Thursday, Feb. 7, 2008

Planning Board wants a more detailed draft for White Flint

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The county Planning Board wants more details on how redevelopment in White Flint can work when a draft of the plan is submitted for approval in March.

County planners presented a preliminary draft of the White Flint Sector Plan, a 20-year growth guide of the neighborhoods surrounding the White Flint Metro station, at a Planning Board meeting Thursday.

‘‘There is a tremendous amount of good work here,” said Commissioner John Robinson. ‘‘But we’ve got a ways to go.”

It was the last chance for planners to hear comments before creating a final plan for the Planning Board. Public hearings will follow in the spring. Eventually the plan will go to the County Council for approval.

County planners are updating the 1992 White Flint Sector Plan. The area is bounded by Montrose Parkway to the north, the CSX railroad tracks to the east, White Flint Mall and the adjacent medical buildings to the south and Woodglen Drive to Executive Boulevard around the Montgomery Aquatic Center to include Old Georgetown Road to the west.

The draft presented Thursday outlined development options for future growth in the neighborhood with the tallest buildings centered on the streets nearest the Metro station, from Nicholson Lane north to Executive Boulevard along Rockville Pike. It allows for more mixed-use development than the 1992 plan and outlines several parks and green spaces as well as a possible MARC station near the Old Georgetown Road and Nebel Street intersection.

But Planning Board members said more details about land use and building design should be added.

‘‘What is the base density that will be allowed?” Hanson asked planners. ‘‘And what are the bonus elements for ... obtaining the additional density.”

The county offers additional height to developers who meet green standards or donate land for open space.

Planners suggested applying a mixed-use zoning to the land in White Flint instead of having parcels of land specifically zoned for commercial or residential uses.

A single zone could be applied to the entire area that would allow for buildings as tall 250 feet — equivalent to the Chevy Chase Bank building on Wisconsin Avenue in Bethesda — or as short as 40 feet.

‘‘I think that these are all doable things and there is plenty of experience in cities around the world that allow this stuff that we ask for [to happen],” Hanson said.

The sector plan should also include ways that money from developers or public funds are used to pay for an expanded network of streets in White Flint that includes up to 20 new roads and alleys.

Developers can add height to their buildings, for example, by setting aside public open space on their projects.

Margaret Rifkin, a planner with the community planning division of the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, said open space is important to the future White Flint.

Planners added seven public green spaces of at least one acre in addition to the parks at White Flint Park and Wall Park, at the aquatic center.

Commissioners Robinson and Allison Bryant liked the amount of green space, but questioned its location, especially a large open space between the Montgomery County Conference Center on Marinelli Road and the Mid Pike Plaza at Old Georgetown Road.

‘‘In looking at this, I’m not a developer, but I like to play one on television,” Bryant said. ‘‘I always thought that that’s where you would have more density. ... I guess I was looking more for a pocket park than a strip of green space.”

‘‘Residents have said that ... parks and especially open, civic spaces are very important,” Rifkin said.

The look of the parks, as well as the aesthetics of the buildings and how they blend together won’t be entirely outlined in the sector plan, Rifkin said.

‘‘We need to have a separate set of guidelines to accompany this plan ... to go beyond what we normally do inside a sector plan,” she said. The design guidelines would establish rules for building heights and aesthetics, streetscapes and how the open spaces blend in with the urban setting.

Rifkin said the overall goal of the sector plan would be to balance the housing needs with the retail and office space.

White Flint is currently the county’s largest retail area with 2.2 million square feet, Rifkin previously told The Gazette, but has only 2,100 dwelling units. The area could grow to 12,600 residential units and 11.5 million square feet of retail and office space according to the sector plan.

By comparison, Bethesda has 7,400 residences, 7.9 million square feet of office and 1.5 million square feet of retail, according to county figures. And Silver Spring has 5,500 residences, 6.1 million square feet of office and 1.5 million square feet of retail.