Posts tagged ‘retail’
Planners are making good progress on community planning work this spring. We transmitted the Planning Board draft of the Wheaton Sector Plan and an amendment to the Clarksburg plan focused on retail staging. Coming soon are Takoma Langley and Kensington, and, later this year, Burtonsville. And if our budget request is funded, Chevy Chase Lake will follow, then the start of several new plans over the next year including Glenmont, Gaithersburg East/the Montgomery Village Sector Plan and White Flint II.
I have been questioning staff as we embark on new planning efforts, asking, What is our Big Idea? What will this planning effort achieve? And, because we cannot ask these questions in a vacuum, What would we want to achieve without constraints versus with constraints?
My last post, “Federal Highways,” outlined the Montrose Parkway underpass (or overpass, depending upon which way you are traveling). The graphic below superimposes one of the sketch plans we received for a several-block area in the heart of White Flint over the area occupied by the Montrose underpass. It is apparent how much land the underpass “sterilized” for future growth, housing, revenue and more importantly, the real impact it has on the possibilities for the White Flint II area.
The White Flint II Sector Plan has as a major constraint that will dictate what can be achieved. That constraint is the barrier the underpass has created. It is, in effect, White Flint’s Berlin Wall.
Ten or 15 years from now, as White Flint hits its stride, there will be plenty of destinations drawing people into the area. Some will take transit, but most will drive. They will seek out parking and walk along new pedestrian-friendly streets lined with windows and activity. Many will work and live in this emerging community.
Will those same people look north to the White Flint II area and say, “Hey, let’s go shop or eat over there?” And if they are making this decision, will they walk? No way. It will be a barrier just like the photo above. As the new streets and activities emerge in White Flint, they will not extend the grid across the underpass.
Would you really drive one-quarter or one-half mile north and find a new parking spot in White Flint II to shop or eat? It’s unlikely you’d find something there that will not already be in White Flint. And this is the challenge of White Flint II. What can it become? What can happen there that will make it distinct from White Flint?
This question would be different if the Montrose / 355 intersection had remained at grade. The street grid could have extended north to south. The building infrastructure could have created a seamless transition across the intersection, not much different than say Georgia and Colesville Road in Silver Spring. People could and would walk across the area into White Flint II because the transition would be lined with active uses day and evening.
So as we prepare to look at the White Flint II area, we have to take a hard look at what is possible. We have White Flint becoming known as NoBe (North of Bethesda), we have Rockville to the north, with White Flint II mostly in the middle. Will it be SORo (South of Rockville) or can it establish it’s own identity? Can we expect the same demand for high-rise construction in White Flint II as in WF I? Will traffic modeling reveal that White Flint I occupies the bulk of the available and projected road capacity?
Or should we expect more like Twinbrook Station, a recent successful project north and east of White Flint at lower densities with a residential focus? Should this be the future of White Flint II, with splashes of retailing that are more convenience-focused than destination oriented? Will there still be a market for destination retail like the Container Store north of Montrose?
Several property owners own land both north and south of Montrose. How they lease south of the road in White Flint I – whether to big box retailers or smaller retail – will have a big impact on what happens to the north in White Flint II. That model does not fit into the urban character of White Flint. Property owners will lease according to the market, and will avoid investments that compete with other uses in the area. This will not only impact the retail market but the residential market as well.
If White Flint I is to be higher density condo and rental, there may not be enough market share for both areas in the next 15 years. Perhaps White Flint II will be about managing expectations, meaning it may take awhile for the collective vision to emerge. This is the approach that we are investigating for the Long Branch neighborhood, where the near and long term goals are differentiated by the actions we can take to create incremental change.
Maybe 20 years from now the Montrose underpass may be MoCo’s elevated expressway. The mistake realized decades later in places like Seattle, Toronto and San Francisco, where lots of money was invested to reverse the damage and open up new opportunities for creating better environments for people, not autos.
There are lots of things to consider when we start the White Flint II Sector Plan.We hope for engaged conversations with property owners, residents and business operators — all of whom will help guide the possibilities that White Flint II can be.
We recently had a walk through the Wheaton central area as part of our Montgomery Plans series on County Cable Montgomery. It was a great opportunity to talk about the wonderful bones of what is one of the most diverse parts of our county. The businesses, activity and residents present a great foundation for growing the social and economic base of the community.
Our Wheaton master planning effort underway builds on the strength of the businesses and existing communities that surround them. The interface between those communities is a critical element to offering new services while ensuring the scale and type of development fits in. This is a challenging exercise, and the level of participation by residents both in Wheaton and Kensington over the past year has helped us develop appropriate planning and zoning tools in the emerging plan.
Have a look at the short video. The exciting new Safeway site development where a state of the art food center with 486 condominiums has just been approved, offers not only the newest food shopping experience in the County, but it also will help bring new people into Wheaton. This has been the experience where other mixed use projects have occurred.
Standing in the County parking lot west of Georgia off Reedie Drive, we can envision the exciting urban form that can complement the existing businesses and attract newcomers into the community.
It is not often we see “double ended” retail: in this case, at the higher elevation along Georgia and the lower level off the alley facing the parking area. The contrasting frontages offer different character and scale in retailing. I always like to shop in small spaces like alleys, and the food selection — Italian tuna for example — is now a staple for my shopping needs. Take a walk here and you’re sure to find something you like.
The Wheaton Mall, with the addition of the DSW, Macy’s and so many other shops including the Dollar Store (so handy for the office party gifts), offers a different experience as well as considerable growth potential. As part of our current master plan process. the mall owners are exploring short- and long-term strategies for reinventing the mall, something they have done in other parts of the country.
Look up Veirs Mills past the mall and the vacant car dealer. This is real opportunity to create a whole new face to the site with active frontages and enhanced pedestrian connections across this busy roadway. While the high level of vehicle traffic may seem overwhelming, I always like to answer that there are plenty of examples of busy streets acting as the spine for active pedestrian scale retail activity. Veirs Mill can be one of these streets and so can Georgia. It’s about investing in pedestrian infrastructure. And this does not mean slowing vehicle movement. We already have some signalized intersections so cars will not be slowed.
This blog is about visualizing the future so think for a moment about the Veirs Mill-Reedie Drive intersection. The pavement is re-striped into a “scramble” intersection where, when traffic stops, pedestrians cross in all directions. Enhanced signalization, wider sidewalks, new lighting systems and buildings frame the sidewalks with large open windows and creative lighting displays. Encouraged by the improvements, people walk to and from the Metro and from the mall into downtown Wheaton for additional shopping, eating, or just browsing.
While folks who drive through on Georgia and Veirs Mill and don’t stop are missing out, we hope the new master plan currently working its way through Planning Board approval will help set a framework for new mixed uses. Key to this is having the County parking lots redevelop to serve as a catalyst.
In the plan, we are seeking the right balance between the desire for insulation from activities that may be seen as creating issues – such as noise outdoor storage places or odors from restaurants – and the need to provide for infill opportunities to help upgrade some properties to more active uses. The recent development proposal on the north side of University across from the Giant store is a good example.
Several houses have been boarded up for some time. A bank branch is proposed for the site. Would a low-rise, three-story building with a mix of uses close to the sidewalk with a setback to the residential properties to the rear, limited and screened parking, been a better proposal for residents and the community? We have lots of drive-through banks, curb cuts and fragmented building forms along our arterials.
As we grow it will be very important to begin to coordinate the building form and uses along our commercial streets to encourage more mixed uses and pedestrian activity. This is a challenge all over the County, and one we are just beginning to explore in the Burtonsville Commercial Crossroads Neighborhood Study.
If you are familiar with Wheaton, many of the points in this posting will be familiar to you. If you are a stranger to Wheaton, take a Saturday afternoon and check it out. Park the car and explore what the area has to offer. It’s a lot more than just the world famous Chuck Levins music store. And don’t forget to eat one of the many restaurants. In fact, try an entrée at one place and dessert at another.