Community Meeting on New Development Downtown

Suburban Trust Co. bank building, 255 North Washington Street, Rockville.

Suburban Trust Co. bank building, 255 North Washington Street, Rockville.

Rockville Town Center, LLC, the owner of the property at 255 North Washington Street (at Beall Avenue) is holding a community Area Meeting at 6:30 pm on Thursday, December 5, 2013 in the Black-eyed Susan Room in City Hall to discuss their development plans and allow the community to ask questions and provide suggestions.  They propose to demolish the existing five-story bank/office building and replace it with a six-story residential/retail building that includes 280 multi-family dwelling units, 6200 square feet of ground floor commercial space, and a parking garage, as follows:

The proposed building is finished on all four sides, with six stories of residential apartments including street level walk-out units on the North Washington Street  facade, a two-story retail and amenity space in front of six-story residential on Beall Avenue, six stories of residential over a first level of loft apartments in the 15′ podium base facing future Maryland Avenue, and residential units over the loading and parking entrance onto the shared driveway entrance from North Washington Street.

Not sure what this means?  I’ve attached the notice that Rockville Town Center mailed to adjacent residents and property owners, which includes more details, a site plan, and a ground floor plan.  This is a controversial project because it will add to an already overcrowded cluster of schools.  Beall Elementary School, for example, has a capacity of 641 students but currently stands at 793 students and has an average class size of 37 students for grades 1-3–and it’s projected to increase during the next couple years.  It’s also become the focus of the Mayor and Council’s plan for Town Center II, the phase of development north of Town Square.  The community seems to be split over whether this next phase should be densely developed like an urban downtown or more low slung like a suburban strip mall.

The development review process was such a bloody experience in the past (remember Bealls Grant II, Victory Housing, and Twinbrook Commons?) that the Mayor and Council made major revisions recently, even creating a Citizen’s Guide to Development Review in Rockville.  I’m not sure if it’s adequate, however.  Neighbors are supposed to be notified by mail of future development, but it’s limited to a radius of 750 or 1250 feet from the project depending on its size and impact on traffic and residents (see Section 25, article 7 of the Rockville City Code).  This is a major project in the city’s “heart,” but only the surrounding residents and property owners were notified.  Most businesses in downtown weren’t included because they lease their spaces.  Parents of students at Beall Elementary School will only hear about it if someone close to the project tells them about it.  Notification needs to be broader and more public.

In my neighborhood of Twinbrook, I’ve had a similar experience recently.  I wasn’t notified of a major development in my neighborhood, even though I live just a couple blocks away and share the same road as the project.   Montgomery County Schools is planning to turn Broome Middle School into a Children’s Resource Center and a Holding School (a site that “holds” students temporarily while their school is closed for construction).  Although it adds a 40,000 sf office building to a residential neighborhood and contributes to the traffic on an already busy Twinbrook Parkway that incredibly has three schools within a mile of each other (this would add a fourth), most of the neighborhood wasn’t notified.  I also learned that in the crazy financial world of the school district, they have money to construct new buildings but not to remodel or maintain existing ones, leading to a perverse incentive to wait to collect enough money to build new and let the existing ones rot in the meantime.  Really?  Looks like the school board needs some lessons on prudence, stewardship, and recycling.

5 responses

  1. I don’t know if it is coincidental or intentional, but the annual Christmas Tree lighting ceremony is scheduled for the same day and runs from 6:30 to 9:00 PM. That could have an impact on the number of people that attend the meeting.

  2. At the pre-development meeting tonight, four members of the community discussed the conceptual plans for the new building with representatives of Kettler (the developers) and R2L (the architects). They discussed the desire to make the building pedestrian-friendly and better engage with the street, unlike Town Square, which turns inwards with its back facing outward, especially on Beall Avenue. Instead, they are finishing the building on all four sides in brick, metal panels, and Resvsta, a new synthetic wood material. They are paying particular attention to the view from Gibbs Street by placing the retail on Beall in order to pull people from Town Square. Parking will be contained on site with both a drive-through short-term parking lot from Beall and a longterm underground parking garage entered from the back.

    Most of the building will be rented as apartments with an average size of 840 square feet, in configurations from Junior 1-bedroom (at 550-600 square feet without windows in the bedroom) to a traditional 2-bedroom. The main entrance will be at the corner of Washington and Beall, but the street-level apartments along Washington Street will have individual outside entrances so it will appear like a row of townhouses. On the side facing the future extension of Maryland Avenue (the side towards the fire station) will be work-live spaces that can either serve as home offices or have a commercial/retail use.

    People attending had questions about materials, parking, traffic, location of dumpsters, Bikeshare, LEED certification, and the future development of Maryland Avenue. No one, however, raised any concerns about the impact on schools although it was confirmed that this project is exempt from the APFO. This is definitely an urban building that’s much larger and more densely developed than what’s there now, but no one expressed any concerns about its proposed size and scale.

    The building seems to be well designed and will be an attractive addition to downtown, although artistic renderings can be deceptive because they’re idealized. I expressed concerns about the row of live-work units along the east side because that seems like a hidden deadend that won’t attract customers (and now that I’ve thought about it, it seems they should be instead on Washington Avenue where they will be exposed to more traffic and pedestrians). I also suggested some renderings to show the building in context with the adjacent buildings and Town Square to get a better sense of how it all fits together.

    Unfortunately, they wouldn’t allow me to take photos of the conceptual renderings so you’ll have to see how things look when they’re presented to the Planning Commission at a date to be announced.

  3. Thanks for this report, Max. Was there any talk of how much these apartments will rent for? Also, I found a photo on the city’s website.

    which comes from here

    1. No mention of rents. I suspect it’s because opening is a couple years away and the market will change by that time (I’m sure they have done some calculations already, otherwise they wouldn’t invest in such a major venture).

  4. Also, how is it going to look next to this? The proposed Bright View project

    Here’s the rendering.

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