Category Archives: Retail business

The Rockville Pike Plan Is Out of Control

Car tracks on road out of control.When the Rockville Mayor and Council set out to update the 1989 Rockville Pike Plan in 2007, Apple released the first iPhone and the New Horizons space probe was passing Saturn.  In 2015, Apple is working on the iPhone 6s and New Horizons just passed Pluto–but the Rockville Pike Plan is still incomplete. It’s a complex area but something is definitely wrong with the planning process in the City of Rockville if it takes eight years to revise a plan for an area of 410 acres.  What happens when Rockville tackles the Comprehensive Plan for the 14 square miles of the City of Rockville?  Will it meet the state deadline to update that plan every ten years?

Rockville-Pike-Planning-Process

When you look at the timeline for the project, it’s pretty clear that the Pike Plan is languishing with the Planning Commission.   A closer looks shows they’ve held six public hearings, 32 work sessions, and formed two sub-committees and they’re still not done.  In contrast, the Mayor and Council have held five public hearings and one work session.  Looks like the Planning Commission is suffering from “paralysis by analysis.”

What is extremely puzzling is that the Planning Commission is taking as much time or more than Continue reading →

Asian Retail Expands in Downtown Rockville

This just in from the JBG Companies:  they’ve fully leased their retail space at 275 North Washington Street, a new mixed-use building in downtown Rockville anchored by Bank of America (where the Giant Grocery store once stood).

Reflecting the growing international flavor of the surrounding area, four Asian-owned businesses have signed for the remaining retail spaces adjacent to Rockville Town Square. They are French-Asian cafe Lavande Patisserie, Kung Fu Tea, Quickway Hibachi Grill and Amber Door Day Spa. In addition to 12,000 square feet of retail space on the ground floor, JBG’s 275 North Washington Street includes 12,000 square feet of available Class A office space on a second level.

“This area offers a unique multi-ethnic dining and shopping experience that adds flavor and choices. It’s a draw for Rockville residents and for those living outside the city,” said Anthony Greenberg, a JBG principal. “There are several Asian markets and authentic Chinese restaurants near 275 North Washington Street, and we are pleased to be a part of an organically emerging district.”

Lily Qi, director of special projects for the Montgomery County executive, said Rockville is known as the Chinatown of Montgomery County because of its high concentration of ethnic Chinese residents and Asian businesses. Rockville’s central location and accessibility makes it a magnet for amenities that cater to the everyday living needs of this population, as well as to the tastes of the broader community who enjoy a diversity of cuisines and retail choices.

Retailers are moving into their spaces this month and expect to open this spring. Bob Liang, founder of regional Quickway Japanese Hibachi, said he chose the location because of the area’s diverse demographics and proximity to Rockville Town Center. The restaurant, which features fast casual Japanese, will be the 10th to open in the D.C. region.

Lavande Patisserie, owned by mother and son Julie Yi and Andrew Liang of Gaithersburg, is a farm-to-table café and will serve breakfast, lunch and French pastries with an Asian twist, such as kumquat fruit tarts. Lavande will butcher its meat in-house, mill its own flour, make its own creams. “Everything is fresh and purchased within 50 miles, nothing is store bought or pre-processed,” said Liang. Kung Fu Tea is a national franchise from New York that serves specialty tea drinks. The Rockville location will be the first in the Maryland, D.C., and Virginia area. Amber Door Day Spa is locally owned and will offer spa packages that include massages, facials, body treatments, makeup and more.

Continue reading →

Rockville City Council Lowered Building Size on Pike in 1988

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.

Twinbrook Coming Out of Snowstorm

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Although schools, government, and most businesses are closed today due to last night’s snowstorm, it looks like the residents of Twinbrook (and I assume the rest of Rockville as well) are coming out with shovels and plows to get back to work.  I took a walk around a small section of Twinbrook Forest (along Twinbrook Parkway, north of Viers Mill Road) and here’s what I discovered at 10 am:

  • The main roads (Viers Mill, Twinbrook Parkway) have been plowed and can be driven, but the lanes are narrow and I wouldn’t recommend it unless it’s urgent.
  • Some side streets have been plowed, some not.  For example Pinneberg Avenue has been plowed to a one-lane width but Dorothy Lane has not plowed.  Meadow Hall Road is a mixed bag.  The section connecting Viers Mill and Twinbrook has been plowed but not the section leading to Carl Sandburg School and the Twinbrook Forest Condos.  On unplowed side streets, snow can range from 6″-12″ deep, so I wouldn’t attempt it in a car unless it’s prepared for these conditions.
  • Most sidewalks haven’t been cleared, so you’ll be forced to walk in the street.  Wear boots.  As you may know, it’s particularly difficult at intersections because the snow is piled high by the plows, you can trip on the hidden curb, and melted snow can be 6″ deep.  If you’re driving, please be courteous to pedestrians in the street and slow down–your tires throw up snow and water even at low speeds, especially if you’re in a truck.
  • Most stores are closed and the parking lots are in the midst of getting cleared of snow.  In Twinbrook, open are Dunkin’ Donuts, Safeway, and the Sunoco gas station.  The Asian Market and Bamboo Buffet have lighted signs saying they’re open, but the front doors are locked.  More stores may open later, so you should call ahead to be sure.

For more information about conditions in Rockville, check the City website.

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: Continue reading →

JBG Reveals Updated Plans for Downtown Rockville

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The JBG Companies, who are currently building a large complex of offices, residences, and stores around the Twinbrook Metro station, are also working on a portion of downtown Rockville that’s slated as phase two of the Town Center.  The 2008 economic downturn slowed development considerably but is now picking up, as evidenced by the construction of the corporate headquarters of Choice Hotels.  JBG owns the former Giant Grocery store at 275 North Washington Street (across from the Beall’s Grant Apartments) and has been exploring various uses for this vacant building and adjoining parking lot.  Today, they shared the following plans:

New shopping, apartments and offices are slated for an overlooked city block in Rockville’s downtown, offering the opportunity to energize a long-vacant Giant grocery store site and adjoining tracts. The JBG Companies is proposing to demolish the grocery store and build new offices and shopping as a complement to busy Rockville Town Square next door. JBG has shared its plans with multiple audiences including neighbors, city officials, community groups and civic users.

“We are fortunate to have strong support from neighbors and businesses alike who have long been asking for renewed vigor in this part of downtown Rockville,” said Anthony Greenberg, a JBG official. “Redeveloping this property is an excellent opportunity to Continue reading →

Twinbrook Station Tour Discusses Future Development

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This morning’s Peerless Rockville tour of the Alaire not only provided an intimate behind-the-scenes tour with representative of JBG of this award-winning combination of residences and stores, but also discussed the plans and timing for several projects in the Twinbrook Metro area.  About a dozen people joined the conversation to see the lobby, common rooms, and a one-bedroom apartment of the Alaire, then went out onto the street to discuss the current and upcoming development for the region.  Among the items that caught my ears:

1.  WMATA owns the land and has leased it to JBG for 99 years.  That means that projects need to be approved both by the City of Rockville and WMATA.

2.  WMATA wants to maintain the 1100 parking spaces currently available at the Twinbrook Metro station, so before any existing surface lots can be developed, sufficient parking has to be provided elsewhere.  The parking structure currently under construction at Halpine and Chapman will allow development of the next phase of Twinbrook Commons.

3.  The next phase of Twinbrook Station will occur on the west side of Fishers Lane, across from the Alaire.  Called the Toronto, it will consist of a combination of residences, stores, and a parking structure and will be intentionally designed by another architectural firm to avoid a monotonous appearance for the development.  Groundbreaking is expected to happen Continue reading →

Developments around Rockville Metro to be Explored

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This Saturday, April 21, from 10 am to 12 noon, join Peerless Rockville for a tour of The Alaire at Twinbrook Station, the beginning of a significant, New Urbanist community called Twinbrook Station being developed by the JBG Companies and WMATA.  It’s the first Gold Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Neighborhood Development (LEED-ND) plan in the Washington metropolitan area, has been designated a Smart Growth project by the Washington Smart Growth Alliance, and received the International Charter Award for Excellence from the Congress for the New Urbanism.   So if you want to know what all the fuss is about, staff from JBG will discuss their approach to development around a transit station, view an apartment, and find out more about their future plans and on-going projects, both at Twinbrook Station and on adjacent properties. Tour starts at 10 am at 1101 Higgins Place (the entrance to the Alaire apartments) and costs $7.  Space is limited and reservations are recommended.  Two-hour free parking in the Alaire garage (and the adjacent Metro lot is free on weekends).  For more information, please visit PeerlessRockville.org or call 301-762-0096.

And just in case you didn’t catch my previous tweets, it appears that the nearby Walmart project at the Rockville Pike and Bou Avenue has been temporarily postponed:  Bagel City recently signed a two-and-a-half year lease.  A few doors down, the Office Depot is closing but it’s unrelated to future developments of the site (btw, everything is on sale at 10-30% off but is non-returnable).

In other related news, a couple of Rockville’s communities will enjoy national attention in May when I co-lead a tour of New Mark Commons and King Farm for the annual convention of the American Institute of Architects.  We’ll be looking at cutting-edge planned communities in Montgomery County, starting with 1930s Greenbelt and ending with the 21st century King Farm.  Lunch will be in Town Square, which has turned up as the poster child for the Congress for the New Urbanism.   If you thought Rockville was just a little sleepy suburb, it’s time to change your mind.

Chamber of Commerce discussion at Rockville Community Coalition meeting

Andrea Jolly, executive director of the Rockville Chamber of Commerce (center) at the Rockville Community Coalition meeting.

At the April 5 meeting of the Rockville Community Coalition, Andrea Jolly shared that the Chamber of Commerce is becoming more active in local advocacy and that the Chamber cares as much about the community as it does business.  She’s the executive director of the Rockville Chamber of Commerce, an organization that now claims 185 members, a dramatic turnaround from its nearly lifeless condition just a few years ago.  As examples of their reinvigorated stature, she noted the public stand they’ve taken on behalf of Pumphrey’s; the support for environmental causes that affect the community as a whole (such as the bag tax and storm water management fees); and the sponsorship of the Rockville Economic Summit.  She expressed her concerns that the community seems to be artificially divided between businesses and residents and while the Council claims to be business-friendly, their actions have indicated otherwise.  Most members of the Chamber are small businesses that are locally owned and operated and rely heavily on local residents as both customers and employees.  She also voiced a desire that there be good relationships throughout the community rather than irreconcilable differences–we may disagree at times, but we should always be willing to work together to solve shared issues.

During the discussion:

  1. she clarified the relationship with the Rockville Economic Development, Inc. (they attract and retain businesses but cannot advocate; Chamber provides ongoing services to its members and the current business community, can advocate for a business-friendly atmosphere).  She also mentioned that REDI may have a new executive director in place in May.
  2. she was unaware that the City didn’t collect Continue reading →

Tentative Plans Revealed for Old Giant Store in Downtown Rockville

Tony Greenberg of JBG describing plans for downtown Rockville.

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).

Old Giant Store Site in downtown Rockville.

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 →