About two dozen people gathered in the Red Brick Courthouse last night to hear Tony Greenberg of JBG Companies of Chevy Chase discuss conceptual plans for a three-acre lot in downtown Rockville, the site of the former Giant grocery store on Washington Street near Beall Avenue. The Town Center Action Team hosted the meeting and among those attending were councilmember Bridget Newton and chief of planning Jim Wasilak. JBG is one of the region’s major developers and is currently building the Alaire and rehabilitating the million-square-foot Health and Human Services Building in Twinbrook. Greenberg noted that JBG Rosenfeld is an affiliated but separate company that specializes in managing retail properties (such as the Twinbrook Shopping Center). JBG’s focus is primarily planning and construction of offices, hotels, and mixed use projects (i.e., retail AND residential, such as the North Bethesda Market which combines a Whole Foods Market and 400 apartments).
The Old Giant site has been vacant for years and is receiving very little revenue (mostly leases for parking). It’s part of the next phase of development for the Town Center (aka Town Center 2) and although currently sited mid-block along Washington Avenue, the City’s plans include streets bordering two other sides of the three-acre lot (an extension of Maryland Avenue from Town Center and a new Dawson Street linking Washington and Hungerford). JBG’s current conceptual plans include those streets as planned (although adjustments have been discussed to avoid awkward leftover parcels) and how their project might relate to the adjacent properties as Town Center 2 is developed. Greenberg noted that adjacent properties are separate parcels owned by others, such as the Maxim supermarket and the fire station, some of whom are not interested in selling because they want to develop the property themselves. Plans for relocating the fire station have died down, development of the Bank of America parcel have been scrapped due to the economy, but a Walgreen’s drug store is underway along Hungerford.
JBG considered various possible uses, including office, condo, and hotel, but in the current economic climate, the only ones that made sense were Continue reading →
It was a bit warm this weekend, but still a great time to enjoy Rockville’s annual Hometown Holidays. I love seeing lots of people downtown enjoying our fair city, and I also like to see what’s happening with restaurants through the “Taste of Rockville” (you may figured out I’m a bit of a foodie). Lots of restaurants were there and the most exciting was Oro Pomodoro, who was making pizzas with a portable wood-burning oven. Some people may be disappointed in the lack of variety, but participating in a “taste” event is very difficult–restaurants often have to stretch their resources to staff a second location for two days and then guess at how much food to bring. Most do it as a community service and hope it will result in future customers–they rarely make any profit at these events. Alas, the “tastes” were large and typically cost $5 so I only managed to try out three restaurants. I hope next year they’ll include smaller menu items in the $1-3 range to encourage people to take a risk on something new.
There was plenty to do for families (which also meant lots of strollers to navigate) but adults could probably explore it all in a couple hours unless you enjoyed an entire performance. The City did a great job of placing and scheduling bands carefully throughout downtown, but setting up all the stages and chairs also pointed out that we lack obvious community gathering places downtown (hardly any benches and shade trees arranged for a group of a dozen or more people). Let’s hope the new buildings going up soon will solve that.
Choice Hotels International is proposing to move their world headquarters to downtown Rockville but it includes a request to rename “Middle Lane” to “Choice Hotels Lane.” Really, this is no April Fool’s Joke–in a letter to the City of Rockville on March 11, Dan Slear of Choice Hotels International stated, “To clarify, Choice requests to change East Middle Lane in its entirety to Choice Hotels Lane.” It’ll be considered at the April 13, 2011 Planning Commission Meeting–but if it happens, the joke will be on us.
Although the name change was proffered as an incentive by the City of Rockville (really? really??), the staff report to the Planning Commission mentioned several concerns:
- it raised eyebrows at the Emergency Communications Center and the Montgomery-National Capitol Park and Planning Commission, who not only were concerned about confusion by emergency responders (are we going to the hotel or the street?) but thought it odd that we’d rename a street after a company.
- it changes the name of this street three times within a three block stretch–West Middle Lane, Choice Hotels Lane, and Park Road–in downtown. Boy, that’ll help people find their way around downtown.
- downtown businesses, such as Gordon Biersch and HSBC Bank, who would be effected by the name change haven’t had sufficient time to respond, but I’m guessing they don’t want to change their neutral address to one that advertises another business.
- it changes the name of an historic street, indeed, the name of a street that’s been part of downtown Rockville since 1803, when the first map of Rockville was drawn. Let’s see, which has the better track record? Middle Lane has been around for more than 200 years while Choice Hotels has been around since 1981.
I’ll add a couple of my concerns: Continue reading →
The City of Rockville has been working for nearly a decade to recognize the history of African American in the city and yesterday marked a major accomplishment with the installation of several interpretive markers in downtown. Many people who shop, work, and live in the Town Square don’t realize it was once a thriving African American community which was demolished during the 1960s and 1970s due to urban renewal. Today, very little remains and the plaques remind us of how much was lost–and also that African Americans have a long and distinguished history in Rockville.
Yesterday afternoon the City of Rockville hosted a tour on an incredibly beautiful fall day to visit some of these places and to see the new plaques, including Continue reading →