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From the Ground Up

Complex Brings Work, Shops Close to Home

By Dana Hedgpeth
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 6, 2004; Page E01

Tucked on a side street, just a block from the cars and trucks that whiz along Rockville Pike, sits a new complex of 404 luxury apartments, renovated restaurants and stores that some planners and developers are calling the optimum in compact urban redevelopment.

The project, called Jefferson at Congressional Village, sits two blocks from the Twinbrook Metro station at the corner of Rockville Pike and Halpine Road -- next door to Congressional Plaza, a shopping center with such stores as Buybuy Baby, Whole Foods, Tower Records and the Container Store. The intersection and shopping center are considered among the busiest in Montgomery County, according to local traffic planners and retail experts.

The Jefferson at Congressional Village, above, with such luxury amenities as a clubhouse, right, was built on the site of a former strip mall, at top. (JPI Cos.)

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What makes the $100 million Jefferson project different is that its owners, Rockville-based Cohen Cos., took a small plot of land that had a rundown strip mall on it and turned it into a complex designed to attract residents who want to live, eat, shop and commute on foot in an area better known for its car traffic. The company put in more residential units than they had to, rather than retail -- a move that Rockville zoning officials have long pushed for but seldom convinced developers along the packed Rockville Pike to do.

"It's part of a new urban thought where you build a place for people who want convenience," said Margaret Hall, a planner for the City of Rockville, which has 47,300 residents in its 13 square miles.

Since the complex opened in June, about 80 of the 100 apartments that are ready have been filled, according to JPI Cos. of Irving, Tex.,which developed the apartments. The rest of the units, which range in price from $1,315 for a one-bedroom to $2,370 for a two-bedroom with den, are under construction. The project will be done in the summer.

Not every developer and planner is convinced such projects will turn the Rockville Pike area, lined with strip mall after strip mall and dominated by cars going in and out of each, into a pedestrian-friendly place.

"Rockville Pike is the biggest shopping mall in the world," said Geoffrey Booth, a retail analyst at the Urban Land Institute. "You don't walk down it, you drive down it. You won't make the Pike pedestrian-friendly entirely, but certain projects with housing close to retail and near Metro make it more livable."

Cohen Cos. hadn't planned on the project turning out quite as it did.

The 13 acres were once owned by Arthur C. Hyde of Potomac, a developer, who made it a small airport, called Congressional Airport, in 1929, according to the Montgomery County Historical Society. Back then, it was the only private airport in Montgomery.

It closed in 1958 when Hyde decided to build on the land a shopping center with 35 stores, including J.C. Penney, Giant Food, Thom McAn Shoes, a Hot Shoppes restaurant and a Peoples Drug (which became the CVS drugstore chain), to serve the residents of housing being built around the site.

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