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 “independent living” with some retail. “Independent living” are apartments exclusively for older adults (seniors) who are living without medical or domestic assistance, in other words, age-restricted, non-assistive residences. They believe this is an ideal location for “independent senior” housing because it’s within walking distance of many desirable amenities, such as VisArts, county library, gym, grocery store, and Metro. The result would be a project about 4-5 stories high (mid-rise buildings similar to the Town Center) with retail on the first floor and residences on the upper floors (similar to the Alaire project), filling the site to the sidewalks and look more urban than suburban. Groundbreaking will probably occur in two years, but ideally it would be in one year if permits and plans are approved by the city in a timely manner. Greenberg showed two conceptual plans–one of the ground floor and one of an upper floor–to show a possible layout of the parcel but no elevations.
Although this was an informal meeting and nothing has been submitted to the City, the project did elicit many questions from the audience, including the inclusion of green space (trees, grass) or a bandshell, avoiding a “fortress-like” design that’s isolated from the community, the taking of adjacent properties through condemnation, noise from concerts, and parking spilling out into adjacent neighborhoods. Future official community meetings will be planned if the project proceeds, so stay tuned or inform Tony Greenberg at JBG (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you’re interested in attending.
As an aside, I did learn a bit more about the status of the “mid-century modern” Bank of America/Suburban Trust Bank building at the corner of Washington and Beall. It’s a bit complex but as I understand it, the land and building are owned by Cornerstone, Kettler manages the property, KSI Services has a lease for development, and is one of the half dozen PDPs (planned development projects) in the city (although it’s even more confusing because KSI Services changed its name to Kettler in 2006). Plans to develop it for Town Center 2 fell through due to the economy and the site plan has expired.
I also learned that a Safeway is being planned near the Twinbrook Metro station–does that mean the nearby Safeway in the Twinbrook Shopping Center will close? Wondering what else is happening? The City of Rockville has a nifty map showing the locations of all developments in process.