As we’re contemplating a new Rockville Pike Plan, it’s always useful to step back in time to see how decisions were made in the past and created the community we live in today.
In 1988, the Rockville Mayor and Council dramatically lowered the height of buildings along the Rockville Pike, rejecting the advice of the planning commission for improving the “traffic-choked corridor.” After six years of study (sound familiar?), the Planning Commission recommended reducing the maximum building size from 200,000 square feet (sf) to 35,000 sf for a 100,000 sf parcel but would allow up to 300,000 sf (a bonus) if developers provided certain community amenities, such as pedestrian bridges, plaza areas, and day care centers. The City Council accepted the lower size but rejected the bonus, effectively decreasing the size to one-sixth of what was currently allowed. Mayor Doug Duncan believed it would, “keep the retail strength of the plan. . .large office buildings [are] not in the interest of the community.” Planning Commission Chair Richard Arkin countered that “without the bonus system, the plan would lead to more small, unattractive shopping strips and few of the kinds of amenities that could transform the pike into an attractive road that is accessible to pedestrians.” Now that 25 years have passed, what was the result of their decisions? Who was more prescient?
If you’d like to learn more about this topic, read the entire story, “Building Curbs Supported for Rockville Pike” from the April 28, 1998 issue of the Washington Post.
Glad you raised this question. I was on the Council during that period and supported the 1989 Pike Neighborhood Corridor Plan. The answer to your question depends on what kind of community’s we want today and into the future. As you indicated, we were attempting to keep the Pike more consumer retail oriented. There was a proposal at that time to tear down The 3 Congressional Plazas in order to build a corporate anclave that would contain 5 thousand jobs and a monorail to the future metro.
At a Planning I Commission meeting last year, Roger Lewis, urban architect, said, in answer to a question, that under the proposed Pike Plan, all the current consumer friendly retail would disappear to be replaced by coffee shops and other office building retail.
So the basic question still is what kind of Pike best suits Rockville residents in the future. Without the sales tax, future property taxes from the Pike may not cover future costs born by the city. So who really benefits from a new Pike Plan?