Area north of Bethesda struggles with name, identity
Many names are given to the community, but nothing is official
If a lost motorist ended up on Rockville Pike south of Randolph Road but north of Strathmore Avenue, and, pulling over, asked a local where he was, the answer would depend entirely upon the opinion of his helper.
Sometimes pegged as the up-and-coming "North Bethesda," sometimes with the kinetic potential of "White Flint," sometimes the traditional Rockville, the portion of Montgomery County is as unnamed as it is underdeveloped. But people have to call it something, and everyone has a different idea about what that should be.
Barnaby Zall, founder of the nonprofit Friends of White Flint, an organization that provides resources and information about the White Flint sector plan, supports the handle given to the area's Red Line Metro stop. As he sees it, right now White Flint is not a destination moniker because "there's no there' there," but the major development slated to occur in the area over the next 30 years demands an independent name to set it apart.
"One of the reasons people don't like White Flint is because they say there's nothing here, there's just a mall," Zall said. "But in a few years there will be and we need to be in a position to identify ourselves."
Mike Paukstitus, senior vice president of real estate at the Washington Real Estate Investment trust, said the company decided to name its future project on Nebel and Randolph roads White Flint Gateway to play off the proximity of the future residential towers to the Metro.
"We viewed ourselves as at the very pinnacle [of the sector]," Paukstitus said. "In the nomenclature now of the community people are thinking of this as the White Flint Sector Plan. White Flint is the station."
But other developers are running with the "North Bethesda" tag for projects. JBG recently put the roof on its development, North Bethesda Market, which is a residential high-rise on Rockville Pike with a Whole Foods and other services below. Mike Smith, of LCOR development, said the company decided to use North Bethesda Center as the name for its residential and retail project on Rockville Pike at Marinelli Road, partly due to feedback it received five years ago from citizens' associations.
"There's an opportunity to rebrand the neighborhood and make a distinction between Rockville, Bethesda, the nomenclature of those two communities," Smith said. He said White Flint has the danger of only being associated with the White Flint Mall and the Metro station.
Mail in the area falls within the Postal Service designation as Rockville, and some diehards on Web forums argue that calling the area "North Bethesda" is just a way to sound more affluent by riding the coattails of the neighbor to the south.
Zall said there "is something to be said for that, that they want to leverage off the wealthier name."
Resident Per Korowski said when he puts his address into Web programs, it is automatically identified as unincorporated Rockville. His apartment complex, one block from the White Flint Metro, prefers North Bethesda, however.
"I must say that North Bethesda sounds a bit classier and can probably produce about $50 more in rent per month," Korowski wrote in an e-mail, "but also that Rockville sounds so 50's to me, so Smallville, so that sometimes I might feel a tinge of embarrassment but then who am I to know about these things."
Korowski noted that the name of a place can be a major issue. He lived for a long time in Caracas, Venezuela and still has a home there, and said there is now a movement to change the name to "La Cuna de Bolívar y Reina del Guaraira Repano." Korowski warned against "the dangers of too much creativity."
"Why not South Rockville?" Korowski wondered. "Or is it that North Bethesda sounds even better than Bethesda and that all those Central Bethesdians are now complaining?"
Dan Hoffman, vice president of the Randolph Civic Association, joked that his is a "divided family;" his wife writes their address as North Bethesda, he uses Rockville.
"We've actually had a decent amount of conversation about this as an association," said Hoffman, who plans to take a straw poll at the next civic association meeting.
He said as the White Flint Sector Plan has developed, one result has been a consensus that "we identify with the emerging area."
"We're divided, but we're viewing it in a very positive light. We're not divided as in we're fighting with each other," Hoffman said. "It's been a great, engaging discussion as to who we are as a neighborhood."