White Flint Stands Out in Plans for Rockville Pike

Montgomery County planners have ambitious ideas of how the congested thoroughfare might be turned into a modern "urban village" over time. These renderings offer a glimpse.
By Miranda S. Spivack
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 20, 2008

This is the second of two parts.

The future of Montgomery County's Rockville Pike begins in White Flint.

The strip-mall neighborhood, at the south end of the pike and near the Red Line Metro station of the same name, could evolve into something more like the walkable Rockville Town Center, with its restaurants, plazas and street life. Or it could remain similar to its current incarnation: acres of parking lots reached through stop-and-go traffic -- congested but profitable for landowners wary of the expense and disruption of a major redevelopment.

Montgomery planners are focusing first on White Flint -- or North Bethesda as developers prefer to call it -- as they tackle a multiyear plan to transform the commercial highway into a string of pedestrian-friendly urban villages connected by a tree-lined boulevard all the way north to Shady Grove. They expect to present a plan for the area to the County Council by next spring.

White Flint is being designed to become the most densely populated new town on the pike and a major center for new office space. Current proposals show the 420-acre area overshadowing downtown Bethesda and Rockville Town Center and dwarfing plans for Shady Grove and Twinbrook.

"We like North Bethesda. We think it is the next downtown," said Robert M. Wulff, a vice president of B.F. Saul, a major development company.

The sector has about 2,400 homes, many of them single-family. The new plans propose up to 17,000 new housing units. Commercial, office and retail space could grow from about 14 million square feet to about 20 million square feet. Some buildings could be 28 stories high or taller, at least 300 feet, and possibly as tall as 500 feet. The tallest in Bethesda is about 18 stories, or about 200 feet.

For Peggy Souza, who lives a mile from the White Flint Metro station in Luxmanor, a neighborhood of single-family houses, the prospect of a new town center is enticing.

"If it's like Rockville Town Center, it would be a vibrant addition to the community. I would really welcome that. It could be a nightmare, but it also could be fabulous."

Several years ago, north of White Flint, the city of Rockville moved ahead with plans to create an urban village, building side streets and seven-story apartment buildings with shops on the ground floor. Although there were expensive false starts and sales have been hampered by the real estate downturn, planners say it is a viable model.

Many say Rockville Town Center has created a new sense of community and sown the seeds of an urban lifestyle for young professionals, empty nesters and those in between.

Christie Anne Short, a Rockville native who teaches fourth grade in a Catholic school, moved to a condo in the new downtown about a year ago.

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