Tuesday’s White Flint Downtown Advisory Committee Meeting had been much-anticipated as the question of the naming/branding/borders of the future urban district has heated up. So, it surprised some that the issue didn’t arise until the last few minutes of the gathering. Below are the meeting highlights:
Western Workaround: County Implementation Coordinator Dee Metz reported that construction of the western workaround will be broken into two phases. The first will include the relocation of Executive Boulevard, the addition of the east/west Market Street and the adjustments to the area around the conference center. Design is 90% done on this phase. The second phase will address the intersections of Old Georgetown Road. As will be the bottleneck in many upcoming projects, the challenge is with the utilities. It will take the various utility companies a year to relocate their wires, lines and pipes after design is complete.
Chapman Avenue: Ms. Metz also said that, to connect Chapman Avenue through to Randolph Road, utilities will begin their nine-month relocation process in the fall. Road construction will begin next summer with a projected open date for the new stretch of road in summer of 2016.
Woodglen Drive and Nebel Street: We’ve been reporting for months on the county’s planned improvements to pedestrian and bicycling infrastructure on these roads. Dee Metz said that we will hear more about the plan for Woodglen at the August meeting of the White Flint Implementation Committee. As for Nebel, the county is looking into installing “cycle tracks” for this stretch. These allow for bicycles to travel in both directions on one side of the road, separated from traffic. They’ve not been built in Montgomery County before but are common around the country.
Downtown Advisory Committee Goals for this Year: Newly-minted committee chair Cliff Cohen listed his priorities for the Downtown Advisory Committee in this second year of its existence. Among other things, he hopes to: (1) accelerate the maintenance and beautification of Rockville Pike (they’re working to navigate issues with the state), (2) consider hiring a streetscape consultant to move forward with the vision of Rockille Pike as a boulevard, (3) pursue one zip code for the sector, (4) establish a destination website and hire an intern to assist with its maintenance, (4) assess the types of public safety and human service needs that the future urban district will confront, and (5) move forward on establishing an urban district by, first, commissioning a report on the subject by the county’s Office of Legislative Oversight.
Presentations: The committee heard two robust presentations that offered framework and background as the committee begins deeper work on the economic development and creation of the urban district. First was Holly Sears Sullivan, president of Montgomery Business Development Corporation. She focused on the impressive data capabilities of MBDC and on the opportunities the Downtown Advisory Committee might leverage from them. Second, Jeff Burton of Bethesda Urban Partnership spoke about the functions and structures of BUP. I’ll save most of my notes for a deeper blog post on the subject but, suffice it to say that BUP provides service and support to the 250 acres of downtown Bethesda with a budget of about $4M a year. The existing White Flint Sector is 430 acres and won’t have access to the same funding streams (mainly parking fees) enjoyed by Bethesda. This, I think, will be our next big hurdle.
Naming/Branding: This is why you read this blog post anyway, right? Let’s start at the beginning. The County created the White Flint Downtown Advisory Committee with the following purpose:
The Committee advises County departments on public services in the White Flint Sector Plan Area; and coordinates community activities that promote and advance business interests, and a sense of place, community, maintenance and walkability within the Area. The Committee will also advise and make recommendations to the County Executive and County Council on the feasibility and timing of the establishment of the Urban District in White Flint no later than September 2017.
So, because this committee’s mission is to work within the Sector Plan Area, chair Cohen does not plan to entertain discussion of border adjustments at this time. Similarly, he acknowledged that outside groups are working on naming the district and invited them to present their ideas when ready. But, the committee will proceed with its council-driven mission in the meantime.
On that note, we’re pleased to share that the community’s input will be more robustly sought at an upcoming public charette. You might remember charettes from the sector planning process. They’re public meetings designed to solve a problem. This one will focus on the naming/branding of the district. It will be facilitated by neutral professionals who will begin with a bit of education on how branding works. From there, all potential names will be on the table. The goal will be to emerge from this session with 5 – 10 names that everyone can live with. Those will then be taken for deeper market research. We hope to hold the charette in the next month and a half, and it should be scheduled within the next week. Stay tuned to this blog and our weekly emails for more details – we hope to see you there!