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Proposal For Rockville Pike Towers Headed To Planning Board With Opposition

By Aaron Kraut

Monday - 4/7/2014, 9:10am  ET

Rendering showing two apartment towers and an office building on the existing site of the Metro Pike Center Location of the proposed development sites along Rockville Pike and Nicholson Lane, via Montgomery County Planning Department Change in cross-street alignment, via Montgomery County Planning Department Sites of proposed development, via Montgomery County Planning Department Circulation plan, via Montgomery County Planning Department

A plan for four residential towers and an office building in the middle of White Flint is heading to the Montgomery County Planning Board next week, though the developer still faces opposition from a bordering property owner.

Saul Centers, which first presented its plan to redevelop the two-floor Metro Pike Center last April, will have its Sketch Plan hearing at the Planning Board on April 17.

In a staff report, planners recommended the Board approve the Sketch Plan, though they still have concerns about a lack of commercial and retail space. The developer tweaked the plan once already, adding more ground floor retail space after residents at the nearby The Wisconsin condos said the newly developed blocks would lack activity.

After much consultation, Saul Centers also changed how one of the cross streets would connect to Rockville Pike.

Saul Centers hopes to bring two 300-foot-tall apartment towers and a 230-foot-tall office complex to the west side of Rockville Pike. The apartment towers would go on the existing site of the McDonald’s at Marinelli Road and Metro Pike Center. The office building would be the southernmost building.

Landow & Company, which owns the small, one-story retail building at Rockville Pike and Nicholson Lane home to a Porcelanosa showroom and store still opposes the project. From the staff report:

Conversations with Landow & Company could not reach a compromise. Consequently, they do not support the Project for the following reasons:

– Locating the proposed [230-foot office building] at the shared property line will not allow for adequate light and air for future development on the Landow site; and

– The existing agreements for access easements and building restriction lines between the two properties have not been addressed. The agreement binds a portion of the Landow property for the benefit of the Saul Center property and binds a portion of the Saul Center property for the benefit of the Landow property.

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.

Saul Centers would build the project in five phases, starting with the 300-foot apartment building at Marinelli Road and Rockville Pike. The buildout of the project would also have to comply with staging parameters in the 2010 White Flint Sector Plan meant to balance the amount of new residents with traffic conditions.

From north to south, the three buildings west of Rockville Pike would include 12,000, 7,000 and 5,000 square feet of ground-floor retail space. One building on the east side of Rockville Pike would have 2,500 square feet of retail space. The other east building would have none.

Even after Saul Centers bumped up the amount of retail space in the plan, planners expressed concern:

Given this zoning recommendations, Staff found that a predominately residential development could be acceptable, although not preferred. The Applicant has asserted that in providing the flexibility through the zoning recommendations, the Sector Plan recognizes long-term planning with implementation based on market demand, which currently does not favor office uses.

In an effort to achieve, at the very least, the minimal amount of employment and retail uses as proposed in this application, Staff recommends a condition of approval that the Applicant deliver a minimum of 205,218 square feet of non-residential development, which equates to 0.5 of the maximum allowable total density.

Saul Centers agreed to provide space for a future Capital Bikeshare station, but planners said they were hoping for more public amenities to make up for the relative lack of ground-floor retail.

The stretch of Rockville Pike could serve as an important connector of the North Bethesda Market and White Flint Mall areas to the White Flint Metro station. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission occupies the office buildings directly across Rockville Pike from the proposed development.

Images via Montgomery County Planning Department