Thursday, October 15, 2015

More retail, restaurants, schools, better connectivity top White Flint 2 wish list (Photos)

Attendees at last night's White Flint 2 Sector Plan meeting held by the Montgomery County Planning Department had a remarkably in-depth discussion about specific elements they would like to have included in the final document. Schools remained a top concern of parents in nearby neighborhoods, but those residents also had a lot of detailed information on potential redevelopment sites around their neighborhoods - ways to better connect residents to current and future activity centers, traffic jam hot spots, and even suggestions on how to attract jobs to one of the employment areas hardest hit by the county's moribund economic development climate.

Summing up the most common argument heard during sector plan discussions countywide these days, one resident said the lack of high school capacity "has to be addressed." Later, another resident complained that, while planners have acknowledged the issue, they have not yet proposed any specific solutions. One resident advocating a greater developer contribution to environmental needs recalled a developer recently told her, "You don't really think we're going to spend all this money on a property and give you a school." Residents were specifically asking for money in the County Capital Improvements Program to reopen Woodward High School as a high school, rather than a temporary holding facility.

The Executive Boulevard office park area off of Montrose Parkway is the area most in question in regard to land use. With the County's business climate such that the kinds of large firms and research facilities that prize such suburban office park locations are bypassing MoCo for Northern Virginia and other states, its vacancy rate exceeds the county average. Yet, one resident said during a breakout session, it remains "a very desirable place to put a technology or research company." A real estate broker familiar with the area argued that the Montrose Parkway and Metro station, as well as future transit expansion such as Bus Rapid Transit, give it an advantage over downtown Bethesda. It's very difficult to get in and out of downtown Bethesda from the interstates, he said. "The more you can make [the Pike District] easy to get in and out of," he suggested, the more attractive it will be to companies.

Another suggestion to make that office area more attractive? Extend the mixed-use of Pike & Rose across Executive Boulevard, or at least make it easier to walk between the two locations with better pedestrian crossings at Old Georgetown and Executive.

Retail and restaurants could indeed make it more attractive for employers, the broker agreed. "When you saw Whole Foods open that [Pike District] store, that changed that neighborhood overnight," he recalled. While it is starting slowly, he predicted, "White Flint will eventually be the place to be" in Montgomery County.

Can the job center return to prosperity? "There's no certainty that it won't come back," planner Luis Estrada told a group. "We want to give [office use] a chance to come back," Senior Planner Andrea Gilles said. But with more flexibility in land use, Estrada added.
Eric Grosse of the
Friends of White Flint
summarizes the discussion
in his group
Two groups imagined the area becoming a health employment sector, anchored by current employer Kaiser. The county could incentivize medical-related businesses to locate there, they said. Friends of White Flint resident representative Eric Grosse said the idea has potential. With better pedestrian and bicycle facilities, and some residential additions, Grosse said, the office park area could become "a mini community within White Flint 2." But Kaiser's lack of engagement with the sector plan process remains an obstacle to that happening. "We need to bring Kaiser in, and find a way to get them involved," Grosse said.
Planner Luis Estrada notes
a resident suggestion on a
map of White Flint 2
Another suggestion for better connectivity between residential areas and activity centers on Rockville Pike was for a new road south of Federal Plaza, connecting E. Jefferson Street with the Pike. Currently, there is a service road for Federal Plaza about 15' wide there, but such a change would have to be related to redevelopment of the property.

A second pedestrian-averse area remains the Rockville Pike bridge over Montrose Parkway, and the unused Park-and-Ride lot at Hoya Street. There are also confusing connections from the parkway for drivers attempting to reach Pike & Rose and Montrose Crossing. For example, heading eastbound on the Parkway, you actually have to turn left and go north in order to reach your destination of Pike & Rose to the south.

I've been wondering over the past few years how those two Federal Realty properties could perhaps be connected, to provide a better pedestrian route between Pike & Rose and a future redevelopment of Montrose Crossing. One idea that came up at two separate tables during the breakout session last night, was to realign Hoya Street with an entrance to Montrose Crossing.

Estrada said another connection could be to extend Market Street into the area between Executive Boulevard and Luxmanor. Some residents suggested a road through the Green Acres School property, as well.

Federal Realty, which owns multiple properties in the Pike District, has already had success in providing one pedestrian connection on its own. The developer created a pedestrian walkway between Federal Plaza and the Miramont condos and apartments, that is now heavily used by residents.

Gilles said there will be two more meetings on the White Flint 2 plan in November. Planners will submit a draft plan to the Planning Board in March or April of 2016, and it should go to the County Council next summer, she said.


Anonymous said...

So what do you think folks? Dyer, or ghostwriter?

Anonymous said...

Never mind, I missed this gem in the third paragraph:

"With the County's business climate such that the kinds of large firms and research facilities that prize such suburban office park locations are bypassing MoCo for Northern Virginia and other states, its vacancy rate exceeds the county average."

What exactly is Dyer trying to argue here? That MoCo's moribundity is causing obsolete office parks to underperform the office real estate market as a whole WITHIN Montgomery County?

Anonymous said...

Great report. Good to see local news outlets covering White Flint 2.

Anonymous said...

Looks like a productive planning session. It probably is disappointing for reporting on when the nutty NIMBY parade doesn't show up.

Anonymous said...

So much for Dyer's idol WalMart. They just had their worst stock decline in 27 years, this week.

Anonymous said...

Doesn't Robert have a family member that attends some of the meetings in his place? I'm thinking this is not Robert's writing. Totally different style - and I like it a lot! Good job!

Anonymous said...

Vacancy rate among suburban office parks has increased over the past few years on a national level. It is not limited to Montgomery County. Many companies have given up their suburban locations to move to more urban areas in order to attract millennials. Suburban office parks will continue to hurt until there is better infrastructure in place for expanded public transportation.

Robert Dyer said...

4:17: Ask anybody who was at the meeting. I was there.

Anonymous said...

I'm guessing Steve Hull knows the typical Bethesda Magazine reader is well heeled and have their kids in private schools, so these MCPS issues aren't relevant to them.
Hence, he's not covering these White Flint 2 meetings.

Anonymous said...

Last I checked, it's called Bethesda Magazine and not Pike District Magazine.