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Developer Makes Changes To Rockville Pike Plan

By Aaron Kraut

Tuesday - 7/9/2013, 9:00am  ET

Shopping Center that Bethesda-based developer Saul Centers hopes to redevelop into residential towersAfter some resistance to an earlier proposal, Bethesda-based developer Saul Centers on Monday came back to White Flint residents with a new sketch plan for its Rockville Pike properties that includes more ground floor retail and large walking areas.

Saul hopes to build two 300-foot tall residential towers and a 200-foot office building on what is now the two-level Metro Pike Center on the west side of Rockville Pike. The project also includes a 300-foot residential tower and a 200-foot residential tower on the east side of Rockville Pike near Nicholson Lane, on the site of the Staples-anchored shopping center at 11503 Rockville Pike.

The sketch plan revealed at Monday’s White Flint Implementation Committee meeting included more retail space for restaurants or other high-end stores on the west side to better activate the area.

The original sketch plan included retail space on a few corners. Paul Meyer, a member of the Implementation Committee and resident of The Wisconsin Condominiums behind Metro Pike Center, said that lack of retail and other amenities wouldn’t be fair to residents of his building and wouldn’t encourage people to walk from section to section of White Flint.

In the time since that presentation in May, Saul Centers hired landscape architect Michael Vergason. On Monday, he presented a new plan for the west side of Rockville Pike that included multiple rows of trees, water features, seating areas and two sets of sidewalks that would be used for faster-moving foot or bike traffic and for slower-moving foot traffic around the restaurants.

Vergason spoke about the importance of the site as the center of the White Flint Sector, meaning attractive pedestrian facilities need to provide a sense of connection through the core of the area.

Monday’s presentation was a pre-submittal public meeting, as required by law, though it was actually the third time Saul Centers has presented its sketch plan.

Attorney Bob Dalrymple said the Planning Department provided Saul Centers an inaccurate list of active community and civic associations prior to the first two meetings, which meant not everybody was given notice of the meetings.

More than 50 people, most from The Wisconsin and The Grand condos, crowded into a small room at the Shriver Aquatics Center to hear the plans for the first time.

Saul Centers Vice President of Development Brian Downie said he hoped to have the sketch plan submitted to the Planning Department by the end of the month.

The project calls for a total of 1,400 rental units and 200,000 square feet of office and commercial space, though Downie again said the company plans to build one building at a time, starting with the northernmost residential tower at Rockville Pike and Marinelli Road.

The entire build-out of the property could take 10 or 15 years, depending on the market and phasing triggers in the White Flint Sector Plan that will limit development until transportation standards are met.