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.