Trends, Infrastructure Update, and Short-Term Solutions Report. Advancing the Pike District is a Planning Department initiative to accelerate the transformation of North Bethesda around the White Flint Metro Station area. You can click this link to read the staff report .

Yes, the report is a long document, and you may have seen slides from the Planning Department’s presentation at our recent community meeting. But it’s a report worth taking a look at. It is chock full of facts and figures as well as plans, placemaking, pedestrian safety and proposals,

This item is currently #9 on the board’s agenda for December 17.
The Planning Board’s facility is closed to the public during the pandemic, but the public can watch the meetings live online and on-demand, or hear them in real time by calling 877-668-9160 (password: 24252020). 

Public hearing on COVID-19 Local Order suspending indoor dining


On Tuesday, December 15, at 1 pm, the Montgomery County Council will introduce, hold a public hearing, and vote on a resolution and Board of Health Regulation that would approve Executive Order 139-20 on the COVID-19 Local Order amending and restating the order dated November 10. If approved by the council, Executive Order 139-20 would go into effect that day, December 15, 2020, at 5 pm. See the press release.
The major changes from the last executive order include the following:

  • suspends indoor dining at restaurants;
  • restricts outdoor dining hours to 6 am through 10 pm, to comply with the Governor Hogan’s latest executive order;
  • changes maximum capacity to one person per 200 square feet of retail space, not to exceed 150 persons, and specifically includes large retailers and grocery stores; and
  • removes automatic approval to exceed gathering limits to accommodate parents, guardians and immediate family at sports events. Sports would follow social gathering size limitations.

Due to the COVID-19 state of emergency, the public may not attend the public hearing but is welcome to participate in other ways: by calling 240-777-7900 with your opinion; testifying by phone (registration is required); providing audio, video and written testimony online; filing comments or suggestions online; mailing written comments to County Council, 100 Maryland Avenue, Rockville, MD 20850; or by sending an email to county.council@montgomerycountymd.gov.
The hearing will be televised on Cable Montgomery and live-streamed on the County Council’s website, Facebook Live and YouTube pages. See the press release for details.