The Pike, Part II: Showing Bad Form?
Part 2 of our two-part report on the March 16 public hearing on the city's draft plan for Rockville Pike.
Envision a Rockville Pike with streets that are safe for bicyclists and pedestrians. With bus rapid transit. With housing built around Metro stations. With room for retail to grow up. With room for auto dealerships. With many changes. With few changes.
Forty-two people testified during two public hearings held earlier this month. They told the Rockville Planning Commission their vision—and their concerns—for the future of the Rockville Pike corridor
The hearings were part of the city’s efforts to draft a plan for redeveloping Rockville’s long, traffic-clogged, strip mall-saturated main street.
Rockville Patch attended the March 16 hearing, during which 27 people testified. On Friday, we brought you highlights of the testimony of a resident, a businessman and an environmentalist and—though she did not testify—the perspective of a city councilwoman.
Today we bring you highlights of testimony that land use attorneys, developers and business representatives presented related to new zoning codes spelled out in the draft plan.
If you’d like to learn more, video of the hearings is available online at http://www.rockvillemd.gov/rockvillespike/ . Written testimony also will be posted as it is submitted, said David Levy, chief of long-range planning and development for the city.
Building height restrictions in the Rockville Pike draft plan have the potential to stunt growth near Metro stations, developers said during the March 16 public hearing.
“Areas within a quarter-of-a-mile of a Metro station need to be a priority No. 1 growth area and are the precise areas where Rockville’s inevitable growth should occur,” said Patricia A. Harris, a partner in the Bethesda office of Holland & Knight, which advises the city on Town Center redevelopment and represents a number of businesses in the city. “The height recommendations [of the draft plan] severely undercut the objectives of concentrating development at Metro stations.”
The restrictions represent a 40 percent decrease in allowable building over the current zoning along Rockville Pike, she said.
Harris questioned the need for a new form-based code called for in the plan, saying that new mixed-use zoning codes put in place by the City Council two years ago have had little use as the poor economy has limited new development along the pike.
Harris called the form-based code “much too specific in terms of the permitted architecture.”
“It essentially dictates building design and leaves very little if any room for flexibility. Property owners should be afforded the latitude to design buildings within reasonable code restrictions in accordance with individual design,” she said.
Marc “Kap” Kapastin also questioned the need for the form-based code and asked whether the proposed plan would allow enough density to make redevelopment profitable.
Height restrictions threaten the potential density of development said Kapistan, the general counsel for the Quantum Companies, who was representing Shellhorn Rockville LLC, the owner the Chesapeake Plaza shopping center at 1488 Rockville Pike, which is home to Mi Rancho restaurant and several other businesses.
Without another way of adding density, “we’re concerned about the loss of density and a loss of value,” he said.
Kapistan said he was concerned about the planning process for the pike.
“I’m concerned that in the end we may have an exercise in urban design and administrative process but not a realistic attainable vision for the pike and the city,” he said.
Representatives of car dealerships said they worry that the form-based code would not allow any new dealerships and would make it so that existing dealerships will no longer conform with zoning, said Larry Gordon an attorney with Shulman Rodgers Gandal Pordy & Ecker P.A., who has represented car dealerships along the pike.
Dealerships worked with the city to have dealerships included as a conditional use of the mixed-use zoning adopted during the city’s 2009 rezoning, said Hamid Fallahi, a representative of Darcars Automotive Group.
“We strongly urge you to add more vehicle sales and service uses in the list of uses allowed in all three portions of the urban corridor,” Falahi said.
Erica Leatham, a Rockville resident and working mom, said that she contributes to the traffic on the pike when shopping on weekends, in contrast to when she is working in Bethesda, where she tries to walk as much as possible. Bethesda has an environment that is safe, comfortable and full of people. “And that is entirely lacking from the pike,” said Leatham, a land-use attorney.
“When people walk, that simple fact changes the character of the area,” she said.
Leatham said she likes the form-based code because of it provides a “simplicity and consistency” that the pike current lacks. But she is uncertain about the form of the code, which might not work for some properties, she said.
“And you have to consider that practically, because if these forms don’t work, there will be no development and this plan just ends up being an empty promise,” she said.
“Avoiding the pike is probably the city’s past time, right?” Leatham said.
In talking to neighbors about the city’s plans to change the pike’s character, “to a person, they are excited, they want to see something change,” she said.
County Council to consider the plan
The Montgomery County Council's Planning, Housing and Economic Development Committee will discuss the city's draft plan for the pike at 9:30 a.m. today.
The county recently adopted a White Flint Sector Plan that will guide redevelopment along Rockville Pike just south of the city limits, including construction of mixed-use buildings reaching up to 30 stories clustered around the White Flint Metro station.
Make your voice heard
The Planning Commission will hold work sessions on the plan on April 27, May 11 and May 25. It will not hear oral testimony.
Written testimony should be submitted by April 15 in order for the commission to review it during their work session.
Written testimony will be accepted through May 27.
For more information go to http://www.rockvillemd.gov/rockvillespike/ .