Dozens of property owners and commercial tenants along Rockville Pike have formed a coalition with hopes of gaining greater clout over local planning and zoning policies affecting the burgeoning commercial strip.
The Rockville Pike Business Association, which is made up of 165 property owners and a number of tenant groups, plans to look at several key issues in coming weeks. Chief among them are ways to improve traffic flow, upgrade the appearance of surrounding landscape and architecture, and create a "pedestrian-friendly" atmosphere for consumers.
Association President Lowell E. Baier said that the group will focus its efforts on the three-mile stretch of Rockville Pike from White Flint north to Veirs Mill Road.
Modeled after such groups as the Ballston Partnership -- a coalition of developers, business people and residents formed to promote the image of that Northern Virginia city -- the association has visions of becoming "a major force in the future of the pike," said Baier, who heads an investment builders' firm at 11300 Rockville Pike.
"Unless you can organize and speak with a unified force, you don't have the opportunity to give that input to the respective governments," Baier said. "By organizing ourselves, we hope we can have an opportunity to participate more than we do individually right now."
Long considered Montgomery County's suburban main street, Rockville Pike, once a dusty Indian trail of centuries ago, has evolved into a six-lane swath of concrete, with nearly 3 million square feet of commercial space and severe rush-hour traffic jams.
Because of its prime location and accessibility, the pike traditionally has attracted a large number of retail outlets, particularly restaurants, auto dealerships and discount stores. It generates nearly one-fourth of the city's entire non-residential tax base annually.
However, sparked by the Metro subway opening and rising land costs that have forced developers to build more intensely, large office and hotel buildings recently have begun sprouting where small shops once stood.
The large number of office buildings, coupled with worsening traffic conditions, prompted the Rockville City Council to pass emergency legislation last summer declaring a moratorium on the processing of all new building permits while city planners reconsidered major planning policy elements.
In a move that served to lift the nine-month moratorium, the council voted to "downzone" commercial property along Rockville Pike by one-third, a decision infuriating to some local builders and property owners.
Asked whether the downzoning played a part in the decision to organize, Baier said: "I wouldn't say it wasn't considered, but it was one of several factors. I wouldn't say it carried any greater weight than the concerns about traffic."
Besides traffic issues, the association plans to consider how the pike would be affected by a recent county proposal that would place a limit on building permits across the county. The group also will evaluate a proposal to create a shuttle-bus service along the strip.
Other key members of the association are Vice President Joseph Renzetti of Rozansky & Kay Construction Co.; Secretary Raymond J. Whalen of Whalen Properties Inc.; and Treasurer Jon England of Devlin Lumber & Supply Co.