Montgomery County solicits public input on new White Flint development

June 8, 2011

Aileen Klein and her husband, Barry, are hoping to live the remainder of their lives in a condominium in White Flint. But before they move to the community, Aileen would like to see the county build a library there, preferably within a comfortable walking distance from a place to eat.

She also would like to see a recreation center that hosts classes for seniors, as the Rockville retiree likes to keep active.

“It would be hard to live without a nice library,” she said.

Such were the sentiments Klein voiced to Rouben Ghazarian, project manager for the county’s Department of General Services, during a June 1 open forum hosted by county officials. The event was designed to take resident suggestions on the amenities that officials should include in a plan to redevelop White Flint over the next 20 years.

Even though a redevelopment plan that the Montgomery County Council approved last year calls for such public structures as a new elementary school, a civic green, and a hiking/biking trail, it does not describe exactly how those amenities fit into the plan or when they should be built.

About 100 people attended the meeting and offered their suggestions to more than 20 county employees on how the public amenities should be developed.

In 2010, the County Council approved a plan that provides for construction of the half-mile area around the White Flint Metrorail station over 20 years.

County planners estimate that the project could add more than 20 million square feet of development and more than 10,000 apartments and condominiums to an area that, as of 2009, held 12.6 million square feet of commercial and residential building space and close to 19,000 people. Since December of 2010, more than 6 million square feet of proposed new construction has been submitted to county planners, none of which has yet been approved.

Already, JBG Companies has built North Bethesda Market, which includes 397 apartments built atop a Whole Foods Market store, two restaurants and a gym. About half of the apartment building has been leased since it opened last summer.

To handle the expected growth, Montgomery County and Maryland will spend more than $250 million to build a new network of roads, intersections and an expanded presence of buses to better handle internal traffic and to reduce congestion along Rockville Pike, according to county budget figures.

Those projects also are designed to meet the county’s goal of having half of those people who live and work in White Flint travel regularly by public transit or on foot. The next highest such goal in Montgomery County is Silver Spring, where the goal is 40 percent.

The plan also calls for the creation of public spaces and the renovation of existing ones, such as the Montgomery Aquatic Center, in an attempt to make the proposed new White Flint a place in which people will enjoy living, said Diane Schwartz Jones, an assistant chief administrative officer in the office of County Executive Isiah Leggett (D). These include a neighborhood library; a recreation center; a regional services center; changes to Wall Park, off Nicholson Lane; a public meeting space; and a recreation loop.

But the county made no official plans for the public space, she said, adding that officials want to design them with input from the public. Examples of the possible changes include modeling the public meeting space after Silver Spring’s Veterans Plaza, which transitions from being an ice skating rink during the winter to a farmers market during the summer, or constructing it as a pavilion for outdoor concerts.

The final plan will depend on the input that officials receive from people such as the Kleins, Jones said.

Joyce Harper of White Flint said she would like to see the meeting space become an open-air pavilion for concerts; Celina Alvarez of Rockville said she hopes to see the space used as a civic area.

Ghazarian said he will meet with members of the county libraries, recreation, parks and transportation departments this month to begin forming a proposal to guide county planners as they develop the plan. The proposal will include priority guidelines to determine in which order the amenities should be built and their suggested locations.

The projects include some fixed notions, Jones said. The recreation loop likely will be circular and connect portions of Old Georgetown Road, Nebel Street, Nicholson Lane and Executive Boulevard; the locations of the two parks are projected to be behind White Flint Mall, enlarging White Flint Park, and near Hoya Street.

Plans for a new elementary school were not discussed. Jones said the new school will need to be designed separately, with the assistance of the Montgomery County Board of Education.

All projects are expected to be paid for with county money and developer fees. Developers can opt to pay a fee rather than create privately controlled public amenities, such as gyms or green space, which is a major provision of the county’s plan for the new White Flint, Jones said. Montgomery County projects that it will spend about $100 million on the project.

Ghazarian said his department will begin working on the plan in July, and he hopes to have a draft prepared by summer’s end. The first project, to be determined through this public process, could break ground next year.

A meeting to present ideas generated from the public and solicit more feedback is expected to be held but has not yet been scheduled.

For information, visit www.
montgomerycountymd.gov
and click on “Department of General Services” or call Ghazarian at 240-777-6056.

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