Councilmember Berliner Asks for Improvement to Wall Park Now

On Wednesday, Councilmember Roger Berliner transmitted the following letter to the Parks and Planning Department seeking low-cost, interim ways to improve Wall Park now.  I know it’s quite small – just click on it to enlarge:

Microsoft Word - Letterhead BLANK.doc

Also – stay tuned for Monday when the Urban Rode Code Bill, first introduced late last year by Councilmembers Berliner and Riemer, finally makes its way to a committee worksession.  We’ll have all the details for you later today or Monday morning.

Josiah Henson Park Featured on PBS

Josiah Henson Special Park is an up-and-coming gem in the Montgomery Parks system.  Located just outside of the White Flint sector boundary, on the western side of Old Georgetown Road, its programming will tie to Wall Park.  Now, the Park is receiving national attention.  See the below from a recent press release from Montgomery Parks:


SILVER SPRING, MD—Montgomery Parks, part of the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission and theMontgomery Parks Foundation announce the premiere of “TIME TEAM AMERICA, The Search for Josiah Henson,” on Tuesday, August 19 at 8 p.m. TIME TEAM AMERICA is a PBS series that combines archaeological discovery with good story telling. “The Search for Josiah Henson,” one of four new episodes of the second season, explores Josiah Henson Park, a significant historical resource located in Montgomery County, Maryland within the Montgomery Parks system. The park is located on the former Isaac Riley plantation where Reverend Josiah Henson was enslaved for many years before his escape to freedom. Henson’s autobiography is the inspiration behind Harriet Beecher Stowe’s landmark novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

Filming of the program took place in August 2012. The TIME TEAM AMERICA production crew and on-air talent—comprised of scientists Joe Watkins, Allan Maca, Meg Watters, Jeff Brown and Chelsea Rose and host Justine Shapiro—spent three days on site working alongside Parks’ archaeologists and their many volunteers, searching for evidence of Henson-era structures and related artifacts long lost to suburban development. The archaeological exploration unearthed three layers of compacted earth flooring in the kitchen under the existing floor, which  indicates the strong likelihood that the existing log kitchen sits on the exact footprint of the one described in Henson’s memoirs.

It was upon his return to Isaac Riley’s plantation in 1828 that Josiah Henson recalls sleeping on the dirt floor of the kitchen in the main house.

“After putting my horse in the stable I retired to the kitchen, where my master told me I was to sleep for the night … that crowded room, with its earth floor, its filth and stench – The negroes present were strangers to me. Full of gloomy reflections at my loneliness, and poverty stricken aspect of the whole farm, I sat down…thinking how I could escape from the accursed spot.”

—Josiah Henson, The Life of Josiah Henson Formerly a Slave,  Boston: 1849

The Montgomery Parks Foundation will conduct a major campaign to raise $2 million dollars to support the educational and interpretive aspects for Josiah Henson Park.  These funds will be matched by $4.85 million approved by the Montgomery County Planning Board and the County Council for the park’s development.

The Time Team America episode on Josiah Henson Park can be previewed at:

About the Montgomery Parks Foundation
The Montgomery Parks Foundation is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization that champions Montgomery County Parks cultivating financial support and public engagement of county residents and businesses as members, donors, sponsors and advocates. to learn more.

About the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission Montgomery Parks
Montgomery Parks manages more than 36,000 acres of parkland, consisting of 420 parks. Montgomery Parks is a department of the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC), a bi-county agency established in 1927 to steward public land. The M-NCPPC has been nationally recognized for its high quality parks and recreation services and is regarded as a national model by other park systems.


Are Parks Going Corporate?

Bethesda Now reported last week that the county Parks Department is investigating ways of broadening its revenue stream; one option is corporate sponsorships.  With the simmering excitement over the potential of Wall Park here in White Flint, this is an exciting concept.

This week, the Planning Board will hear the department’s staff recommendation to launch a sponsorship program that is expected to bring about $1M toward our local parks. “You won’t see corporate sponsors take over naming rights for Cabin John Regional or Caroline Freeland Parks, but the department is hoping to find four to six companies interested in naming rights for dog parks, ice rinks, playgrounds and other facilities within county parks,” writes Bethesda Now’s Aaron Kraut.

The concept has been percolating for a while.  It was exactly one year (to the day) earlier that Bethesda Now reported that sponsorships were being considered for Wall Park.  Basing the idea on programs in other jurisdictions, Montgomery Parks’ chief of public affairs and community partnerships Kate Stookey was reported as saying that “the policy should help fund and pilot new programs by allowing for more frequent and widespread marketing of corporate sponsors that pitch in. Don’t expect a corporate sponsor to swoop in and acquire the naming rights to Wall Park.”

Read the 2013 Bethesda Now post on the corporate sponsorship potential of Wall Park by clicking here and read last week’s Bethesda Now post on the general sponsorship program being proposed by Montgomery Parks by clicking here.

Updates from the Implementation Advisory Committee, Oct. 21 2013

The Implementation Advisory Committee met again this Monday to discuss updates on what’s happening in the area. About half of the meeting was focused on an amendment to the Pike and Rose phase I plan – we’ll have more on that soon. For now, here are general updates from the meeting:

Nkosi Yearwood from the Planning Department updated the group on the Marinelli bike lanes.  Some of these improvements come from the recommendations from MoBike.

Chad Salganik, a resident member of the IAC, sent a letter in favor of the abandonment of Executive Boulevard, which is a crucial part of the western workaround. Dee Metz, White Flint Coordinator from the County Executive’s Office, explained that the next step in the process is to get technical comments from the Planning department as it relates to Gables Residential’s project. She added that the new Executive Boulevard is already in the county’s Capital Improvements Program (CIP) process, but assured that abandonment won’t take place until the new road is open to traffic.

Rachel Newhouse from the Parks department updated the group about the community meeting regarding Wall Park held last month.  One member of the IAC raised a concern that programming for the civic green, a different park in the sector plan, was being left behind with all of the current focus on Wall Park. Another topic of concern was having an easy way for people to get back and forth between the two parks, especially when different events are happening in both spaces. Rachel explained that Parks has not forgotten about the civic green, but the site of the future civic green is currently on privately owned land, and negotiations with that property owner have been ongoing. She indicated that the Parks department  will need to think about ways the two parks will be different; another meeting to discuss this topic may be scheduled in the future.

Dee Metz also updated the group, and explained that she has been spending much of her time on budget issues. While the county has agreed to forward fund some of the infrastructure improvements in the area, the improvements needed are going to cost more than what was expected. Needing to buy more property throughout the area that was originally programmed for land swaps and other deals will be an another additional expense. She said that we won’t know the County Executive’s budget until the end of the year.

Stay tuned for updates on Pike and Rose, coming next week!

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.

Miami Gets Creative to Encourage New Ideas

Planning of the new White Flint has been an award-winning process.  Rarely in redevelopment does the entire community come together to find consensus in making an area great for everyone – residents, businesses and landowners.  It was Friends of White Flint that really kickstarted that effort.  The Miami Foundation is taking their public engagement along a different route: by offering cash prizes for ideas.

The Miami Foundation has called on the public to “propose ideas for neighborhood public spaces – either improvements to existing spaces, or entirely new ones – that can be done quickly and inexpensively,” says a Miami Herald article announcing the project.  The prize is $100,000 in cash to implement one or more of the winning ideas.  “The idea is based on a growing number of studies that show a close relationship between fiscal prosperity and cities whose residents feel a warm affinity for their hometowns. That’s in part because cities that people are proud to live in also tend to attract and retain the type of skilled, talented workers who drive economic growth.”  Sound familiar, Montgomery County?

For at least the time being, White Flint is being built on the gratitude-for-ideas model and Friends of White Flint is a great venue to be heard by the right people.  As we’ve highlighted already, the county Parks Department is soliciting ideas from the public as they develop their vision of the new Wall Park.  Whether there’s a cash prize or not, getting engaged to create a wonderful community always pays off.

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:



How does White Flint’s Civic Green compare to other public spaces?

Studies of White Flint Civic Green from MoCo planners.

Design studies of White Flint Civic Green by Montgomery County planners. Click to enlarge.

A few weeks ago, we looked at the White Flint Civic Green, a two-acre public square proposed near the intersection of Old Georgetown Road and Executive Boulevard, and how to make it a great space. The Civic Green is one of several new or renovated public spaces proposed for White Flint, including Wall Park, which I wrote about last week.

However, it might be hard to envision what the Civic Green might look like or how it big it would be. To that end, I created this diagram showing how big the Civic Green would be in comparison to other public spaces in Greater Washington and around the country. Since the shape, design and location haven’t been finalized, I drew the green as a perfect square, then laid it on top of aerial photos of other public spaces from Google Earth. All images are the same scale to allow one-to-one comparisons.

The future White Flint Civic Green compared to other public spaces around the country. All images are the same scale.

The future White Flint Civic Green compared to other public spaces around the country. All images are the same scale.

As you can see, the Civic Green is over twice as big as other public spaces in Montgomery County, including Rockville Town Square and Veterans Plaza in downtown Silver Spring. It’s a little smaller than Market Square in Old Town Alexandria, but only half as big as Dupont Circle in the District.

The space most comparable in size and likely programming to the Civic Green is Copley Square in Boston. Located in the bustling Back Bay neighborhood, Copley Square is one of the city’s most beloved gathering spaces, with a big lawn for picnics and recreation and a fountain that sometimes doubles as a skate park.

Like the Civic Green, which may have a community center built next to it, Copley Square is anchored by two major public institutions and architectural landmarks, the Boston Public Library and Trinity Church. It’s also lined on one side by Boylston Street, a major destination for food and shopping. This role could be filled by Pike + Rose or other developments occurring around the Civic Green, but since it’s the main square of White Flint, street-level retail or other activities be a basic requirement for any building facing it.

Are there any other good examples for the Civic Green? What is a space that you think it should emulate?

Wall Park to become more “flexible,” get Gables apartment building next door

gables and wall park site

Wall Park today (in green) and the future apartment site (in red) with new streets outlined.

Today, Wall Park at Nicholson Lane and Executive Boulevard is home to a playground, a basketball court and the Shriver Aquatic Center. In the future, it could not only become White Flint’s main outdoor hangout, but a place to live as well.

Representatives from Montgomery Parks and developer Gables Residential presented their plans for a revitalized Wall Park and an adjacent apartment complex at the White Flint Implementation Advisory Committee’s monthly meeting last Monday. They would share a 900-space parking garage behind the aquatic center, which would allow the park’s surface parking lot to be replaced by a community green.

The two projects are made possible by a new street network called the Western Workaround, intended to create an alternative traffic route to Rockville Pike. Executive Boulevard would move east and connect to streets in Pike + Rose, while a new east-west street called Market Street would be built between Executive and Old Georgetown Road. This creates a new city block north of Wall Park where the apartments would go. The Western Workaround is still being designed by county transportation planners, according to Dee Metz, White Flint Implementation Coordinator.

Rachel Davis Newhouse, a landscape architect and planner for the Parks Department, describes the new Wall Park as White Flint’s “primary recreational destination.” The park would be built in two phases, starting with the parking garage and the parking lot’s replacement, a “large, open lawn” measuring about 200 feet by 360 feet, a little more than half the size of a football field.

Newhouse wants to create “interim” programming for the lawn, like concerts and festivals, to get activities happening there sooner rather than later. It’s also an opportunity to test-drive ideas for the park’s second phase, which would add features including dog parks, a new playground, and sports courts. Wall Park’s existing forest buffer along Old Georgetown Road would preserved and get picnic tables and a “natural play area” where kids could climb logs or play in the dirt. Meanwhile, the aquatic center would get a 15,000 square foot addition, while a new 35,000 square foot recreation center would be built behind it.

With limited space, Newhouse emphasized the need to create versatile areas that could compliment each other as well. For instance, the sports courts could accommodate multiple sports, while a skate park could be designed as a sculpture, making it public art as well. A plaza could accommodate farmers’ markets or an outdoor dining area for food trucks, which Newhouse hopes to attract to the park. “Not everything can happen in this park, but with flexible spaces they can be used in different ways,” she said.

Wall Park’s location on the future White Flint Recreation Loop means it’ll be connected to the rest of the area with foot and bike paths, while a special kiosk could help guide visitors to Josiah Henson Park two blocks away. Named for freed slave Josiah Henson, that park is home to the plantation that inspired the classic novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

Rendering of the new street, or "via," in the Gables complex.

Rendering of the new street, or “via,” and bridges in the Gables complex.

John Malone, development director for Gables, previewed their concept for an apartment complex north of the park on what’s currently a 3-acre surface parking lot. They propose building three 6-story apartment buildings containing between 450 and 500 apartments and 31,000 square feet of ground-floor retail space along Executive Boulevard.

Two of the buildings would flank a new street that would connect to the park and Marinelli Drive, while a third would face Old Georgetown Road. Since the site slopes from east to west, the buildings would step down towards Old Georgetown Road, providing a transition to the single-family homes on the other side. Each building would have its own courtyard and direct access to the parking garage.

Renderings Ashtary showed suggested that the complex would be built in a modern style, with large glass windows and private balconies. Each building would have different materials and finishes to create the “feeling it’s built over time,” he said. “Each building has its own identity.”

gables typical upper level plan

Upper level plan of the Gables complex, showing the new street and bridges crossing over it.

Architect Daniel Ashtary of Torti Gallas and Partners described the street as a “via,” a sort of courtyard wrapped by bridges that connect the two buildings, some of which would contain apartments. He compared it to Bethesda Lane, which Torti Gallas also designed.

While the bridges allow residents to access the apartments’ common areas and parking without going outside, it also takes them off the street. Not only does this mean fewer “eyes on the street” to improve public safety, but it also cuts the complex off from the larger community. The bridges also obstruct views of Wall Park, which would be a very desirable amenity to many residents, and they might be worth reconsidering.

However, members of the advisory committee were more concerned about the proposals’ shared parking garage. “Based on the numbers I’ve been playing around with, you’re about 1000 spaces short,” said Paul Meyer, who lives in the Wisconsin condominium. Each unit there has 2 parking spaces, he noted, adding, “I will guarantee that everyone who is in their 30’s or 40’s and has two people [in their apartment] will have two cars.”

Nkosi Yearwood, the county’s lead planner on the White Flint Sector Plan, noted that the point of the plan is to reduce car use, and that changing demographics suggest that future White Flint residents may not bring cars at all.

Both proposals are far from finished. Newhouse hopes to have a public meeting where residents can offer their input on the park design soon. Once the design is finalized, it’ll go to the Planning Board for a sketch plan presentation, presumably some time later this year. Meanwhile, Gables plans to file a sketch plan for the project in May; if it receives all of the necessary approvals, construction could begin in 2015 and last for about 2 years, meaning it could open by 2017.

Prescription for Parks

We’ve said before that walkable neighborhoods are healthier neighborhoods for people of all ages. Urban parks also contribute greatly to the health of a neighborhood. Even small pocket parks provide a destination point for people to socialize and experience nature. And, as Dr. Daphne Miller, a professor of family and community medicine from the University of California, San Francisco says, “Parks are a part of our healthcare system.” Dr. Miller goes on to explain that, “these green spaces are crucial to solving hypertension, anxiety, depression, diabetes — ‘the diseases of indoor living.’”

We should be seeing some additions and changes to the parks currently in our area. But you don’t have to wait for any redevelopment to enjoy what’s already here – there are over 400 parks in Montgomery County, and you’re never more than 2 miles away from one.

Read more about the health benefits that parks provide at The Dirt TM blog.