Approved Rockville Pike Neighborhood Plan Allows Exceptions to Controversial Road Design

Approved Rockville Pike Neighborhood Plan Allows Exceptions to Controversial Road Design

Specific references to building height limits eliminated

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The Rockville Pike Neighborhood Plan unanimously approved Monday by the City of Rockville Council allows exceptions for property owners opposed to a controversial access road concept and doesn’t include specific building height limits included in earlier versions of the plan.

The plan, which consultants for the city first began working on in 2008, is supposed to spur the revitalization of a 2-mile stretch of Rockville Pike that consists mostly of strip shopping centers.

Members of the city’s Planning Commission envisioned widening Rockville Pike to allow for a future bus rapid transit system and adding two-lane access roads on both sides of the road to create a “multi-way boulevard” akin to the Passeig de Gracia in Barcelona or Ocean Parkway in Brooklyn.

The widening and addition of access roads would happen within public rights-of-way, but would likely be costly and necessitate detailed coordination with the State Highway Administration, Montgomery County and private property owners.

Transit advocates, some residents and at least one major property owner rejected the concept in an April public hearing, saying the 252 feet of width needed would make the pike difficult to cross and unsafe for pedestrians.

Bethesda-based developer B.F. Saul, which owns a shopping center on the east side of Rockville Pike north of Halpine Road, started a website and public relations campaign claiming 252 feet is too wide because a boulevard of that width would endanger pedestrians, cost too much taxpayer money to build and make it difficult for developers to include open space in their projects.

252-foot-wide Rockville Pike cross section proposed in Rockville Pike Neighborhood Plan, via City of Rockville

Alternative Rockville Pike cross section for "Rockville Champion" projects, via City of Rockville

In the final version of the plan approved Monday, there are exceptions to the access road concept for “Champion Projects” that would be located along the south section of the pike, contain at least five contiguous acres, provide more than the required minimum 15 percent of public space and also meet other conditions.

The plan sent to the council in March from the Planning Commission also recommended limiting new residential buildings to seven floors and new commercial or office buildings to 10 floors, a far cry from the 300-foot maximum building heights allowed by the county’s 2010 White Flint Sector Plan, which applies to a section of Rockville Pike just south of the city’s border.

The building height limits, opposed by developers, were removed during council work sessions. The council also agreed to remove any reference to a recommended ratio of jobs and housing provided by new development and added language in the environmental section of the plan to say higher density and development near the Twinbrook Metro station would have a positive impact on the environment.

B.F. Saul property in red and rendering of potential redevelopment, via B.F. Saul

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