Category Development Projects

JBG’s Eurostyle Plaza

Much of tonight’s “sketch plan” presentation was dominated by the usual talk of “massing,” parking and density. The sketch plan process is brand new, part of the C-R (Commercial-Residential) Zone process; this is the third sketch plan presentation, after the Eisinger-Fitzgerald-Nicholson Lane and Mid-Pike Plaza presentations last month. The process requires the project to be publicly discussed before the plans move to the Planning Board for review.

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JBG already has one-third of its “North Bethesda Market” project underway on Rockville Pike; this second phase was memorably named . . . North Bethesda Market 2. The JBG proposal will add another residential tower on Rockville Pike, as well as more commercial and retail space closer to Nicholson Lane. Most people know the space as the Chili’s building.

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But I liked something else and asked about it. JBG has planned a new road to break up the big “superblock” and increase pedestrian mobility. But it isn’t just another road with a couple of lanes and maybe some parking. The key to this road is that it bisects an “urban plaza.”

This is the Ian Lockwood model of traffic calming. JBG said so, and they’ve hired Lockwood in the past. “We know how to do this right,” they declared. At his recent Speakers’ Series event, Montgomery County Planning Director Rollin Stanley talked about just this kind of space in Paris and elsewhere.

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The idea is very European, and it’s been done successfully in Florida and elsewhere. Don’t just have a road, have a public space with interactions. Something to protect pedestrians. But communicate with drivers so they understand this is not a racetrack, but a special place.  This is the most modern kind of traffic calming, the type that improves the neighborhood at the same time it provides mobility and pedestrian safety.

 And now we’ll get one in White Flint.

Nice.

Barnaby Zall

Tysons White Flint

Today’s Washington Post has a front page story on the Fairfax County Supervisors’ approval of a plan to revise and improve Tyson’s Corner. Tyson’s, headquarters for many huge corporations and home to the regional supermall, is a quintessential “edge city,” built up over decades without plan or limits, into a behemoth wobbling on only three legs — there’s essentially no residential living in Tysons.

The inevitable problem with not having residences in a dense community is that the car becomes king. The guiding logic behind “New Urbanism,” the philosophy behind the White Flint Sector Plan and Montgomery County’s planning shift toward urban density centered around Metro stations, is to reduce dependence on automobiles by putting people near everything they need. Which means having them LIVE near their work, schools, shopping and fun.

The Tysons renovation is designed, in large part, to develop just this sort of complete community:

The proposal permits Tysons to become a city of office and residential towers with sidewalk cafes, boutiques and manicured courtyards. It also calls for energy-efficient buildings, affordable housing, park space and a new street grid to filter local traffic. A planned circulator bus system would ferry riders among future Metrorail stations, offices and shopping malls.

“Tysons is a downtown. While it may not be a municipality, it will be a community,” Supervisor Catherine M. Hudgins (D-Hunter Mill), whose district includes the employment hub, said before the vote. “Tysons is not going to be an auto-oriented environment. It’s going to be walkable for the people who live there and for the economy.”

Sound familiar? It should. The Tysons and White Flint planning processes have been going on in parallel for years. In fact, there has been significant intellectual sharing between the two planning groups. The White Flint Advisory Group — the group of outside advisors to the Planning Board which began its deliberations in 2006 — expressly modeled some of its first plans on the same sort of discussions from Tysons. The final report of the Advisory Group included some of the vision and goals, discussed in several Advisory Group meetings, developed by the similar Tysons group.

So it’s not surprising that the two visions are similar: walkable, transit-oriented, sustainable.

But there are also big differences between the Tysons plan and the White Flint Sector Plan: Tysons is much bigger and much denser than White Flint. Tysons is also much more transit-oriented, planning four new Metro stops on the new “Silver Line.” Ironically, though it includes a similar new “grid” of streets to promote walking, it’s likely that the sheer size of the Tysons community will result in retaining a greater automobile-dependence than White Flint. The new Tysons is built around four new 1/2-mile walking zones, but it’s unclear whether people will take the Metro for a mile or so to change from one “zone” to another. (Tysons will also have a circulator bus system to promote better circulation within the overall community.)

It will be an interesting experiment to see if Tysons can make the New Urbanism model work in such a large and heavily-used area. Some people believe that the New Urbanism model can be too small, as in the new Rockville Town Center; now we’ll see if it can also be too large.

[UPDATE: Thursday’s Washington Post had a front page article on the obstacles to the new Tyson’s proposal. Mentioned just in passing was the need to finance the infrastructure redevelopment; that’s the issue which is currently holding up the White Flint Sector Plan, which was approved by the Montgomery County Council last March. The Post article doesn’t describe any similar political/County Executive staff dawdling on the Tysons financing.]

Barnaby Zall

Public Art Helps Build New Community in White Flint

One of the many innovative features of the new White Flint Sector Plan, approved yesterday by the Montgomery County Council, is a new focus on integrating art into public life in the new White Flint. Now it appears that White Flint will benefit from significant artistic projects, rather than a slap-dash afterthought, as in many projects.

Friends of White Flint has long championed the inclusion of art in White Flint, teaming with the late Jean Cryor during the Planning Board discussions of the vision for White Flint. Although much of the discussion during the development of the Plan focussed on performing arts, FoWF promoted fine arts and public presentations. The effort had a good reception, as those working on the new White Flint recognized the value of including cultural elements, such as sculpture and decorative arts, in a New Urbanism context.  Even prominent opponents of the Plan, such as Paula Bienenfeld from the Luxmanor community, found common ground in supporting art in White Flint.

And the effort paid off:  The Plan offers significant incentives to developers who incorporate public art, and an article in today’s Gazette newspaper highlights some of the plans already underway to include new artistic works. You can find the Gazette story here: http://www.gazette.net/stories/03242010/bethnew211402_32548.php.

One of the important element in making public art a part of a community is how that art is integrated into projects and community events. That’s why some of Montgomery County’s recent public art projects have fallen flat; they appear to be haphazard attempts to grab artworks and plunk them down somewhere visible, instead of viewing the art as a part of the architecture and streetscape for a given area. It’s not enough to just have “art”; to make an impression, the art needs to be part of a holistic view of a project’s design and character.

Some of the art bound for White Flint includes a work by noted artist James Sanborn of Washington, D.C. The Gazette describes the planned outdoor sculpture: “an 8-foot high, 4-foot wide bronze cylinder perforated with waterjet cut text. Inside, the cylinder will have a pinpoint light source, while outside it will be surrounded by a red granite text ring. During the day, the texts can be seen on the cylinder or from the surface of nearby pavement. At night, the interior light will project the text over a wide area. Near the sculpture will be a waterfall bordered by a white granite “river of stone” and a polished red granite oval ring.”

Barnaby Zall (for a sampling of my paintings, see www.bzall.com).

Design Guidelines Garner Applause

Live blogging from the May 7, 2009, worksession of the Montgomery County Planning Board on the White Flint Sector Plan. Current topic is the new design guidelines.

John Carter, Chief Urban Design and Preservation Division, who has been involved with the White Flint Plan from the start three years ago, with Luis Estrada, project urban designer for White Flint, introduced the Guidelines. Hanson: this is not regulatory, just to give an idea of what is expected. Robinson: there’s a question. Some of these seem pretty prescriptive. Hanson: I don’t think we want that. The Plan will say the limits and maximum density. Carter: More detail will come as we go district-by-district through the guidelines. This is the glue that holds the vision together.

Carter: Not done yet, still being worked over. Once you finish the Plan, the design guidelines will catch up with that. We’ll bring the other agencies in so this is a county-wide agreement. Spirit this comes to you is in producing a lot of stuff. We’ll show how the districts fit together.

Estrada: describe streets, open space and buildings as they affect the public realm. Starting with the composite map results of a few weeks ago, to help us understand how to frame the guidelines. “Developer’s Composite” photo. Start with public roads, supplemented by proposed roads, in between a network of public open spaces. Promenades linking east-west and north-south, and a recreational loop. Expanded Loop from original plan to better serve all neighborhoods, especially with extensions. Adding local trails and historical sites (adds Montrose Schoolhouse). Tied to regional trails.

Estrada: 4 different walkways to four corners of the sector. Establishes character. First is Metro to Civic Green through Mid-Pike Plaza. Definition of the blocks along the corridor will be compatible, and culminating at the civic Green, the major gathering space for the sector.

Second walk: starts at Metro to Maple Ave to Metro East corner. Through North Bethesda Center, to existing developments along Citadel, to the new development.

Third walk: metro to conference center to wall Park to North Bethesda Marketplace.

Fourth walk is along the Pike to White Flint Mall. along the Promenade to connect north-south. envisioning more contemporary buildings since the right of way is substantial. More architecture character is possible.

Fifth walk is through White Flint Mall itself, through the various neighborhoods of that development. From the front of the Mall to the north and around to the new Park site to the east. More residential as you move closer to the edge of the district which are adjacent to residential neighborhoods. A new park to the south of the Mall.

Area 1 issues: improving pedestrian environment along Rockville Pike; wide sidewalks, underground utilities, and safe pedestrian intersections. Area 2: 355 and Old Georgetown Rd; street beautification, more mid-block connections and transitions. Area 3: Pike and Nicholson; same as area 2. Area 4, by Mall, transitions with existing neighborhoods. As move to district/neighborhood levels, have a series of maps to describe.

Carter: conceptualization of aspirations and then applications. Cmsnr Robinson: very helpful format. consistent across neighborhoods. As you do district organization, you get lots of these things coming together. Estrada: Still more work to do. Carter: this doesn’t go in the Plan, but it’s an analytical tool to show how these things go into the public realm.

The Board applauded the presentation.

Cmsnr Cryor: pedestrians crossing the street? Carter: need to redesign the intersection to protect and accommodate the pedestrians. Cmsnr Presley: can we insure that these aren’t going to be undone by DoT. Carter: we have to make this an Urban District. DoT has different models. Hanson: You can do that in the Master Plan. Carter: once do that, you can direct the rest of the improvements. Once you build a new building, utilities must be underground. It’s the big lines to get those underground, so need some power to get that done. But we’ve been pretty successful in other areas. Presley: I would be more comfortable if everyone were to commit, because I know how often these things don’t come true. Carter: they won’t work unless we bring in the other agencies, if we just do this project by project. Very big dollar projects.

Alfandre: plan is to finish by June 18? Piera Weiss, chief White Flint planner: we come back to you on June 18 with a redline rewrite of the whole plan, and then you come back to us with any changes.

Cryor: Montrose Parkway. Are we going to change that? Busses? Weiss: bus bays at Metro station. Carter: whole loop. Dan Hardy: chief Vision Division, and head transportation planner: in the WF Sector Plan, Parkway is the northern boundary. Will have a signalized intersection on the east. On the western part, stays at grade, and what’s already built is what will be there. Did raise the question back in February about adding more development in White Flint which would have required more from the western area, but that has changed. Cryor: so 270/Fortune Parc area is much in the future? Not walking distance. Whose getting on the bus? I never thought it was going down there. Hardy: we’re not recommending any reconstruction of Montrose Parkway. Was there enough there to add a BRT lane? No, but you could add more bus service. Most of the people going on the Parkway during peak periods are going to No. Bethesda.

Alfandre: aside from the Pike issues you showed earlier, are there other problems in the grid? Carter: we’ll see those as we go through the districts. Alfandre: we need to look carefully at the MARC station area, because one area where we have an opportunity to connect a neighborhood. Heirarchy of open spaces? Carter: we have that. In the guidelines in the aspirations.