Developer Runs Into Opposition On Rockville Pike High-Rises

Shopping Center that Bethesda-based developer Saul Centers hopes to redevelop into residential towersA Bethesda developer’s plan for three 300-foot residential towers and two 200-foot buildings along Rockville Pike met some resistance on Monday, when a resident of a nearby condominium building questioned the lack of retail space in the presentation.

Saul Centers, a part of B.F. Saul, wants to tun the two-level Metro Pike Center shopping center and the Staples site near the White Flint Metro station into four residential high-rises and an office building.

Saul Centers Vice President of Development Brian Downie told a meeting of the White Flint Implementation Advisory Committee on Monday that the company’s research shows retail uses are not in high demand at the site, which sits between four major mixed-use projects either underway or in the pipeline for White Flint.

Paul Meyer, a member of the Committee and a resident of The Wisconsin Condominiums to the west of the property, said the 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.

“Everything that’s being built in White Flint, we know we’re going to have to pay in terms of construction, noise, and traffic problems over time,” Meyer said. “On the other hand, it’s a balance. We look at what we’ll have when it’s done. These projects have places to walk to, they have restaurants to eat in, a destination that I’d want to go to. This project has none of that, absolutely none.”

Meyer said the project will likely be the first in the redevelopment of White Flint that residents of The Wisconsin don’t support.

In total, the Saul redevelopment on its two Pike properties would bring 1.4 million square feet of new residential space with roughly 1,400 rental units and 200,000 square feet of office and commercial space, most of which would be in a roughly 200-foot high office building near the Porcelenosa store.

The plan calls for green, pedestrian-friendly walkways, a public plaza on the east side of Rockville Pike along Nicholson Lane and a few spaces for retail or restaurants. But Downie said that retail or restaurant space is limited.

“We want to be forthright and cautious about overpromising retail,” Downie said at the meeting. “We do think the uses we want there primarily are restaurants, but we don’t see it’s strength as retail.”

Downie said the performance of the existing shopping center on the site, which has a number of vacancies, played a role in that decision. Bob Dalrymple, an attorney from Linowes and Blocher who is representing Saul Centers on the project, said the plan presented so far is in its early stages.

“I would encourage you not to take anything too literally, too fixed. We are very early on,” Dalrymple said. “So don’t give up on us too early is I guess what I’m asking.”

Saul Centers hopes to submit a sketch plan to the County Planning Department in a few weeks.

“If they do the right thing, everybody wins,” Meyer said. “I’m willing to take some more traffic. I’ll walk. But my worry is, if they overbuild the residential, it becomes a ghost town.”


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