Smart Growth


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"The upsizing of White Flint," article in 10/2011 "Planning" magazine of the American Planning Association

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Smart Growth

  2. 2. The Upsizing The signature Wishbone Bridge is one of several major projects bringing TOO and greater density to suburban White Flint.eff Peterson, a U.S. Navy nurse, phoned his wife Kristine to describe the apartment hedfound for them and their four-year-old son, Jack, in a spot just north ofWashington, D .C.They h ad lived for several years on the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, wherefrills were rare. So wh en he explained to her that the new apartment had a large, fancy su-permarket on the ground floor, she nearly cried. Itwas"likeseeingthegatesofheaven," form an unsightly quilt of surface park- cut automobile trips and build a criticalsays Kristine Peterson, who moved with ing, chaotic highways, and unattractive mass of residents to support a more urbanher family to White Flint, Maryland, an strip malls in an area of about 430 acres, center, they say.unincorporated area of about 10 square about half the size of New Yorks Central For a generation, White Flint hasmiles in Montgomery County. Park. Zoning changes will promote a six- been mostly known for two things: its Apartment towers with green roofs fold increase in the number of housing station on the Washington Metro, aboutand groce1y stores with sushi bars are units from 2,300 to 14,400, and double 12 miles &om downtown D.C., and thejust a part of the formula to transform a nonresidential building from six million White Flint Mall. Rvo of the malls an-quintessential 1960s suburb into a verti- to 13 million square feet. chors, Bloomingdale:S and Lord & Tay-cal, vibrant, urban village. The White Planners want to flip the property mix lor, hint at the shopping centers tony ap-Flint Sector Plan, adopted by the county in the area &om 70 percent nonresiden- peal when it opened in 1977, but its beencouncil in March 2010, seeks to trans- tial to 60 percent residential, which wiU a while since anyone associated "lavish" American Planning Association I 39
  3. 3. with the mall or its setting on Maryland Route 355. That road begins as Wisconsin Avenue Rockville Pike will be in the District of Columbia and ends 40 transformed from an eight-lane miles north in e>..Urban Frederick, Mary- highway into a boulevard with land. But through White Flint it is known dedicated rapid bus lanes and as Rockville Pike, an unappealing eight- wide, tree-lined sidewalks. The lane artery that carries 60,000 vehicles a 24-story residential tower at North Bethesda Market (below), day. Rollin Stanley, AICP, the Montgomery a mixed use development County planning director, says the road anchored by Whole Foods often reminds him of the scene in the cult Market, is the tallest building in movie Office Space, where a pedestrian Montgomery County. with a walker gets where hes going faster than the motorists stuck in traffic. Now and next White Flints future was a planning topic back when the capitals Metro rail system was being hnilt in the mid-1970s, but the subject took on greater urgency over the past decade as congestion worsened along Rockville Pike. County officials, property owners, and community activ- ists have spent the past five years debat- ing a dramatic overhaul. The full vision is a decade or two away, but parts of it are now taking shape. Driving south on Rockville Pike, the White Flint area rises up, Emerald City- like, from a land of strip shopping centers and parking lots. Soaring cranes pl·ep:u·e a major addition to the existing offices of the U.S. Nudear Regulat01y Commis- sion beside the glass-roofed modern pa- goda of the White Flint Metro stop. Half of the NRC employees already use mass transit, making it one of the most transit- lowed to trim its costs by providing about Foods Market linked to an apanment oriented of federal agencies. According one-third less parking than it normally rower that at 24 stories is the tallest build- to the Washington Metropolitan Area would. The county reduced parking ing in the county. Penthouse vistas sweep Transit Authority, the White Flint stop minimums in the area to entice develop- from a view of the Washington Monu- could attract 8,000 daily users when all ment proposals designed to capitalize on ment- 12 miles south- to distant, purple the redevelopment is complete-up fwm White Flints proximity to the Washing- Sugarloaf Mountain in the Appalachian 4,200 now. ton Metro. foothills a couple of dozen miles north. Nearby, the project with the Harris "This was a nowheresville. There was As for the nearby White Flint Mall, the Teeter grocery on the ground floor- and no sense of place," says Michael Smith, plan prescribes additional buildings on hundreds of sedum plants arrayed in a a vice president of LCOR, which leased the property nearest the pike with greater pinwheel on its green roof- is slated to 97 percent of the first apartment tower density and scale than the shopping mall. include four towers encircling a commu- not long after opening it in 2008. "vVe "This is big anywhere, but to plan this nity green. The build out calls for nearly dont want to be known as White F lint. in the middle of an established suburban 1,300 apartments, 1.4 million square feet It references a mall. It doesnt reference a environment, its one of the most trans- of commercial space, and outdoor dining neighborhood environment. We have led formative developments in a suburb in around a "preserve" of old-growth trees a revolution out here in North Bethes- America," says Stanley, who arrived from that were saved from a golf driving range da." Some of those involved have tried St. Louis three years ago to head Mont- previously on the site-quite unlike the to make the nickname "NoBe" stick- for gometys planning department. Rockville current "outdoors" experience along the North Bethesda-hoping to cultivate a Pike is to be rebuilt as a grand boulevard congested pike. SoHovibe. with dedicated bus rapid transit lanes The developer LCOR Inc., like other Just across Rockville Pike, construc- down the middle and landscaped bike builders in the sector plan area, was al- tion crews are busily completing a Whole paths, although that vision could take de-40 Planning October 2011
  4. 4. Critics railed against greater traffic on Rockville Pike and contended d1at the plan was a ruse to pack in more develop- ment. But suppor t grew among residents who saw the concept as a means toward a more modern, SlSt;tinable, and green sub- urb. A blog ca!Jed Friends of White Flint attt·acted many followers w:ith news such as a traffic study that estimated an aver- age trip along the Pike might increase by all of 32 seconds by tbe time the build out is complete. I dont think anyone is looking at thiscades to complete. All existing commer- changing areas in all commercial build- as a get-rich-quick scheme," says Dancial property owners are starting to con- ings. Hoffman, a White Flint home ownertribute nearly 80 percent of the cost of The verticaJization of White Flint- who occasionally bikes to !his job at thethe infrastructure improvements through "strategic infill," Stanley calls it- will NRC. "The term smart growth is a bita special tax. Existing multifamily, town help Montgomery County to maintain overused, but if they want to grow in ahouses, and a religious institution are its low-density land use in other spots. It smart manner theyre going to have toexcluded, says Nkosi Yearwood of the will also provide m01·e affordable housing put the density around Metro stationscountys planning department. in one of the top 10 richest counties in and around transit hubs. White Flint is The commercial real estate owners America, where the median household a perfect example of where we can growand county officials obviously see a large income exceeds $93,000. In the Harris but not increase congestion and infra-economic benefit, too: The sector plan is Teeter tower, about 35 of the 312 units strucntre to the point where its unsus-expected to generate an additional $7 bil- are leased below market, in line witb the tainable."lion in revenue for the county over the countys affordable housing law-renting A mix of interest groups not normally40-year life of the plan. It is the largest for between $1,000 and $1,400 a month keen on major development-seniorredevelopment plan in the county, Stan- compared to regular priced rents from citizens, environmentalists, social equityley says, adding that the financing and $1,400 to $2,600. advocates-saw the benefits of a morestaging plans for White Flints intended "For every doctor working at Sub- walkable, cyclable, affordable Whitetransformation are much more exhaustive urban Hospital," says Stanley, referring Flint. "The Sierra Club, Chesapeake Baythan for the more massive redevelopment to a medical center in nearby Bethesda, Foundation, 1,000 Friends of Marylandbeing planned for larger Tysons Corner, "tbere are three people making less tban got behind this project," says Smith, theVirginia, some 15 miles to the southwest. $50,000 a year who come from 140 coun- LCOR executive. "We changed the para- tries and speak 100 languages. Where are dig:tn. We flipped the switch." GoldmanStrategic lnfill they going to live? How are they going to of Federal Realty says he was astoundedThe remaking ofvVhite Flint, as Stanley get to work? This is what we need to be to vimess competitors in commercialand others tell it, was only in part about discussing." real estate openly discuss market trendsretrofitting a suburb. There are plenty and rent projections, cards they normallyof worse-off suburbs in America or even Making It work hold tight to their vests. To him, it wassuburban Washington. Its strip centers Montgomery County officials were de- a sign of their collective commitment toare largely full and its access to the Wash- liberate in their approach to White Flint. propelling change.ington Metro is priceless. Even Mid-Pike They raised the fee structure for appli- "This is replicable around the countryPlaza, a 1960s strip center that will be cations to ensure credible proposals. De- where youve got a road thats not func-replaced with a mixed use neighborhood, velopers must provide something from a tioning, where you have a sea of parking,could have chugged along profitably in menu of amenities, from public art and where most retail shopping centers haveits current fotm, says Evan Goldman, vice benches to a civic green, in exchange for aged 20 or 30 years, be it the hodge-president of development for the centers increased density. But what may have podge up and down Routes 4 and 17 inowner, Federal Realty InvesunentTrust. been most important, Stanley says, were Paramus, New Jersey, or around Chicago Next year the real estate i~nvestment developers and community activists see- or California," he says. "We had to fig-trust plans to begin the first phase of re- ing mutual benefit and joining to sell the ure out how to make Swiss cheese intodevelopment at Mid-Pike, a project that plan. They used a mix of new media and something."could ultimately result in 13 buildings old-fashioned shoe leather to reach out • Andrew Ratner is the director of communicationstotaling three million square feet of re- to a smart and politically savvy commu- and education in the Maryland Department oftail, residential, office, and hotel space. nity where nearly one-third of all adults Planning.The completed redevelopment is envi- hold postgraduate degrees. "We couldntsioned to include a nine-block street grid, have done it all alone or wed have justhundreds of bike racks and showers, and looked like salesmen," Stanley notes. American Planning Association 41