UPDATE: We’ve added images courtesy of Foulger-Pratt of the current proposal for East Village and the former design for comparison.
The White Flint Sector Plan envisions Rockville Pike as a grand boulevard with tall buildings. But what about the side streets? Is there an opportunity to create a more intimate experience there?
Dick Knapp, senior vice president at Foulger-Pratt, has proposed doing just that at East Village at North Bethesda Gateway, a project he’s working on with fellow developer ProMark at the corner of Nicholson Lane and Huff Court, next to White Flint Mall.
“In a vital city, there’s heterogeneity and surprise,” said Knapp during a public presentation last Thursday night in the 1960’s-era office building that would give way to East Village, which would contain 640 apartments in two six-story buildings and 36,000 square feet of ground-floor shops along a narrow, private street.
He called Rockville Pike a future “Gold Coast,” where grand buildings would ask accordingly high rents and draw high-end stores. At East Village, Foulger-Pratt and Promark hope to draw young professionals seeking an urban experience with “smaller, cheaper” living spaces and local, “authentic” retailers. Knapp described the project as “our village concept, human scale closer to the street.”
Huff Court, which today is lined by parking lots, would become a “vibrant retail street,” says architect George Dove of WDG Architecture, which is also one of three design firms working on Pike + Rose. One-fourth of the site will be set aside as open space, including a small plaza.
Knapp suggested future retail tenants could include casual dining places like Busboys and Poets, coffee shops and yoga studios. “We’re trying to create a ‘third space,'” he said, using sociologist Ray Oldenburg’s term for venues that were neither home nor work, but a place where people could gather and build community.
East Village would include a private street parallel to Nicholson Lane that would eventually run between Rockville Pike and a future MARC station at the end of Nicholson Court. Along the new street, ground-floor apartments would have “real doors” with stairs and stoops, providing visual interest.
County planners have designated the street for pedestrians only, but the developers say it would be bad for retail. They would prefer to build a street that accommodates cars as well, although at very low speeds. On-street parking would allow some visitors to even pull over and stop.
“There will be more feet in the street than tires in the street,” says Knapp. “Without the cars, the space just becomes dead.”
East Village is half of a larger scheme for North Bethesda Gateway, which Promark created in partnership with the owners of the Fitzgerald auto dealership and a retail building across Huff Court. A sketch plan for it approved two years ago proposed several 12-to-20 story buildings containing a mix of apartments, offices and retail space.
Since then, the three landowners have decided to work independently. Foulger-Pratt and Promark revised the concept for their half, taking out the offices and slightly reducing the amount of apartments and retail. This allowed them to swap out taller buildings, which would have to be built out of more expensive concrete, for shorter, more affordable wood-framed buildings.
Not having offices also means the project will generate 45% fewer car trips during rush hour, allowing them to provide less parking, though there will still be an underground garage.
“We’ve reduced the congestion, reduced the density, and provided more affordable housing,” notes Dove. “There’s been a change in the younger generation. We want to encourage people to walk to the Metro.”
While East Village will include about 80 moderately priced dwelling units, even market-rate apartments could rent for less than others in the White Flint area. Rents are estimated to range from $1500 for a 475-square foot studio to $1600 for a 650-square-foot one-bedroom, and $2175 for a 900-square-foot two-bedroom. By comparison, a comparably-sized studio rents for $1635 a month at North Bethesda Market, which opened in 2011.
The apartments will be “compact but very well-finished,” Knapp says, showing images of units with hardwood floors and granite countertops.
Foulger-Pratt and ProMark will file an amended sketch plan at the Planning Department later this month; if it’s approved, it’ll go through the site plan process. Knapp anticipates that they’ll break ground by the end of 2014 and the first building will open by the end of 2015.