Two More Towers Near Town Square

By Katherine Shaver
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 2, 2007

Just as Rockville Town Square nears completion with its 12 acres of stores, restaurants, apartments and condominiums, plans have crystallized for two towers to be built next door with more places to eat, shop, live and stay as a hotel guest.

The two buildings, one 15 stories and the other 18, will sit on the parking lot in front of the Regal movie theater downtown, just south of Town Square. A new road, called Renaissance Street, will divide the three-acre lot between the two towers, connecting Middle Lane and East Montgomery Avenue.

Marc Dubick, president of Duball Rockville, which is developing the $260 million project, said construction should begin in spring. The first tower is scheduled to open in spring 2010 and the second in late 2012. Unlike the $370 million Town Square project, which was built with $102 million from the state, county and city, the towers will have no public funding, Dubick said.

The City Council approved the project two years ago, and Rockville's planning commission signed off on it this spring. The developer's amended proposal to include a hotel is scheduled to be considered in September.

City planners and developers say the towers are further proof that Rockville, which has struggled to maintain a vibrant city center beyond its nondescript government buildings, is ripe for redevelopment. With its own Metro stop, downtown can easily sustain a dense, walkable Main Street area, allowing people to stroll among shops, restaurants and the movie theater, they say.

As the county seat, Rockville serves thousands of government and office workers who have had limited lunch options. Many residents have been driving to Bethesda Row and Gaithersburg's Rio Center for evenings out.

Developers are taking advantage of residents' high incomes, coupled with the relative lack of retail in central Montgomery, observers say. Traffic congestion has made driving to Bethesda and Gaithersburg less appealing, and densely developed areas such as Bethesda are getting built out.

"A lot of it is opportunity driven," said Geoffrey Mackler, whose Bethesda real estate firm, H & R Retail, scouts out and negotiates new locations for clients such as Whole Foods Market and Target. "That's a great market with a void."

Some question how much more development downtown can take. Rockville Mayor Larry Giammo said he voted against the towers plan, which the City Council passed 3 to 2. Giammo said he thinks their height will block sunlight and make pedestrians feel like the buildings are hanging over them. He said city officials are considering new zoning rules that would limit building heights to 100 feet. The two towers will be 143 feet and 173 feet.

Giammo said that he's concerned that sidewalks will be too narrow to allow for trees, benches or outside dining, and that such dense development could begin to swamp downtown with traffic.

"I'm excited to have a hotel come to Town Center," Giammo said, "but I'm still very concerned about the heights and density of this project."

Dubick said the towers won't be nearly as tall as the 250-foot twin office buildings initially approved for the site in 1995. Rather, he said, they'll provide a "natural progression" between taller downtown buildings, such as the 250-foot-tall office building at 51 Monroe Pl. and the six-story Town Square.

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