The planning process for Pike & Rose, one of the region’s largest mixed-use development projects that is replacing Mid-Pike Plaza in North Bethesda, started in 2005 when developer Federal Realty Investment Trust requested a revision of the White Flint Policy Area boundaries to include the shopping center on Rockville Pike near Montrose Road.
About five years later, the county approved the amended master plan, and the site plan for the massive 3.4 million-square-foot transit-oriented project was approved another two years later. Federal Realty broke ground on the first phase — which includes some 170,000 square feet of retail, 80,000 square feet of commercial office and 493 residential units — in July 2012.
While seven years from planning to ground breaking may seem like an abnormally long time, it’s really about right for projects of Pike & Rose’s scale, said Evan Goldman, vice president for development of Rockville-based Federal Realty. The project was placed on the state’s FastTrack program, designed to streamline and speed up the permitting and planning process.
“County and state officials have been great to work with,” Goldman said. “They have been doing everything they can to help us keep going…. After all, we are building what is essentially a new city here.”
For others, the county permitting process is still costly and frustrating. Adam Greenberg, president and founder of Restaurant Zone, a company that manages several Potomac Pizza restaurants in Montgomery County, said he thought he was following regulations to obtain a permit for a project but had to resubmit plans, costing him tens of thousands of dollars.
“I love Montgomery County. … But it’s very hard to do business here,” said Greenberg, also president of the Potomac Chamber of Commerce.
The record plat approval and permitting process in Frederick County and Northern Virginia is less expensive and time consuming than in Montgomery County, said Robert Kaufman, vice president for government affairs with the Maryland National Capital Building Industry Association.
The average number of days that the Montgomery County Department of Permitting Services took to issue a commercial permit for new construction was 163 days in fiscal 2012, according to the county’s fiscal 2014 budget. That was up from 160 days in fiscal 2011 but still below the average of 177 days in fiscal 2010 and 296 days in 2009.
Commercial additions were approved faster, an average of 61 days in fiscal 2012, down from 78 days in 2011. Residential projects were also approved faster in fiscal 2012 than 2011.
The county has been making efficiency improvements that include allowing online permit applications in some areas and is working to reduce the time taken for the cross-agency approval process, according to the budget report. The county also has a small business navigator, Judy Stephenson, who helps businesses through the permitting process, among other programs and aid, said Steven A. Silverman, director of the Montgomery County Department of Economic Development.
Still, he admitted, “We have to do a much better job in permitting.”
The apartment units at Pike & Rose will likely be the first part of the project to be completed, with a planned opening in May, Goldman said during an on-site tour.
An iPic movie theater, 32,000-square-foot Sport & Health fitness club, a park, offices and restaurants such as Del Frisco’s Grille, Roti and ShopHouse Southeast Asian Kitchen are planned to follow by next fall. The first phase also includes underground parking and a music venue offering rooftop jazz in an enclosed patio operated by Strathmore.
“Our goal is to bring in unique attractions,” Goldman said, stepping between plumbing pipes and mud-filled puddles on the upper floor of a structure where the music center will be. The land was once part of a large Toys R Us store. “That’s what we did in Bethesda when we opened the Landmark Theatre, which was that area’s first theater to feature independent films.”
Federal Realty recently received approval from the Montgomery County Planning Board for the second phase, which will include tearing down the rest of Mid-Pike Plaza to make room for six new city blocks, Rose Park with outdoor sculptures and retail kiosks, and more retail, office and residential units.
Eventually, Pike & Rose hopes to have 450,000 square feet of retail, more than 1 million square feet of office, 1,500 residential units and a 300-room luxury hotel all less than a quarter mile from the White Flint Metro station.
Some tenants of Mid-Pike Plaza, including La Madeleine and Chipotle, have signed on to move into the new development, and Goldman hopes to announce the hotel project soon. Plans for others like Toys R Us are still being negotiated. A.C. Moore moved to the Montrose Crossing Shopping Center, while Silver Diner transferred to Federal Plaza.
A little north of that project at 1775 Rockville Pike, InterContinental Hotels Group recently announced plans for a 167-room Even Hotel to open in early 2014. The hotel brand focuses on health and wellness with a gym, fitness classes and healthy food options.
In Gaithersburg, the Crown mixed-use project — another massive town center-type development in the planning stages for years that broke ground about a year ago — recently opened its first retailer, Starbucks. A Harris Teeter grocery store and LA Fitness, along with restaurants and other stores, are expected in the next few months.
Numerous families have closed on new homes, while the Cadence at Crown, an apartment community in the downtown Crown neighborhood, will open its leasing office in January. The community plans about 320,000 square feet of retail and commercial space with more than 2,000 residential units.