Planning Board Questions Lack of Office Space in Saul Centers’ Plan

Planning Board Questions Lack of Office Space in Saul Centers’ Plan

Planning Board Chair stresses that White Flint master plan language calls for mixed-use, after developer pitches residential-heavy plan.

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Rendering of Saul Centers' proposed buildings on Rockville Pike.

The White Flint Sector Plan calls for the development of a business and residential center surrounding the White Flint Metro. But what if developers just keep pitching residential buildings?

That’s the problem the Montgomery County Planning Board began to grapple with last week, when it approved Saul Centers Inc.’s sketch plan for five buildings on Rockville Pike near the Metro station.

The plan calls for 1.4 million square feet of residential space—encompassing four buildings—compared to 178,500 square feet of office space in one building and 26,500 square feet of retail on the ground floors of four buildings. The residential buildings will have about 1,430 units.

“We don’t get live, work and play if we don’t get the work part,” said Francoise Carrier, the planning board chair.

Carrier said the master plan language calls for a mixed-use employment center, but the property zoning allows for high-rise residential.

“It’s very frustrating that you have a master plan with language that says one thing, and zoning that says something else,” Carrier said.

Later, she added, “It’s something to pay attention to when we write master plans in the future.”

Bob Dalrymple, an attorney representing Saul Centers, argued that the market should dictate what is built on the property. Planning board members admit that office space is not in demand in the area. In fact, Carrier said, “We have gazillions of square feet of empty office buildings.”

Dalrymple said if a tenant wanted an office building in the area, “we would be back before you immediately with a preliminary plan and a site plan to build that office building.”

For now, it seems residential rules.

In addition to the Saul Centers’ proposal, Federal Realty’s Pike & Rose development will include 490 residential units (636,000 square feet) and 86,000 square feet of office space in its phase 1 development. Meanwhile, Lerner Enterprises is proposing 2,500 new residential units (about 3 million square feet) for its redevelopment of White Flint Mall. The development company is also proposing 1 million square feet of office space.

The first phase of the White Flint Plan calls for 3,000 residential units and 2 million square feet of nonresidential. The second two phases include an additional 6,800 residential units and about 3.69 million square feet of nonresidential.

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