Rockville officials are shaping a plan for the Rockville Pike area’s future, but it could take years or even decades before that plan translates into concrete-and-steel reality.
“It doesn’t cause anything to change immediately. This is a plan — it’s our vision for the future,” said Jerry Callistein, chairman of the Rockville Planning Commission.
The commission on Feb. 13 discussed the final draft of Rockville’s Pike Plan and a set of associated zoning requirements for the area along Rockville Pike from just south of Town Center to the city’s southern border. The draft plan calls for a boulevard design on Md. 355 with more side streets, low-speed access roads and pedestrian crossings. It also seeks to bring new buildings closer to sidewalks and to break up the area into smaller, more walkable blocks.
The change from the low retail buildings and parking lots currently along most of the Pike would be dramatic, but Callistein said it will take years or decades for that vision to become reality. The new rules will go into effect as property owners tear down old buildings and redevelop them under the Pike Plan guidelines.
“People have invested a lot of time and money in their property, and some of them are in perfectly fine shape,” Callistein said.
Rockville’s Pike Plan has been in the works since 2006, when the city started looking for a consultant to help update the 1989 Rockville Pike Corridor Neighborhood Plan. Callistein said that plan is just now beginning to become a reality.
“Things are starting to look like they were planned for 30 years ago,” he said. “It takes that long for something to happen. ... This is a plan for a controlled evolution.”
The new Pike Plan was prompted by concerns about traffic, accommodations for pedestrians and bicyclists, and development interest near the Twinbrook Metro station, which opened in 1984, according to the draft plan. Population projections also show that almost 9,000 new residents are expected in the plan area by 2040, the draft said.
Christina Ginsberg, president of the Twinbrook Citizens Association, said she is concerned that a large number of apartments will be built on the south end of the Pike without enough schools, parks and transportation infrastructure. She doesn’t see enough in the Pike Plan to make sure high-rise apartment buildings are balanced out with green space and community centers.
“They just barreled ahead with density, density, density,” Ginsberg said. If all the property along the Pike is developed at the same density as some developments already being built in the area, “we’re going to be swamped,” she said.
She also said the mixed-use designation is a blank check for developers, and she anticipates them building large office or apartment buildings over coffee shops or other small retailers without much variety of goods for sale.
“It will basically dismantle this commercial strip, which means that people in this area will have to drive farther distances for resources,” she said. “We’re going to be shopping in Gaithersburg when the Pike is all Starbucks.”
Callistein said the economy and consumer preferences will drive changes in what retailers are in the area more than Rockville’s Pike Plan.
“The Pike Plan is really just a set of design goals for how we want things to look, not how we want things to be used,” he said. “... There’s more of a focus on form rather than specific uses.”
While the proposed zoning regulations include some restrictions on what building uses are permitted in certain areas, the goal of the plan is to create a well-designed area that can last as businesses come and go, Callistein said.
He also said the city has a limited amount of control over some things in the plan area, such as the actual Md. 355 roadway and the number of schools in the area.
“If these areas are growing, then you would hope that Montgomery County schools would give more priority to putting more schools in this area,” he said.
At its Feb. 13 meeting, the Rockville Planning Commission reviewed the draft plan and asked staff to make some minor editorial revisions and release it for public comment.
Commissioners also discussed making some cosmetic changes to the draft plan and changing its name. Callistein suggested that the name on the draft, “Rockville’s Pike: Envision a Great Place,” was too long and unwieldy.
“I don’t want to spend the next 30 years referring to, ‘According to Rockville’s Pike: Envision a Great Place,’” he said. “Can we change it to something banal, like the Rockville Pike Plan or the 2013 Pike Plan or Ralph the Wonder Llama or something? You know, something that’s a little easier to say or to write?”
The commissioners agreed to call the document Rockville’s Pike Plan in the future.
A tentative schedule calls for holding a public hearing on the draft plan in March and sending the plan to the mayor and council for consideration in May.
Read more about Rockville’s Pike Plan at rockvillemd.gov/rockvillespike.