White Flint Mall will be replaced by a 5 million-square-foot collection of apartments, shops and office buildings in a plan proposed by its owners.
“The mall is going to be deconstructed,” said Mike Cohen, the project's architect. “It's not going to be a mall. It's going to be a town.”
Representatives of Lerner Enterprises of Rockville, which owns the 30-year-old mall along with Tower Cos., also of Rockville, said the company plans to replace the 850,000-square-foot building and surrounding parking structures on Rockville Pike in North Bethesda along the property’s southeast border with a collection of 21 buildings that span much of the 45.3-acre property.
Reaction from those living nearby and working at the mall was mixed when Lerner representatives unveiled plans Nov. 16 in White Flint, with most agreeing the shopping center needs to be updated but also expressing concern that the large-scale project would be too disruptive.
It is the largest development project proposed since the approval of the White Flint Sector Plan, an outline for development that rezoned much of the area surrounding the White Flint Metrorail station to encourage more development there, according to planning documents.
Although the Lord & Taylor and Bloomingdale's department stores would remain in the new development, the rest of the mall would be razed. Four new office buildings, ranging from 200 to 300 feet tall, would be built, along with a 300-room hotel and 1 million square feet of shopping and restaurant space, said Lerner representative Jim Policaro. More than a dozen apartment complexes — totaling 2,500 new bedrooms — also would be built along a new grid of streets.
These buildings would surround a 2.1-acre city square and feature wide sidewalks lined with cafés and restaurants, Cohen said.
Plans also include donating a 4-acre tract to Montgomery County for use as an elementary school, Policaro said, something county planners say will be necessary to accommodate the expected population growth generated by such a project.
Bob Knoll, who lives in nearby Garrett Park Estates, said he worries construction would close sidewalks and walking paths near the mall.
“There's a lot of issues that need to be addressed before [construction plans are finished],” he said.
On Jan. 20, the Planning Board approved sketch plans for North Bethesda Market II, North Bethesda, Gateway and Mid-Pike Plaza projects, which encompass 35.95 acres and about 5.5 million square feet of development.
Cohen said Lerner expects to file a sketch plan this December, putting the start of the project about two years from its approval. The entire project will take more than 25 years to complete.