Downtown Advisory Committee has Busy Meeting

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 WorkaroundCounty 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!

Naming/Branding Discussion at Downtown Advisory Committee

Yesterday, the White Flint Downtown Advisory Committee (DAC) held its monthly meeting at the Bethesda North Conference Center, located at 5701 Marinelli Road, Rockville, directly across the street from the White Flint metro station.  This very juxtaposition (Bethesda, North Bethesda, Rockville, White Flint) is why the subject of our area’s naming was on the agenda.

While we had hoped for a presentation by the White Flint Partnership, an organization of developers within the sector (all of whom are members of FoWF), what we got instead was a letter.  The letter says that the Partnership has “begun to move forward with an effort to identify a unifying brand for a larger area along the Rockville Pike corridor, an area that would extend in both directions beyond the White Flint Sector Plan boundaries.”  This shift, they say, would establish a “forward-thinking identity” which has the “potential for local, regional and national impacts” and would “empower property owners to express their individual identities, working collectively for the greater good while simultaneously preserving the individuality of existing residential communities.”

The letter was distributed at the start of the meeting and seemed to take several committee members off-guard – though the potential expansion of the urban district has been floated anecdotally in the media and on this blog, this was the first many committee members had heard of it.  No details were offered as to the boundaries of this newly-enlarged area but Ken Hartman, our regional services director and to whom the letter was addressed, surmised that the area would stretch north to include new development taking shape in Twinbrook and, perhaps, south to include Strathmore.  As he noted, “this would double – maybe triple – the geography” of our boundaries.  He also rightly noted that there is little distinction along this stretch of Rockville Pike.  If you look at a Google Earth image of the area from White Flint Mall up to Twinbrook metro (see below), it does look like one large commercial center.  Are we well-served by drawing an arbitrary line through the center of it?

Expanded District Map

 

From Google Maps

I would submit that I have not yet seen any downside to an expansion.  One issue that White Flint, with its current boundaries, will always face is regarding revenue generation.  Unlike similar regional undertakings, like Tysons and Rosslyn-Ballston, our area is constrained to the surrounds of one metro stop.  This already limits the sources of revenue which would be used for maintenance, streetscapes and programming (like the community contributions made by Bethesda Urban Partnership).  Other urban districts in Montgomery County are funded in large part by parking fees.  White Flint is not set up this way.  We will have few, if any, county-owned parking and, what we will have, is expected to be poached by the Department of Transportation.  We do have a special taxing district established here but, for the foreseeable future, all funds collected through it will be used on infrastructure projects.  So, expanding the urban district’s borders to include more opportunity for funding is an up-side in my view.

Also, if we’re looking to create a destination that will be marketed nationally – and if we’re building a destination worth visiting – why not make it as bold as possible?  I see no down-side there, either.  As newly-elected committee Chair Cliff Cohen noted, a larger, “more visible, more identifiable” district offers a greater chance of success.  It will attract great tenants and shops and really only has an impact on the big picture of the district.  The small picture remains the same – neighborhoods maintain their identity.

Committee members, however, were generally displeased with the Partnership’s letter and, unfortunately, the Partnership did not send a representative to lend voice to the text.  Resident committee member Paul Meyer, who lives in The Wisconsin, particularly did not like feeling that this discussion was so “developer-driven” and he wanted to ensure that the community, and the committee, had adequate say in the process.  Another resident committee member, Bernie Meyers, was “angry” that he feels “not plugged-in.”  Business member Bob Daley was not pleased that the Partnership had “just sent a definitive letter” without even coming to the meeting for a discussion.  In any event, an expansion of the district would require modification of the DAC’s mission which is presently restricted to the White Flint Sector Plan area.

But, a more positive flip side was offered by business member Andy Shulman.  The name of this district has been stalled for seven years because the developers couldn’t agree.  At least now, progress is being made!

We are told to expect a full presentation by the Partnership at the July DAC meeting and we’re hoping it’s going to address a few of the concerns we have:  

First, an expansion north might broach the borders of Rockville City, adding a burdensome and unnecessary bureaucratic layer to our work.  We hope this is not being contemplated.

Second, Friends of White Flint is all about community engagement and finding consensus for smart solutions in moving White Flint forward.  We are pushing to be part of this process and want to hear thoughts FROM YOU!  Do you think there are advantages or disadvantages to expanding and/or branding the White Flint Sector area?  Or, do you think that these types of decisions won’t have much impact on your day-to-day life?  Sound off here on the blog or email me directly at Lindsay.Hoffman@whiteflint.org.

 

June Meetings for County White Flint Advisory Committees

Next week, county advisory committees will meet to discuss White Flint redevelopment:

White Flint Implementation Advisory Committee

Date: Monday, June 9, 2014 @ 7:00pm-8:30pm

Where: Federal Realty Investment Trust Headquarters, 1626 E. Jefferson Street Rockville, MD 20852

The agenda for the meeting includes:

  1. Introductions
  2. Updates
    1. Development Activity
    2. White Flint Downtown Committee (Francine Waters)
  1. WF Implementation Coordinator Report  (Dee Metz)
  2. North Bethesda Gateway-Lake Waverly/Foulger Pratt Presentation

 

White Flint Downtown Advisory Committee

Date: Tuesday, June 10th at 8am

Where: Bethesda North Conference Center, Cabin John Board Room

The agenda will include a presentation and discussion on naming and branding of the District.

 

All meetings are open to the public so we hope to see you there but, if you can’t make it, we’ll make sure to post highlights on our blog!

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.

White Flint Meetings Next Week

The March meeting of the White Flint Implementation Advisory Meeting, regularly scheduled for next Monday, has been cancelled.  Now everyone is available to attend the duration of our Happy Hour and Developer’s Showcase:

Flyer for Happy Hour_final 

The next morning, the White Flint Downtown Advisory Committee will be meeting at 8am at Lerner Enterprises, 2000 Tower Oaks Boulevard.  Regional Services Center Director Ken Hartman shares that the agenda includes “a briefing on the Washington Gas depot fire, update on pedestrian safety improvements east of Rockville Pike, and a discussion on the development of a website.”  This meeting is open to the public but, if you can’t make it, just stay tuned here for our notes!

Mark Your Calendars! Friends of White Flint’s Showcase and Happy Hour Event is Coming Soon!

Mark your calendars, members! Friends of White Flint is having its first event of the year. On March 10th, we will be hosting a showcase and happy hour event at Paladar Latin Kitchen and Rum Bar. This free event will showcase both the public and private development projects set for the White Flint district.  Come as you please, take a tour of the projects on display, interact with other FoWF members, sample some delicious food, purchase a drink at the cash bar, and listen to remarks from both County Councilmembers Roger Berliner and Hans Riemer. The event is sponsored by Friends of White Flint, Paladar Latin Kitchen and Rum Bar, Lerch Early & Brewer Chtd. and Linowes and Blocher LLC.

Click on the image below to enlarge for the details!

Flyer for Happy Hour_final

 

Updates from the November Downtown Advisory Committee meeting

The White Flint Downtown Advisory Committee met again on November 12th to continue discussing how to make the area a great downtown destination. In fact, Jeff Burton, deputy executive director of the Bethesda Urban Partnership (BUP) came to the meeting to discuss just that with members of the committee. The discussion started with the Bethesda Streetscape Plan, created in the early 90s to give Bethesda a specific feel. Jeff explained that the plan was developed to create uniformity and consistency in the area, and was formed with the idea that there would be a group like BUP to maintain.

Like the streetscape plan, the conversation got very specific as to what makes a great downtown feel, from what materials are best for sidewalks to how many different types of trees should be planted and where. Some of the main themes included:

**Brick sidewalks – this is what is in Bethesda. Jeff explained that brick sidewalks are relatively easy to maintain, though it may take a few years for the material to settle. A big focus of this discussion was making sure the sidewalks are easy for everyone to use, particularly people with disabilities. What materials should be used for other amenities, such as benches, was also discussed. Aesthetic qualities as well as ease of maintenance should be considered.

**Trees and other plans are critical in creating a sense of place.  Planters offer a relatively inexpensive to make a big impact in the look and feel of an area.

**Maintaining a clean, pleasant environment is crucial. Having a downtown management team for maintenance is extremely important. One thing that we will have to be aware of in White Flint is the space between the various developments, and making sure these areas don’t get forgotten about.

Ultimately it’s going to take a lot of coordination between the many different developers and property owners as well as the State Highway Administration to create a great looking streetscape with a unified theme that is also interesting and easy for everyone to enjoy. These finer details, from sidewalks to trash cans are critical in creating a true sense of place – a wonderfully unique White Flint.

The Downtown Advisory Committee usually meets on the second Tuesday of every month at 8am at the Conference Center. However, the group will not have their normal meeting in December, as they will be on a half day retreat. In the meantime, we understand that those who represent the county (Dee Metz and Ken Hartman) have been hard at work with the Capital Improvements Program (CIP) budget, which includes White Flint projects in various stages. Additionally, the Department of Transportation is looking at Marinelli and Nebel street areas for more comprehensive safety features. Finally, some members of the committee are working to get a zip code for the White Flint area, including writing to/meeting with Representative Chris Van Hollen’s office.

Updates from the Downtown Advisory Committee, 10/8/2013

The Downtown Advisory Committee convened for their monthly meeting last Tuesday, October 8. Given the many White Flint-related events and meetings this past month, the meeting consisted mainly of updates from the various stakeholders. Here are the highlights:

**Members of the DAC are in the process of requesting a zip code for the White Flint area. Additionally, a letter was sent from the DAC requesting items related to the redevelopment of White Flint be put in the capital budget. Cliff Cohen testified in favor of the abandonment of Executive Boulevard when Montgomery County DOT held their public hearing in September. Francine Waters is looking into ways for White Flint to be officially recognized as a “sustainable community” by the state of Maryland, given the transit-oriented nature of the development.

**White Flint Planner Nkosi Yearwood updated the committee on the many projects going before the Planning Board in the coming months. He added that the sketch plan for White Flint View will go before the Board again late this year or early next year. The developers of that project want to add 10 more units. Another Foulger-Pratt property (at Marinelli and Nebel) will have their sketch plan heard late this year/early next year. There has been no movement on North Bethesda Market II. He mentioned that there are no streetscape standards specific to White Flint, which is something the DAC may want to look at in the future (there are some basic recommendations in the Urban Design Guidelines, but nothing as specific as Bethesda’s Streetscape Standards). Finally, the Planning Department will soon be delivering their semi-annual report to the Council, which may contain some news about the timing of White Flint 2 (we’ll post when the semi-annual report will be released as soon as we know!).

**Dee Metz from the County Executive’s office explained that the County Executive received many letters pushing for White Flint projects in the Capital Improvements Program (CIP) budget. She added that many projects are going forward or are set to begin soon including work on utilities in terms of road design, fitting a shared use path on Executive Boulevard, restriping/resurfacing Marinelli, and the Woodglen Drive bikeway improvements. The biggest challenge is still getting the right-of-way required to make many of these projects happen, and of course, funding – revenues for the special taxing district are lower than expected, and expenses are higher.

**Peggy Schwartz, Executive Director of the North Bethesda Transportation Management District, noted that there has been a 25% increase in participation in the Walk & Ride program. There has also been a lot of outreach with businesses on their transportation plans, and increasing queries on bike share in this area.

**Ken Hartman of the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Regional Services Center explained that the Weekender Crew is working very hard to clean up the area; they collected over 100 bags of waste during the previous weekend and are willing to do more. He also gave on update on the Post Office, further explaining that the USPS only wants to pay to move once. He added that their determination to stay in the same Kensington zip code may limit options for locations within the White Flint sector. Ken then moved to talking about the streetscape of the area; ideas were shared regarding how the DAC could approach beautification (informal spot improvements, “adopting” medians, etc.). He concluded with the thought that Taste of Bethesda had more than 40,000 people show up, and asked the group to think about promotions and marketing for the new White flint – what is the area known for? What are the area’s strengths?

Finally, Francine updated the group on the many meetings and events regarding Rapid Transit. You can read about these events right on our blog, and you can also check out the County Council’s new page on the Transit Corridors Functional Master Plan here.

While there wasn’t much discussion about the DAC subcommittees, here’s a general idea of what’s been going on:

**The Municipal Impact subcommittee will look at traffic (pedestrian and vehicular), utilities, public transportation, parking, and the overall timing/sequence of the redevelopment process.

**Safety and Security has had its kick-off meeting, and is going to meet once a quarter at the NRC with fire and rescue services and the police. They would like to get WMATA and Councilmember Roger Berliner’s office involved.

**Marketing has reached out to Montgomery College to get an intern who will act as both historian and photographer to document the area as it redevelops.

**Beautification said that they were looking at bikepaths, improving the area around the Metro, and an “adopt a median” program for projects along the Pike.

**Strategic Planning is looking into alternative finance and management programs for the White Flint area, including a Business Improvement District (BID) and urban district. They have conducted some interviews with those familiar with these types of programs. They are seeking for full committee input on what services would be valuable for White Flint initially, and how to pay for these programs. One suggestion was creating a public-private partnership and hiring someone to run the necessary programs. Additionally, the county’s Office of Legislative Oversight has offered to undertake a study about urban districts/walkable communities nationwide to see what’s working and what isn’t, as well as other possible funding sources.

Updates from the September Downtown Advisory Committee meeting

The White Flint Downtown Advisory Committee met again this past Tuesday, September 10. The majority of the meeting covered two topics: 1.) the findings from the parking study Montgomery County’s Department of Transportation recently released related to the bikeway improvements on Woodglen Drive (which was also discussed the previous night at the Implementation Advisory Committee meeting; you can read our notes from that meeting here), and 2.)  a discussion with representatives from the county’s Department of Health and Human Services, including director Uma Ahluwalia.

As BethesdaNow.com reported shortly after the meeting ended, Ahluwalia said that the county is looking to put a homeless shelter at 5320 Marinelli Road. The new shelter will replace two existing shelters in the area, the Dorothy Day Place Women’s Shelter in Rockville and the Bethesda House men’s shelter in Bethesda. Ahluwalia noted that the leases for both current facilities will soon be up, and that their conditions are subpar. The new shelter will have 18 beds for men and 19 for women. The relocation date is expected to be around May 2014.

Ahluwalia elaborated that there will be many case management services available to shelter residents, as well as a requirement that they be involved in some sort of daytime activity such as a work program, substance abuse treatment program or mental health program. There will be 24-hour monitoring services, including cameras and staff who are required to stay awake while on duty. She added that her department provides many outreach services, and encouraged those who saw something they were uncomfortable with to call DHHS (though she said that both shelters have not disrupted communities in their current locations). Bethesda-Chevy Chase Regional Services Center Director Ken Hartman told the group that Bethesda Cares is also very responsive.

Ahluwalia explained that DHHS is willing to have those providing the services talk to different groups in an effort to be good neighbors.

Implementation Advisory Committee Meeting Next Monday

Next week is the second week of the month, which means it’s time to mark your calendars for White Flint meetings!

On July 8th at 7:00pm, the Implementation Advisory Committee will hold their monthly meeting at Wall Local Park/Kennedy Shriver Aquatic Center. B.F. Saul/Saul Centers, who owns the Metro Pike Shopping Center (home to sweetFrog, Dunkin Donuts, and 7-11) as well as the Staples and adjacent buildings across the street, will be presenting their sketch plan to the committee.

And, only 2 days after the Implementation meeting, the Postal Service will hold a community meeting – 4:30pm on July 10th, also at the Aquatic Center. This meeting will take the place of the July Downtown Advisory Committee meeting.