An update on development going before the Planning Board

Below you’ll find an important update from the White Flint Implementation Committee staff leader, Nkosi Yearwood.

Next Thursday, the Planning Board will review three White Flint related projects.

First, there is a Preliminary Plan Amendment for the Gables Residential development that extends the Adequate Public Facilities (APF) validity period by three years.

Second, a new Preliminary Plan for the Wilgus property (between Montrose Road and Montrose Parkway) will be reviewed. This development is within the White Flint 2 plan area, but a portion of it is included in the White Flint 1 plan area for staging and the tax district purposes.

From the Wilgus Staff Memo

Third, the Mandatory Referral for the future Woodward High School will also be reviewed by the Board. This new school will serve as another high school for the Walter Johnson  cluster.

You can see the agenda and get more information at: https://montgomeryplanningboard.org/agenda-item/july-23-2020/

You can sign up to testify here on any of these projects

Yay! Gables has received preliminary and site plan approval!

The Gables

Gables Residential has received Preliminary Plan and Site Plan approval from the Montgomery County Planning Board for Gables Pike District. The approval is for 521,000 square feet of new development comprised of up to 476 apartment homes and 31,000 square feet of retail. Plans include three interconnected buildings, two new streets, and a new parking garage that will serve the adjacent Wall Park and Montgomery County Aquatic Center along with the new development. Gables Pike District will also include a bike-share facility, more than 200 bicycle parking spaces, and eye-catching public art.

“We’re very pleased to have our preliminary and site plan approvals, and will start preparing for the first phase of construction,” said Gables Residential’s Jorgen Punda, regional vice president for investments. “Gables Pike District will be another important step towards the transformation of the Pike District as a truly vibrant live, work, play community. We appreciate the collaboration from park and planning staff and the County Executive’s office that has helped us to reach this point.”

————————————-

On another note, the White Flint Implementation Committee meets tonight, May 11, at 7:00 at the Shriver Aquatic Center.

Open spaces, lovely places

You’ve probably been in the parking lot of the Kennedy Shriver Aquatic Center (KSAC), or at least you’ve seen it as you drive past the swim center. But imagine that rather than acres of striped asphalt there is lush green grass, inviting park benches, a winding path through the forest.

Open spaces are an important promise of the White Flint Sector Plan, and Wall Park can be the Pike District’s first new prominent green space. Of course, before we’re walking our dogs, watching our kids jump rope, or playing a game of kickball after work, a few pieces of the puzzle need to come together. The Western Workaround and a parking garage shared with the to-be-built Gables Apartments must be constructed before we can enjoy a new Wall Park. Here’s hoping the puzzle pieces start falling into place this year.

Notes from the last Friends of White Flint Meeting

** The following are draft minutes of the meeting held on September 3, 2014 of the Board of Directors of Friends of White Flint.  These minutes will remain in draft form until approved at the next Board meeting.  In the meantime, please email suggested edits to Info@WhiteFlint.org **

 

Draft of Minutes of the September 3, 2014 Friends of White Flint Board of Director’s Meeting
2014 Board of Directors Meeting
September 3, 2014 at 6:30 pm
Georgetown Village Condominium Community Room

 

Board members include Howard Feldman, James Schaeffer, Chad Salganik, Amber Tedesco, Suzanne Hudson, Francine Waters, Bill Carey, Barnaby Zall, Todd Lewers, Brian Downie, and Kristi Smith.  Staff members include Lindsay Hoffman and Rebecca Hertz. Board Members not in attendance: David Freishtat, Eric Grosse, Evan Goldman, and Rob Eisinger.

The Friends of White Flint (FoWF) Board Meeting was called to order at 6:36 pm at the Georgetown Village Condominium Community Room by Lindsay Hoffman.

Ed Reich began the meeting by saying he and Georgetown Village Condominium are happy to host Friends of White Flint. It gives them the opportunity to show off their wonderful community.

Approval of Minutes from May 29, 2014 Board of Directors Meeting.
Lindsay called for the approval of minutes from the May 29th, Annual meeting. Suzanne Hudson motioned for the approval of the minutes and Barnaby Zall seconded the motion, all approved.

Updates from Friends of White Flint:
Friends of White Flint set new Board of Directors at the end of the annual meeting and over online correspondence. The new directors include two Property Owner/Developer representatives- Brian Downie from Saul Center and Rob Eisinger from ProMark; one Business representative- Bill Carey from Strathmore; and two Resident representatives- Amber Tedesco and Erin Grosse.

After the annual meeting, the Board of Directors voted for new officers and co-chairs. Resident representative co-chair is Chad Salganik. The Business representative co-chair is David Frieshtat. And the Property Owner/Developer representative co-chair is Evan Goldman. The officers are Barnaby Zall is the Treasurer and Amber Tedesco is the Secretary.

Treasurer’s Report
Barnaby Zall mentioned that FoWF receives no government funding. FoWF funding comes from membership dues and fundraising. As of August 30th, the bank balance was $26,700, which means it has been a good year for FoWF. Currently, the burn rate is $4,000 a month, which means FoWF will carry the same reserves as last year.

Membership update:
Over 30 individuals joined FoWF since the last Board of Director’s meeting. Willco Residential joined as a Property Owner/Developer. Willco has many properties among Executive Boulevard and Rockville Pike. In addition, two new Business members joined, Strathmore and Dr. Jay Samuels, DDS.

Becca attended Bike to Work Day in March for FoWF. We attended many community meetings with the Randolph Civic Association, Action Committee for Transit, and Bethesda Urban Partnership. Also, Grovesnor Park Condominium meeting with Goddard School soon.

Lindsay will host a walking tour in White Flint in November along with National Building Museum. If anyone has ideas, Lindsay is putting route together now, please let her know. The walking tour will take place on November 8th at 10:00 am-12:30 pm. Lindsay has done 4 tours around the White Flint sector so far.

In July, along with Communities for Transit, FoWF hosted a happy hour at Paladar Latin Kitchen about the rapid transit program coming to the county. We had a strong turn out.

FoWF added a new element to the website: a list of business members, property owner members, and developer members. There are links to the websites of each of the businesses/property owners/ developments/ condominium associations. The hope is to be as transparent as possible. There have been 11,850 unique visitors to the website since the last Board of Director’s meeting, as well as 33000 page views. The email list is now at 1053 people. Our emails’ have a high open rate as well, which is great news.

Also, the board recommended that a resident advisory board should be launched. The resident advisory group will be a sub group of friends that will help FoWF figure out more of the resident perspective. Laura Jaffe a new member of FoWF will lead this group. The group will begin by complying an email list. She will put the lists together and see what is the most efficient way to move forward. The feedback will come to the board through Laura and will act on it as a larger group as it is warranted.

The White Flint post office is not open yet. The site is nearly complete but it was found that the post office boxes don’t fit properly, so new ones were ordered. When we get the date for the opening, we will update everyone on the website.

Property Owners and Developers update:
**Ed Meder, Gables Residential.
Gables submitted their preliminary site plan in August. They will go forward with Development Review Committee on September 28th, 2014. Gables Residential has been in numerous conversations with the county to get Executive Boulevard re-routed or abandoned. The surface parking lot surrounding the Aquatic Center will be transformed into a large public park, Wall Park, in the long term. Before the lot can be transformed, however, the shared parking garage for both the Gables property and the Aquatic Center will be developed. Ed Meder mentioned that the community, especially residents should provide their support for the Wall Park approval, which is planned to be the largest green space in the county.

**Jay Corbalis, Federal Realty Investment Trust
Pike & Rose development is progressing nicely. Per Sei apartments are open with people living there now. This fall, Phase 1 of retail will open. There will be about 4 restaurants, IPic movie theatre, Amp by Strathmore venue, and Sport and Health Fitness. Starbucks and Bank of America are open now. Del Frisco Grille plans to open around September 22nd. IPic movie theatre plans to open in the beginning of November, a few weeks before the next installment of the Hunger Games movie.

**Francine Waters, Lerner Enterprises
Lerner Enterprises is working on the preliminary plan and site plan.

**Kristi Smith, The JBG Companies
North Bethesda Market II site plan will be bought to the Development Review Committee on September 29.

**Brian Downie, Saul Center
Saul Center received sketch plan approval for all three properties in the White Flint sector. They hope to file their site plan late this year. They will have a pre-application community meeting before they file their site plan, to incorporate community input.

County Executive’s White Flint Implementation Coordinator Report
Dee provided a presentation on pedestrian and biking safety. She focused much of her presentation on the Western Workaround area. She mentioned it is important to start with the network grid of streets, which includes the changes coming to the Western Workaround. Currently, the County doesn’t have control of some roads owned by private properties, as the roads were to be dedicated by property owners, which was discussed during the planning process of the Sector Pan.

As part of the changes, the road near the North Bethesda Conference Center property/parking lot will be shifted, which will take away parking spaces. There must be a solution to replace parking so that is the idea behind the structured parking garage, which will be constructed in coordination with the streets. The design of roads and garage are taking place now.

The county is working with Gables Residential to get project to go further. There are a lot of issues the county has to work out to make sure traffic can still flow through the area.

County council passed the Hoya Street/ Town Avenue plan will be included in first phase.

As part of the new street grid, Executive Boulevard will crossover Rockville Pike and will continue to the north side of the White Flint Mall property and connect with Nebel Street. The county is working on design of this currently. In addition, Chapman Avenue/Maple Avenue construction will hopefully start in 9 months and it will connect with Old Georgetown Avenue. This will be another alternative to Rockville Pike, defusing traffic. A new fire station and senior affordable housing is already programmed in the county budget. These will be on the west side of Chapman Avenue.

Andrew Bossi- County DOT
Andrew focused on the relationship between county bus stops and crosswalks. Crosswalks cannot be put at every location. Elements such as speed limits and sight distance can effect the placement of bus stops.

Andrew and Ken Hartman mentioned that the flashing light at Bethesda Trolley Trail have been permanently placed and will continue to improve site distance.

Woodglen Drive bikeway was presented at last White Flint implementation meeting. There will be a cycle track on the west-side of the road way, similar to those along 15th Street Northwest and 1st Street Northwest in D.C. Cycle tracks allow cyclists to go two directions side by side on the side. They hope to start construction on the cycle track in October and should be a pretty quick project. The cycle track will start at the intersection of Edson Lane and Woodglen Drive to Nicholson Lane on Woodglen Drive. The idea is to extend the cycle track up to the White Flint Metro. Sidewalks will not be involved- will remain as it is.

Nebel Street will also have some type of biking infrastructure, either buffer bike plans or cycle track. Marinelli Road will have bike lanes.

Suzanne Hudson asked about DOT’s efforts to educate the public biking lanes. Andrew mentioned that education is really important to DOT. They have the 3 e’s: education, enforcement and engineering.

The county uses similar markers to distinguish bike lanes and bike areas to those listed in the manual on uniform biking measures. Each state adopts own system of demarcation but most adopt the federal’s uniform markers.

Andrew also mentioned that he hopes many developers will incorporate space and funding for the Capital Bike Share program.  Pike & Rose development has two bike share dock areas planned but now they need to fund the docking stations themselves.

Public Concerns and Suggestions
A concerned citizen is focused on the safety of crossing over Executive Boulevard and Rockville Pike. The cars are moving too fast and they believe the Pike needs to be turned into a boulevard. Perhaps, restriping and narrowing the road is just one suggestion. Maybe reducing the speed limit can help slow people down.

Another concerned citizen mentioned that our roads need to change because there have been changes in people’s priorities, with a societal shift towards alternate methods of transportation.

Ken Hartman, Director of the B-CC Regional Services Center, mentioned that a plan to extend the Circulator between the Twinbrook and White Flint Metro stations is in the works.

Many residents expressed concerns with snow removal as the season is coming again.

Suzanne Hudson mentioned there are lighting issues. There needs to be more lighting focused towards the sidewalks and the roads. DOT does have new streetlight, which will be placed throughout the county soon.

In addition, another concerned citizen mentioned that the manhole covers need to be leveled with the street on Rockville Pike, especially between the White Flint Metro station and the White Flint Mall.

Jay from Federal Realty mentioned that FoWF members should advocate for Old Georgetown Road to change from a six lane road to a four lane road.

Report from Councilmember Hans Riemer
In addition, the county is working creating bicycle and pedestrian priority areas. The White Flint sector is one of these priority areas.

White Flint is the epicenter of change, the place to achieve so many community goals.

There is a lot of support on the County Council for walkability. Currently, the council is working on the snow removal legislation. Snow removal is a challenge to biking and walkability. County can do a better job to keep mobility options open to all after it snows. In addition, we need to change the standard for building roads. He wants the council to focus again on the Road Code initiative.  The plan was sent to a work group but Hans is working with Councilmember Roger Berliner to bring the code back to the County Council this session. He hopes to have it approved by end of term in November.

In addition, the county is working on a new bicycling master plan and a pedestrian master plan, which has never been created before. The bicycling plan has not been updated in seven years.

Councilmember Riemer also mentioned that a walkability audit would be really beneficial. It will provide a space for residents to point out all their concerns. We need to have a good process to present their problems to the DOT and SHA and FOWF is good way to do this.

Coming Attractions
On Thursday, September 11th, the Branding of the Pike charette will take place at StreetSense in Bethesda.

Starting Monday, September 8th, “Give support,” If an individual donates $25 to Friends of White Flint, they will receive a $25 gift certificate to Paladar Latin Kitchen in the mail.  The fundraising event will run for month. All one has to do is go to the Friends of White Flint website, click on the Paypal icon and donate $25.

In addition, Strathmore donated two vouchers that will be distributed during our membership drive starting in the fall.

No motion to adjourn meeting. Meeting adjourned at 8:25 pm. 

Updates on Gables Residential Project

**Post is updated to correct information about the Western Workaround, VOB property, and the phases of the Gables Project**

 

In lieu of Gables Residential bringing their White Flint site plan to the Planning Board in the near future, Ed Meder, from Gables Residential, presented their plan to the White Flint Sector Plan Implementation Committee this past week. Gables first presented their sketch plan to the Planning board back in October 2013. Since this approval, many challenges have prevented Gables from moving forward with the plan.

One major challenge is the ability to change the shape of the property from a triangle to a rectangle. To change the shape requires high-trafficked streets have to been realigned. This realignment called the Western Workaround consists of reworking Old Georgetown Road and Executive Boulevard, and creating new streets to ease traffic. Right now, the land is owned by the County but the land is also being held by JBG, who holds a first right of refusal on the property. Though Gables does not own the property yet in which they need to make into a rectangle, they will continue to plan their project.

Another challenge this project faces is that we cannot built through the VOB property yet. As part of the White Flint Sector Plan process, it was insisted that all right of ways for streets would be dedicated by the property owners and no funding would be needed from the County. The County is working with VOB to dedicate the street.

In addition, another challenged faced by Gables is the funding for the shared parking lot.  This site is situated right next to the Wall Park/ Shriver Aquatic center lot. As part of Gables’ plan, the large surface parking lot surround the Aquatic Center will be taken away to create a larger open public space, adding to the existing Wall Park. Since the parking lot will be destroyed, parking for the Aquatic Center must be created elsewhere. That is where the Gables site comes in. They hope to create a shared parking garage with spaces for individuals using the aquatic center, residents of the Gables apartments, and visitors to the development. The county must first acquire funding for this shared parking lot project before anything can happen, but there is no CIP project or plan for this project yet. This project will not break ground until the funding for the parking lot is secured.

The Gables White Flint development consists of three different buildings: West Building, Center Building, and East Building. The West Building will have residential units. The Center building will have both residential and retail. And the East Building will be retail. Overall, there will be about 476 residential units. All the buildings will access to the parking structure, which will have close to 970 parking spots.

In addition, there will be two public outdoor courtyards, one courtyard will also house the pool for the residents. These outdoor spaces provide great areas for activities and programming to take place.

The goal is to make this area look and feel like a neighborhood. The buildings will be at medium scale with no overwhelming structures.  It is great for the White Flint sector to have a mix of scales in their buildings. The design of the buildings will also include familiar materials such as glass and brick, to also enhance the neighborhood feel of the area. Similarly, the design of the site could accommodate for future changes, allowing Gables to build extensions if need be in the future.

In addition, there will a Capital Bikeshare station in the development, which will attract more cyclists to the area. There will be good bikeway access to the area as well, with shared-use paths on both sides of the street that this project will face, Grand Park Avenue.

Although the western workaround and road realignment is included in the latest capital budget (CIP FY15-20 budget) for the county, the public portion of the garage is not so it may take a while before the project takes off. We look forward to all the changes that will come with project.

Get to Know Gables White Flint

The mixed-use project proposed by Gables Residential is highly anticipated by White Flinters because of the promise that surrounds it.  If you’ve been to one of my talks or programs*, you’ve seen my demonstration of how a public/private partnership will result at once in the improvement of our street grid, creation of a huge public park and the build-out of a residential community with restaurant and retail mixed right in.  The “private” part of this partnership comes from Gables Residential.

Gables slide

Image from Gables White Flint’s website (blog.whiteflint.gables.com)

If you’ve been to the Pike Central Farmers Market this season, you’ve noticed it’s being held in a triangle-shaped parking lot at Executive Boulevard and Old Georgetown Road.  The sector plan calls for this lot to be squared-off by shifting Executive Boulevard east (see the image above).  This shift, part of what we call the western workaround, both improves our street grid and allows Gables Residential to proceed in building its mixed-use residential/retail/restaurant project.  In the space between Gables’ buildings and the county’s Shriver Aquatic Center, the two bodies are supposed to work together to build a parking garage that will serve both.  Once parking is available in the garage, then the Parks Department can transform the existing surface parking lot at Shriver Aquatic/Wall Park into a true public green space.  A large and exciting recreation center is also planned for the area.

Gables Residential is going to share more about the status of their plans at the July meeting of the White Flint Implementation Committee which, of course, we’ll cover.  But, you can also follow the project on their website: blog.whiteflint.gables.com.  Check it out!

*If you haven’t been to one of my talks or programs and would like for me to speak with your community organization, just email me to set it up!  I’m happy to share the latest on White Flint plans, as well as a primer on the history of the sector plan and the underlying theories supporting the redevelopment’s success.  And, yes, I also talk about how the plan addresses traffic…

Updates from May White Flint Sector Plan Implementation Advisory Committee Meeting

Nkosi Yearwood began the committee meeting by discussing updates on the various development projects:

  • Saul Centers’ White Flint sketch plan was approved April 17th by the Planning board.
  • North Bethesda Gateway development is moving forward after the sketch plan was amended last year. The preliminary site plan was amended 3 weeks ago and will be coming to the Planning Board in the near future.
  • Gables Residential– White Flint will be presenting their site plan at a public meeting tonight, Thursday May 15th at Wall Local Park/Shriver Aquatic Center. This project is moving forward as well.
  • North Bethesda Market II- JBG met with the Planning Board and is amending their sketch plan and preliminary site plan.  JBG has decided to keep the multi-family building but change the office building. Hopefully, they will be submitting the amendments to the Planning Board this fall.
  • A plan for Hillery Way – a road behind the former Addie’s building, near the Crest of Wickford residences – has been designed to add 6-8 townhouses.  This is a small project but the preliminary site plan was given to the Planning Board, with more to follow.
  • At Pike & Rose, an amendment for Phase I was approved to provide clean-up of the construction of Buildings 10-12 and streetscape changes. In addition, the Building 13 plan was amended to include changing the corner appearance by adding a façade.
  • Public projects- North Bethesda Conference Center and Parking Garage plan design was approved for money under the CIP budget.

Next, Ken Hartman, Director of B-CC Regional Services, provided updates from the White Flint Downtown Advisory Committee. The White Flint Downtown Advisory Committee advises on services provided in the White Flint area that include, pedestrian safety programs, homelessness programs, public safety coordination, and the weekender cleaning team. The committee hopes to build services to eventually set-up an urban district, which can provide maintenance of urban space. Many individuals worked on completing the TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) Discretionary Grant application to get a share of the grant money provided by the Federal Government to complete a study on the BRT system. The Downtown committee is also focused on the Nebel Street plan to provide bike improvements. The committee hopes to hold joint meetings with the Sector Plan Implementation Advisory Committee to focus on common interests both committees have.

On the marketing side of development, they are working on the Metro White Flint destination website that will provide information on where to shop, eat, and live in the White Flint district and further information on development projects and economic development of the area, as well as a newsfeed option to access information from social media websites.

The committee, along with the Regional Services Center, hopes to work towards achievables. Right now, they have a goal to work on decreasing the speed of Rockville Pike by using strategies such as beautifying the streetscape on the Pike to slow down traffic and provide more open space and parks. One of the locations with a possible site to create a park is the Water Tower. Right now, there is $20,000 allotted to changing the street-scape of Rockville Pike but the committee is asking the Montgomery County Council to provide an extra $75,000 for marketing, the weekender team and for the street-scape plan. The committee hopes to have the street-scape done this summer.

The County Council has a funding reconciliation list of projects the council wants to fund but may not be covered under the budget currently. On May 15th, the council will decide on what projects will be funded under this reconciliation budget. Right now, the street-scape plan ask is being supported by Councilmember Roger Berliner. The budget resolution will be finalized on May 21st, which is when the funded projects will be announced. Another project the committee is working on is the need to create a unified White Flint zip code and unified White Flint district name. Stay tuned for more information on this.

Francine Waters then provided the committee with an update on the TIGER Grant program. The TIGER Grant is program run by the Federal government that provides funding for transportation projects or studies in communities and localities. The grant can be used for either planning or for construction. MCDOT together with the State of Maryland, Maryland State Highway, and Montgomery County Council of Governments agreed to apply for a preliminary engineering planning study of the BRT system on Rockville Pike. The 95 page application asked for $3 million dollars, as Montgomery County has never received more than $3 million for planning from the TIGER Grant in the past. The grant has received support from varying organizations and individuals throughout Montgomery County including Friends of White Flint, Congressmen Chris Van Hollen, and NIH. The Department of Transportation will not make their decision on the recipients of the grant until September so Francine is asking individuals or groups that are in support of the grant for Montgomery County to show their support by writing a letter of recommendation.

County White Flint Implementation Coordinator Dee Metz then provided her report for the Committee. Two other projects on the budget reconciliation list include the Hoya Street extension all the way through to Montrose Parkway and the planning submission for the North Bethesda Conference Center garage. For the garage project, the feasibility study has been completed. In addition, we know that the Maryland Stadium Authority will design the garage and are currently looking for contractors. They will put out a request for expressions of interest and then an RFP. They hope to find one contractor for both the garage and the street outside of the conference center. They hope to have bids by the end of Summer 2014.

Also, Nebel Street traffic calming plans were discussed. MCDOT provides grants for traffic calming developments and the Planning Department hopes to receive grant money for Nebel Street developments between Nicholson Lane and Randolph Road. They want to spread the grant money among various strategies along Nebel Street including the use of curbs and biking facilities along the street. In addition, they are looking at a cycle track demonstration for the White Flint district as well. One problem they are currently looking at is what to do at intersections for biking facilities.

The timeline: Cranes over White Flint

Part of an occasional series looking at how the new White Flint will come together.

Cranes are rising over White Flint as the vision of the White Flint Sector Plan becomes a reality. But while some projects are humming along towards opening day, others are proceeding more slowly. In our next Timeline post, let’s take a look at the status of four local developments in various stages of planning and construction.

North Bethesda Market II could have the tallest building in Montgomery County. Rendering from STUDIOS Architecture.

Gables Wall Park: Groundbreaking in 2015

While Montgomery Parks looks at renovating Wall Park, located at Executive Boulevard and Nicholson Lane, developer Gables is moving forward with plans to build apartments next door.

“Our project is moving forward slowly but surely,” writes Eddie Meder, development associate at Gables. The Planning Board approved Gables’ sketch plan for the project in October, meaning they will next have to submit a preliminary and site plan, with more detailed information about how the development would work, and get it approved. That process could take up to a year.

Meder hopes to hold another public meeting in the spring to let everyone know what’s going on with the project. The goal is to start construction in “mid-to-late 2015,” he says, adding, “Of course, that may be a little optimistic.” Executive Boulevard cuts across the proposed building site today, and it’ll have to be moved as part of a project the county and state are working on called the Western Workaround, which is scheduled to start around the same time.

East Village: 2015-2016

Foulger-Pratt and ProMark have teamed up to build East Village at North Bethesda Gateway, a project at Rockville Pike and Nicholson Lane aimed at younger Millennials. They plan to replace a 1960’s-era office building with two mid-rise buildings containing 640 apartments and 36,000 square feet of retail space.

Both the apartments and the retail spaces will be smaller than average, to keep rents low. The developers hope that will draw younger renters who can’t afford some of White Flint’s more high-end buildings, and “local, authentic” retailers that don’t need a lot of space.

The developers originally planned to break ground by the end of 2014, but this week, Rob Eisinger at ProMark told us that they now anticipate doing so in late 2015 “assuming the site plan process goes smoothly.” That means the first building may not open until the end of 2016.

Metro Pike Center: Wait and see

Standing at Rockville Pike and Nicholson Lane today, you’ll see a Staples and a two-story strip mall with a David’s Bridal in it. But Bethesda-based BF Saul, which bought the two properties, plans to replace them both with high-rise apartments and offices over shops along a new linear park.

BF Saul proposes a pedestrian plaza along the west side of Rockville Pike.

BF Saul proposes a pedestrian plaza along the west side of Rockville Pike.

Dubbed Metro Pike Center, the project’s had a few design changes after residents complained about there not being enough street-level retail proposed along Rockville Pike. A “sketch plan” outlining general features of the project is now under review at the Planning Department, says Brian Downie, Senior Vice President for Development at BF Saul, who anticipates having a public hearing before the Planning Board next February.

But it’s unclear what will happen after that. If their sketch plan is approved, BF Saul will have to submit a more detailed site plan later before breaking ground. “We don’t have any set project timeline,” Downie wrote in an email to FOWF. “That timeline takes shape as the application moves forward.”

We also asked Downie what’s happening with Woodglen Drive, which will extend from its current end at Nicholson behind Metro Pike Center to Marinelli. Evan Goldman of Federal Realty, which is building a segment of Woodglen at their Pike + Rose development further north, wants BF Saul to scoot their proposed street over to make the connection.

Downie says it’s staying the same for now, writing, “The [street] alignment in our drawings tracks the alignment settled almost six years ago,” when the property’s former owner, Holladay Corporation, submitted plans for a similar project. Changing the street may also also require permission from the owners of the Grand, an apartment building behind Metro Pike Center.

North Bethesda Market II: Eventually

One of the most anticipated projects in White Flint may be the furthest away from happening. North Bethesda Market II, located at Rockville Pike and Executive Boulevard, would contain Montgomery County’s tallest building, at over 330 feet tall, along with a movie theatre and a plaza designed for events and festivals. It’s a more energetic version of its sister development, North Bethesda Market, located across Executive Boulevard and home to the county’s current tallest building.

Montgomery County approved the project in 2012. But if you’re waiting for shovels in the ground, you may not wnat to hold your breath. “We don’t have anything to share on NoBe II at this time,” writes Greg Trimmer, principal at developer JBG, in an email to FOWF. “We are fully entitled, but have not yet submitted for permit.”

Planning Board to Hear White Flint Projects

At least four White Flint projects have hearings scheduled before the Montgomery County Planning Board in coming months:

  1. North Bethesda Gateway, a project from ProMark and Foulger Pratt, will have a hearing on their Sketch Plan Amendment (32011002A) on October 3rd.  As BethesdaNow.com has reported, the amendment increases residential density and decreases office space.
  2. Federal Realty will have their Pike + Rose Phase 2 site plan and preliminary plan amendment reviewed on October 10th.
  3. Gables Residential will have their sketch plan heard on October 24th.  This is the project related to Wall Park and the Shriver Aquatic Center.
  4. Saul Centers’ sketch plan (320140010) will be heard on December 12th.  After a recent revision to increase the mixed-use of the buildings, which were initially proposed as all residential and office, the plan is considered to have improved significantly.

All hearings will be in the Montgomery County Planning Board’s first floor auditorium at 8787 Georgia Avenue in Silver Spring.  You may testify by signing up in advance here, or by calling 301-495-4600.  Staff reports are generally available in advance of the hearing on the Planning Board’s website (the reports for North Bethesda Gateway and Pike+Rose are linked above). If you can’t make it in person, you can always watch the Planning Board meetings online.

Can Wall Park become more than a parking lot?

Wednesday night, representatives from Montgomery Parks led a community discussion about how to renovate Wall Park. While some residents were concerned about losing parking spaces and impacts to the Kennedy Shriver Aquatic Center, others were excited about the park’s potential.

Residents vote for things they'd like to see at Wall Park. Photo by the author.

Residents vote for things they’d like to see at Wall Park. Photo by the author.

Today, the 11-acre park is home to the Shriver Aquatic Center, a small playground, a stand of trees, and a big parking lot. Planning for a new Wall Park began with the White Flint Sector Plan in 2010, which recommended making it a major outdoor gathering place.

From a parking lot to a “great lawn”

The renovation of Wall Park would happen over two phases. First, the parking lot would become what Montgomery Parks project coordinator Rachel Davis Newhouse called a “great lawn” with space for events, festivals, and smaller, informal gatherings. Developer Gables Residential would build a new, 900-space parking garage behind the aquatic center in conjunction with an apartment complex they plan to build on a property just north of the park.

The parking lot at Wall Park could become more green space. Image from Montgomery Parks.

400 of the spaces would be set aside for park and aquatic center users, compared to 260 spaces today. Accessible parking and the drop-off loop would stay where they are now.

“It just makes sense to build that all as one parking structure,” Newhouse said. “You save money to do all that at once and then it’s done.”

In the second phase, the park would be fully built out as a regional outdoor destination. The “great lawn” could get a stage and a small amphitheatre, allowing it to host live performances. Movable seating, shelters and picnic areas, could accommodate smaller gatherings.

There could also be a number of new additions, including an expanded playground, a skate park, a dog park, and a “splash zone” similar to the fountains in downtown Silver Spring and Rockville Town Square. Newhouse is also exploring food and drink options, like a park cafe and food trucks. And a “walkway to freedom” would connect the park to Josiah Henson Park, located across Old Georgetown Road, with interpretive signage and a museum kiosk.

Meanwhile, the Recreation Department wants to expand the 44,000-square-foot aquatic center, which is already the county’s busiest pool. Officials are also considering building a new recreation center alongside it, noting that the nearest facilities are the Bauer Drive Recreation Center in Rockville and the Jane Lawton Recreation Center in Chevy Chase, both of which are five miles away.

“Rather than building new, freestanding recreation centers, we’re trying to take advantage of what we already have,” says Gabe Albornoz, director of the Montgomery County Department of Recreation. The new facilities would wrap around the existing aquatic center. Albornoz expects that construction would last about 18 to 24 months, which may disrupt activities at the aquatic center.

Concerns about losing parking, safety

Newhouse gave everyone stickers, asking them to vote on what they’d like to see in the park. But many people in attendance said they didn’t want anything at all. Residents had concerns about construction disrupting the aquatic center, traffic from new park visitors, and the “environmental impacts” of removing the parking lot.

gables typical upper level plan

Plan of the proposed Gables apartment complex, including the parking garage it’ll share with Wall Park. Image from Gables.

Meanwhile, several parents of swimmers at the aquatic center worried about the loss of free parking and safety in the parking garage. One parent who lives “one mile away” in Luxmanor said she drives her kids to and from Shriver “8 times a day, 7 days a week.”

“I’m tired of parking being taken away,” she said. “I don’t want to be here anymore. I don’t go to Bethesda, I don’t go to Rockville. It’s not fun sitting in traffic.”

Albornoz insisted that the parking would be free for aquatic center visitors, perhaps by using validated tickets, like at the Rockville Library. He also said that the aquatic center could add a second, rear entrance to the aquatic center to reduce the walk from the parking garage.

Paul Meyer, member of the White Flint Downtown Advisory Committee, proposed a covered, lighted walkway similar to the one between the Music Center at Strathmore and the parking garage at the Grosvenor-Strathmore Metro station. “Nothing’s totally safe, but you can make it pretty safe,” Meyer said.

“We need this kind of amenity”

Meyer noted that several thousand new homes are being built in White Flint and will need amenities to serve them, like those proposed at Wall Park. Meanwhile, the developers of those new homes are being taxed to pay for those amenities. “I think we’re thinking of this as a single property,” he said. “It’s a piece of a puzzle. A small piece.”

One resident of the Georgetown Village condominium says that the park will give kids in White Flint much-needed places to play. “We’ve been fighting tooth and nail for more playgrounds,” he said. “We need this kind of amenity . . . I know people are frustrated with a lot of aspects of this, but I’m looking forward to it. It can’t be built fast enough.”

There are still a lot of questions with the Wall Park plan. There’s no cost estimate yet, and there’s no final design, so it’s unclear how the aquatic center will be affected during construction.

But that’s no reason for people to automatically reject the idea of making a better park, especially one that will benefit many people in White Flint. People often complain there isn’t enough open space in Montgomery County’s urban areas, and renovating Wall Park is an opportunity to create more of it.

The Montgomery County Planning Board will review a preliminary concept for Wall Park in conjunction with designs for the Gables project at a meeting on Thursday, October 24. Depending on when the Western Workaround gets built, construction on the parking garage and apartments could start by “mid-2015 at best,” according to Eddie Meder, development associate at Gables Residential, meaning that work on the park could soon follow.