White Flint in the News

White Flint Mall Redevelopment

White Flint Mall redevelopment took another step forward last week.   As we’ve reported, Lord & Taylor filed for an injunction last year to halt the revelopment of the mall property.  This was denied in December and Lord & Taylor filed an appeal.  That appeal hit a snag last week when a federal judge upheld the original denial, clearing the way for White Flint Mall to proceed. According to Washington Business Journal:  “Judge Roger Titus, in a Feb. 7 ruling, said Lord & Taylor failed to show that it would ‘suffer irreparable injury’ if its request for a temporary halt to development was not granted. In addition, Titus said Lord & Taylor waited too long to request an injunction in the case.” Read the full article by clicking here.

FDA Moving Workers to White Flint

The Washington Business Journal also reports that the White Flint district can expect another 1,000 workers this summer.  The FDA will be moving a complement of its workforce into Three White Flint, the new building constructed by LCOR on Marinelli Road.  Originally constructed for the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the building has failed to fill out as projected.  It is located between the Metro Station and the Metro garage; it’s one of the most central White Flint district locations.  Four floors of the building will be used to consolidate FDA employees from other sites around Montgomery County. Read the full article by clicking here.

Updates from White Flint Sector Plan Implementation Advisory Committee January Meeting

Here are some updates from the White Flint Sector Plan Implementation Advisory Committee Meeting on January 13th:

The discussion started with a focus on Woodglen Drive and Executive Boulevard. Committee members are concerned with the issues surrounding the shared-use path on Woodglen Drive.  There has been some confusion after the county permitting department made what appears to be a mistake when dealing with Paladar Kitchen and Rum Bar.  Although the sidewalk on Woodglen Drive should have been kept at 8-feet wide to allow for pedestrians and bicyclists, the permitting department told Paladar that 6-feet wide was sufficient.  So, Paladar’s outdoor seating furniture was purchased to these specifications.  Many argue that 6-feet wide is not enough, especially considering obstacles like street signs that create pinch points already.  All parties are negotiating how best to proceed.  Also, we updated you yesterday on the improvements to Woodglen Drive, which will include a bike lane right where Paladar sets its Valet stand.  That will need to be addressed, as well.

The discussion then lead to an update from the County Executive’s White Flint Implementation Coordinator, Dee Metz. The Capital Improvement Budget (CIP) for 2014- 2015 year was discussed. This implementation meeting took place before the budget was released. Dee Metz told the committee that White Flint should expect to receive a significant amount of money from the county. Since this meeting, the budget was announced.  Take a look at this blog post to learn more about what aspects are part of the Capital Improvement Budget and how you can get involved in ensuring that all WF projects receives a fair share of funding from the county.

The focus then went towards discussing the MCPS Board of Education Letter to Chair of the Planning Board. Back in October, the MCPS Board of Education sent a letter to the Chair of the Montgomery County Planning Board. This letter was sent to the Chair to reaffirm the Board of Ed’s position on the locating the school site on the White Flint Park North site. The Board of Education is in favor of co-locating the elementary school with the White Flint Neighborhood Park at the White Flint Park North location. After this letter was sent to the Board of Ed, the Garrett Park Estates/White Flint Park Citizen’s Association met and discussed the letter. Check out this past blog post to learn more about what was discussed at that meeting.  The issue is ongoing and we’ll keep you posted.

Francine Waters from Lerner Enterprises (and a member of the Friends of White Flint Board of Directors) discussed the organization, Communities for Transit. This is a private, non-profit organization in Montgomery County that focuses on educating and advocating for Bus Rapid Transit in Montgomery County. Communities for Transit has worked with FoWF and Coalition for Smarter Growth in the past. The organization recently created a video explaining what Rapid Transit will look like for Montgomery County. You can check out the video here.

The meeting ended with a note about the urban design and health. Nkosi Yearwood sent out two documents, Intersections of Health and Built Environment and 10 Principles for Building Healthy Places, that speak to the connections between the built environment of cities and the health of it’s residents. As the redevelopment in White Flint proceeds, it is important to understand how the urban design can impact the health of those in the area. We hope to provide a walkable, recreational, accessible community that will greatly improve the quality of life for our residents. It is important to remember why this redevelopment is happening and who this redevelopment is for.

The next Implementation Meeting is scheduled for 7pm on Monday, February 10th in the Multi-Purpose Room at Shriver Aquatic Center.

White Flint Mall Redevelopment Takes a Step Forward

As we reported back in July, Lord & Taylor has sued White Flint Mall in an attempt to halt its redevelopment.  The current plan calls for Lord & Taylor to stay put during the redevelopment process.  But, the lawsuit claims that the ensuing construction zone will obliterate their business and any groundbreaking should be delayed until the store’s lease expires in 2055.  This was met by a billion dollar countersuit from the Mall’s owners.

After pending for nearly six months, there was some movement in the matter at the end of the year.  On December 20th, the federal district court denied Lord & Taylor’s request for an injunction that would prevent the Mall owners from proceeding with their plans.  The rest of the lawsuit remains pending, including the demands for damages.  The following week, on December 24th, Lord & Taylor filed an appeal of the ruling.  That appeal is pending.

Read more in the Washington Business Journal.

Where will the elementary school be located? It may be too soon to tell.

Sketch plan of White Flint Mall property.

Sketch plan of White Flint Mall property. Retrieved from MontgomeryPlanningBoard.org.

A letter from the Board of Education that was sent to the Planning Board at the request of Montgomery County Public Schools was the highlight of a Garrett Park Estates/White Flint Park Citizen’s Association meeting on Wednesday. Accordingly, Bruce Crispell, director of long range planning for MCPS, as well as Nkosi Yearwood and Brooke Farquhar from the Planning and Parks departments were there to explain the history of the school site and answer questions.

A few things became clear during the course of the meeting. First, both the Department of Planning and Department of Parks staff are still supporting the sector plan recommendation to locate the school south of the White Flint Mall site (currently a parking lot). However, they are meeting with Lerner Enterprises, the owners of the mall, to see how to find a way to increase the acreage for the elementary school. The site identified in the master plan for the school has been constrained by a revised road alignment to accommodate a “specific tenant” that will generate a lot of truck traffic, according to Yearwood. At this time, Lerner has only submitted a sketch plan, which is largely conceptual, for their site. Yearwood explained that the next step in the planning review process, a more detailed preliminary plan, is likely coming next year.

On MCPS’s side, all of the proposed sites are challenges. Crispell explained that MCPS likes to have 12 acres for an elementary school,  and that their typical requirements for an elementary school include 3 playgrounds and 3 paved areas for activities such as recess and physical education. This program of requirements is one of the reasons why MCPS is now looking at another site behind White Flint Mall, adjacent to White Flint Neighborhood Park – MCPS has many schools that co-locate outdoor activities with parks. Additionally, MCPS is looking to have land dedicated for the school so that acquisition won’t be an added expense.  During the course of the meeting it became clear that all of the potential sites likely have some dollar amount attached to them, but that MCPS will continue to favor those that come at the lowest cost. This reality is why some other sites suggested are considered unfeasible.  When asked about the current properties MCPS owns, Crispell explained that all of those properties currently have another use, and that MCPS prefers to have new land for a growing population, within the sector plan, to serve that community specifically. When one resident called for a more urban design for a school, such as a play area on a roof, Crispell replied “I don’t think we’re there yet,” though because of its smaller site Somerset Elementary in Chevy Chase has been thought of as a model for the new White Flint Elementary School.

The community’s concerns included traffic and the future of their park. Some were frustrated that White Flint Neighborhood Park would not be open for public use during the school day, particularly because the sector plan calls for the current park to be expanded. In terms of traffic, many community members were opposed to school busses and other additional traffic cutting through their neighborhood to reach the new elementary school. (While the plan is supposed to be walkable, it is likely that some busses will be needed, and school staff will be driving). Ken Hartman from the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Regional Services Center explained that it may not be necessary to have access to the school from the neighborhood, as is the case with Bethesda Elementary, where traffic can only enter from Arlington Road.

Ultimately this school is ten to 20 years (or perhaps more) away from being constructed.  The challenge lies in planning for these long range projects when nobody knows what the reality on the ground will be so far into the future. The Garrett Park Estates/White Flint Park Citizen’s Association voted against the recommendation that the site north of the mall be designated for the school and suggested that other sites continue to be investigated. Some members urged the county representatives to think more creatively about possible solutions. We will keep you updated as we hear more.

Bloomingdale’s Interested in Returning to a New White Flint

It was a dramatic scene when the Bloomingdale’s building at White Flint Mall, which had stood since the mall opened in 1977, was demolished earlier this year.  But, shoppers need not despair.  The Mall’s owners revealed last week that Bloomingdale’s is open to return once the property has been redeveloped!

This new information was revealed during the course of a lawsuit pending between White Flint Mall and its other anchor, Lord & Taylor.  Lord & Taylor has sued the mall in an attempt to halt the redevelopment.  The Mall has countersued, claiming the action was timed to “extract a payment from White Flint to get Lord & Taylor to drop its baseless objections.”  Learn more from the Gazette’s coverage by clicking here.

Friends Around Town

Your Friends have been out in the community over the last month and we’re grateful to our partners for engaging us in these fascinating opportunities.  Dan Reed and I were both panelists during a Montgomery Housing Partnership breakfast focused on social media in community engagement.

Rob with speakers

Rob Goldman (President of MHP), Brandon Jenkins (Popularise.com/Fundrise.com), Dan Reed (FoWF and JustUpThePike.com), Lindsay Hoffman (FoWF) & Evan Glass (Moderator & MHP Board Member)

Montgomery Housing Partnership’s mission is to expand and preserve affordable housing in Montgomery County – something that will become an issue in White Flint if the county truly wants to draw a younger demographic.  MHP doesn’t just advocate, they also walk the talk by “acquiring, rehabilitating, building and managing quality affordable housing.”

Friends of White Flint was very proud to be part of Coalition for Smarter Growth’s Walking Tours and Forum Series.  “White Flint: From Drag to Desirable” was the topic that kicked off this season of walking tours – and to a sold out crowd!  Nearly sixty people joined Stewart Schwartz of CSG, Nkosi Yearwood of the Planning Department, Tommy Mann from Federal Realty and me on a beautiful morning’s trek through the past, present and future of White Flint.

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Photos by Aimee Custis for Coalition for Smarter Growth

 

The tour was a great way to feel and see the differences between streets that solely car-focused, as opposed to those that consider all travelers.  Features like tree buffers, bike lanes, benches and trash cans equalize priorities among pedestrians, bikers and drivers.  Many of our main White Flint streets still have a long way to go in becoming truly walkable.

Friends of White Flint also hosted a Developer Showcase on April 30th in the Whole Foods Rockville café.  It was an opportunity for the community to browse new projects in White Flint’s future, and meet the people behind the ideas.   Paladar Latin Kitchen, Montgomery County Parks Department (Wall Park), LCOR (North Bethesda Center), Lerner Enterprises (White Flint Mall), and Federal Realty Investment Corp (Pike & Rose) were all available to chat, show their plans and share guacamole.  Friends of White Flint member Chevy Chase Land Company was also present with information about their plans for Chevy Chase Lake.

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Over 100 visitors checked out the exciting plans for White Flint and appreciated seeing the images up close.  If you weren’t able to join us that rainy morning, let us know if you’d like us to host a similar event on an upcoming evening!

Finally, Friends of White Flint has begun a monthly presence at the Pike Central Farmers Market!  Find us among the food trucks and produce and learn more about your community while you browse!

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And, wherever you see us – don’t hesitate to share your thoughts on the plans for White Flint.  We’re here to have a positive and consensus-building conversation.  Join in!

 

 

Check Out What’s Coming to White Flint!

Are you curious what’s coming to our redeveloped White Flint?  Hoping for a one-stop opportunity to see some of the latest plans?  Then join Friends of White Flint on Tuesday morning, April 30th, from 9:30-10:30am for a Showcase of Upcoming Projects.  

We’re taking over the Whole Foods cafe and giving you an opportunity to take a look at a handful of projects planned in and around the new White Flint and meet the folks behind the ideas.  This casual event will have no structured program, just come and take a look at your leisure!

Many thanks to our great friends at:

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What’s in a name? White Flint rebranding effort seeks to find out

Today it’s the name of a mall, but could it become the name of a neighborhood as well?

When Ben Harris and his wife moved from Logan Circle in DC to an apartment off of Rockville Pike in 2011, he didn’t know what to call his new neighborhood.

“I was telling people where I live and they would ask ‘What neighborhood is that?'” he says.

This confusion inspired the name of Harris’s new local blog, NorthFlintVille. “It’s taking North Bethesda and White Flint and Rockville and mashing them together, which in my experience is how people kind of think of the area,” he says.

The White Flint Partnership, a coalition of property owners working to transform White Flint from a suburban strip to an urban hub, wants to change that. They’re looking for a marketing firm to develop a new “brand” for the White Flint Sector Plan area.

Partnership member Lerner Enterprises owns White Flint Mall, which will be partially demolished and redeveloped as an urban neighborhood. Francine Waters, managing director of Lerner Enterprises, hope the study will “identify what would resonate the best not only locally, but regionally, nationally and internationally,” she says. “It’s not only a name but, frankly, telling the story of our journey from where we were to where we hope to achieve.”

Though little work has been completed, they plan to have something “sometime in the summer,” Waters says. The goal is to create a unified brand for the entire Sector Plan area that would be used by all landowners, though individual developments like Pike + Rose would still have their own identity.

There’s no consensus, official or otherwise, about what to call the area today. The Census Bureau calls the area North Bethesda, and the United States Postal Service calls it Rockville.

Montgomery County planners do use the name “White Flint,” after White Flint Mall, which in turn is named for the white quartz rocks historically found in the area. Ironically, the mall actually has a Kensington address.

As a result, the area’s name changes depending on who you ask. Harris tells people he lives “just north of the White Flint Metro station” or “somewhere up Rockville Pike, close to Rockville.” He adds, “Specifically, I tell people we live across from the strip mall with the Barnes & Noble in it.”

Some use different terms depending on who they’re talking to, like Vanessa Rodriguez, senior marketing manager at Federal Realty Investment Trust, which is participating in the rebranding effort. When talking to clients or potential tenants, she calls it “the White Flint district,” but if talking to a friend or relative, she’d “probably say Rockville or North Bethesda.”

“The problem with the White Flint district is that it does not feel like a cohesive area,” she says. “We need to cultivate that brand.”

Located in the District, NoMa is a successful example of rebranding a neighborhood. Photo by Elvert Barnes on Flickr.

Will a new name fix that? It might, judging from other DC-area communities that have rebranded themselves, like Capitol Riverfront and NoMa in the District or Tysons in Fairfax County. All three names were attempts by business and community leaders to shake those places’ once-negative or underwhelming reputations, they’re all beginning to draw new residents, businesses and investment.

While some may complain that these new names are artificial, they’re often born out of necessity. It’s not surprising that developers in NoMa chose not to use that neighborhood’s historical name; after all, who would rent a luxury apartment in a place called Swampoodle?

Not only that, but invented names have been used to sell real estate for centuries. Rockville was originally called Williamsburgh, after local businessman William Williams, who divided the town into lots and sold them in 1784. Later, the 19th-century developers of Kensington and Takoma Park named them after a posh London neighborhood and a Native American word meaning “near heaven,” respectively.

All of these names had to carry the weight of a place that didn’t yet exist and sell future residents and businesses on what could be. People already live and work in White Flint, but there isn’t a “center” or “anchor” that they can rally around. That’s arguably why some people today associate the area with Rockville or Bethesda, which do have defined centers. The White Flint Sector Plan seeks to change that by creating a “downtown” here, but what we call it sets the stage for what it will become.

So what could White Flint’s new name be? Rodriguez says that potential names have been “kicked around” in the past, but “nothing we really want to explore.” White Flint may not even be one of the names under consideration.

Given all of these issues, Waters acknowledges the challenge that lies ahead, including finding the right people to do the rebranding. “There are few [marketing] firms in the US that have done something of this magnitude,” says Waters. “It’s quite a phenomenal effort. We wanna make sure it’s done right.”

Thanks to everyone who took our poll of serious (and not-so-serious) names for White Flint! The poll is now closed.

**Updated 3/1/13 to reflect that the White Flint Partnership, not Lerner Enterprises, will spearhead the branding study effort.

White Flint Mall transformation shows way for other struggling malls

The Planning Board approved a "sketch plan" for the redevelopment of White Flint Mall last year. Photo by the author.

The Planning Board approved a “sketch plan” for the redevelopment of White Flint Mall last year. Photo by the author.

White Flint Mall opened in 1977 as the emblem of Montgomery County’s rising suburban affluence, but over time the luxury mall began to show its age. Now located at the center of the urbanizing White Flint Sector Plan area, the mall’s transformation into an urban neighborhood is a sign of where the county’s going.

“It’s going to be an incredible project, certainly adding to the energy and synergy of White Flint,” says Francine Waters, managing director of owner Lerner Enterprises, which built the mall and others like it throughout the region over the past several decades.

In October, the Planning Board approved a sketch plan to replace the 874,000-square-foot mall and an adjacent office building with 5.2 million square feet of shops, homes, offices and a hotel. The project could take 25 years to build over 3 phases; when finished, it would be the largest development in the White Flint area. In a 2011 Washington Post article, Michael Cohen of Boston-based Elkus Manfredi Architects described the project as “making a town, a community.”

Enclosed malls like White Flint were popular throughout North America during the late 20th century, but have become less popular as changing demographics and shopping habits have lured consumers to big-box stores and the Internet. Borders, one of the mall’s anchors, filed for bankruptcy and closed in 2011, followed by Bloomingdale’s, which closed last year and moved to the mixed-use Wisconsin Place complex in Friendship Heights. Though Lerner won’t divulge how many vacancies there are, portions of the mall are now empty.

What can you do to refresh a mall? Some, like Landover Mall in Prince George’s County, were simply demolished while awaiting another use, while others like Harundale Mall in Anne Arundel County were turned into a strip center. A few, however, are being turned into something that resembles a neighborhood, with a mix of residential and commercial uses and public open space.

One of the best examples of this kind of redevelopment is Belmar, a former mall outside of Denver that is being redeveloped as a suburban downtown. Closer to home, plans are underway to do the same with Landmark Mall in Alexandria and Owings Mills Mall in Baltimore County.

To orchestrate this transformation, Lerner hired Elkus Manfredi, which also designed CityPlace in West Palm Beach, Florida, a renowned example of New Urbanist planning principles, and Americana at Brand, a mixed-use project in Glendale, California. Both projects helped revive formerly struggling business districts and became regional destinations.

“We’re looking for that exciting compelling story that [the Friends of White Flint and the White Flint Partnership] all have been looking for,” says Waters. “Elkus Manfredi is a world-class architect and Americana at Brand certainly reflects a very successful project.”

Site plan of the proposed redevelopment of White Flint Mall.

Site plan of the proposed redevelopment of White Flint Mall.

In the proposed design, both department store spaces – Lord and Taylor and the former Bloomingdale’s – would remain, effectively preserving the “memory” of the mall’s original footprint. Meanwhile, the center of the mall would be demolished and replaced by a 1.7-acre “central piazza” surrounded by smaller shops with housing above.

The tallest buildings, reaching as high as 200 to 250 feet, would line Rockville Pike and a future extension of Executive Boulevard that would form the site’s northern boundary. From there, the height steps down to 100-foot-tall buildings around the piazza and 50-foot buildings on the site’s eastern and southern boundaries, where it’s closest to single-family homes.

Overall, there would be 1 million square feet of retail space, which would be joined by another million square feet of office space, a 280,000-square-foot hotel, and over 2400 apartments in 14 buildings. Underground parking garages containing 9,300 spaces would serve the entire development. According to the planning department’s report, each building will be designed and oriented to take advantage of passive solar heating and lighting, reducing energy costs.

A new grid of private streets would divide the site into blocks and connect it to Rockville Pike and future extensions of Executive Boulevard and Nebel Street. The streets will be designed to accommodate pedestrians, bicyclists and cars and have extensive landscaping and street furniture.

Meanwhile, 40% of the site would be set aside as public or private open space, including the piazza, a 2.3-acre addition to the existing White Flint Park, and four smaller plazas scattered throughout the development.

Lerner will also set aside 4 acres on the property’s southern end for an elementary school if Montgomery County Public Schools chooses to purchase it. County planners estimate that the 14,000 housing units that could eventually be built in White Flint will create demand for new schools in the area.

However, there was a brief conflict last fall when the Planning Board asked the developer to simply give the land away, but they later backed down. At the time, Planning Board Francoise Carrier argued that the school was necessary to placate concerns about overcrowded classrooms.

Handing over the property “was not in the sector plan,” says Waters.

Bird's-eye view of the proposed redevelopment of White Flint Mall.

Bird’s-eye view of the proposed redevelopment of White Flint Mall.

While the redevelopment of White Flint Mall has a lot of potential, there are some issues with its urban design related to it being a former mall site. While the site is broken up into city blocks, they are much larger than blocks in other projects in the Sector Plan area. For instance, the block where the former Bloomingdale’s is located appears to be over 800 feet long, while the two blocks closest to Rockville Pike are subdivided by what appear to be cul-de-sacs that don’t connect to the Pike itself.

Not only does this reduce pedestrian connectivity, but it forces drivers onto a series of 4- and 6-lane streets roughly located where the mall’s ring road is today.

These larger blocks and road sections may be due in part to Montgomery County Department of Transportation regulations that discourage blocks shorter than 600 feet. While a series of pedestrian passages cutting through the site help improve connectivity, it may be worth reconsidering how the street grid is set up, and whether traffic can be managed with a more fine-grained grid of smaller streets and shorter blocks.

Though the mall is set to close next year, it’s unclear when construction will begin. The Planning Board will need to approve a preliminary plan and a site plan, both of which are more detailed than a sketch plan, before anything can happen. Nonetheless, Waters looks forward to what the property will become.

“It’s going to be an incredible project certainly adding to the energy and synergy of White Flint,” says Waters. “I am absolutely, positively thrilled with what we’re proposing and how it works with the other projects within White Flint.”

Crossposted on Greater Greater Washington. For more images of White Flint Mall and its proposed redevelopment, check out this slideshow.