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ULI Washington Panel Recommends Strategies to Revitalize Rock Spring and White Flint 2 Office Parks at December 2 Workshop

by Bridget Schwiesow on December 3rd, 2015

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Urban Land Institute Technical Assistance Panel helped ongoing planning efforts for Rock Spring and White Flint 2 areas by suggesting land uses, amenities, multi-modal access

Silver Spring, MDThe Montgomery County Planning Department, part of the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, partnered with the Washington, DC District Council of the Urban Land Institute (ULI) to conduct a Technical Assistance Panel (TAP) review from Tuesday, December 1 through Wednesday, December 2, 2015. The event, titled “What’s Next for the Rock Spring Office Park and the Executive Boulevard area in White Flint,” was held at 6110 Executive Boulevard in Rockville.

“These areas are so important to Montgomery County from the standpoint of economic development and jobs,” says Planning Director Gwen Wright. “That’s why we wanted to draw on the expertise of a ULI Washington technical assistance panel to provide recommendations as we continue the planning process for Rock Spring and White Flint 2.”

The workshop included site visits, roundtable discussions and a presentation of findings from a multi-disciplinary team of real estate and land use experts who are members of ULI Washington. The panelists suggested ways of making the two office parks in North Bethesda more economically competitive and vibrant. These office districts, located less than two miles apart in the Rock Spring and Executive Boulevard areas, are now being studied by the County Planning Department as part of its ongoing planning efforts. The Rock Spring Master Plan and White Flint 2 Sector Plan will consider new land uses and zoning, along with potential enhancements to public facilities, open spaces and transportation.

View the powerpoint of the ULI Washington Technical Assistance Panel presentation from December 2.

View the video of the ULI Washington Technical Assistance Panel presentation from December 2.

Challenges of Rock Spring and Executive Boulevard Areas

The primary challenge in both locations is the high office vacancy rate. The Rock Spring office park has a vacancy rate of 21.2 percent and the Executive Boulevard office park within the White Flint 2 area has a vacancy rate of 29.2 percent, compared to Montgomery County’s overall office vacancy rate of 14.8 percent (according to CoStar statistics).

Each office park contains three completely empty buildings. A major tenant in Rock Spring, Marriott International, has announced tentative plans to relocate to a more walkable, transit-served and mixed-use setting. Experts on the panel pointed out that high office vacancy rates are not unique to Montgomery County; they are evident all over the country. In response, many communities are successfully developing strategies to deal with the changing office market.

The ULI panelists also focused on challenges related to the lack of community identity in both locations. They emphasized the absence of amenities, such as coffee shops, lunch venues, gyms, and drug stores, within the office parks; the lack of pedestrian access and connectivity to offsite amenities; and the need to diversify land uses, since currently there is only a single land use – office – in the two areas.

TAP Recommendations for Executive Boulevard Area

During the report-out on December 2, the ULI experts presented strategies for transforming the office parks. Their recommendations for the Executive Boulevard area of White Flint are:

-Accelerate implementation of the north/west Pike & Rose Metrorail station entrance.

-Implement the planned Old Georgetown Road and Executive Boulevard realignment (called the Western Workaround).

-Improve pedestrian connections to amenities, such as those at Pike & Rose, and the existing White Flint Metrorail station.

-Leverage and link to the White Flint recreation loop for walking and biking.

-Introduce Bikeshare as a multimodal connector.

-Introduce convenience retail for office workers and future residents, including coffee shops, cafes, drug stores, dry cleaners.

-Decrease perceived distances between office building entrances and the street by encouraging small retail spaces, pop-up amenities (food trucks, parklets) and outdoor seating.

-Embrace and enhance the ample green spaces, including mature trees and landscaping, already present.

-Leverage and link the Executive Boulevard office park to Pike & Rose’s identity.

-Create a consistent signage and streetscape package to reinforce new identify for office parks.

TAP Recommendations for Rock Spring Area

The experts organized their comments according to the major challenges of identity, connectivity, amenities and land use as follows:

-Draw on the theme of “live well” by building on existing medical tenants and green environment of Rock Spring.

-Create an anchor for wellness/central community uses and a mixed-use, pedestrian-oriented environment.

-Improve entry points by creating gateways through artwork, signage and archways.

-Provide a shuttle to the Metrorail station and enhance pedestrian and bike connections to Westfield Montgomery Mall – which the panel viewed as a major amenity for the area.

-Enhance transit rider knowledge through technology tools.

-Introduce Bikeshare stations.

-Break up superblocks of office buildings with mid-block crossings for pedestrians.

-Concentrate communal amenities (community center, library, civic functions) in a central location.

-Create a centrally located mixed-use village center, possibly including a library and arts facilities.

-Leverage existing green spaces by building a trail network, seating, and open spaces.

-Catalyze development of the approved, mixed-use Rock Spring Center project.

-Change zoning to eliminate constraints, allow maximum land-use flexibility and make the area market-responsive.

-Explore creative approaches to school overcrowding in the area, such as adding another school on or adjacent to the Walter Johnson High School site, reusing an office building for a school and/or building a new school within the Rock Spring office park, possibly on an existing surface parking lot.

-Use financial tools to achieve goals, such as tax abatement and tax-increment financing; special assessment taxing districts to accelerate infrastructure improvements; County acquisition of vacant and underperforming offices buildings to spur changes in use; and public-private partnerships.

-Create buy-in for real estate changes through community education.

Many of these recommendations will be considered by County planners in developing the new Rock Spring Master Plan and White Flint 2 Sector Plan. The Plans will guide and encourage the transformation of the office parks, and recommend facilities and policies needed to support new uses.

For more information about the Rock Spring Master Plan, go to www.montgomeryplanning.org/rockspring

For more information about the White Flint 2 Sector Plan, go to www.montgomeryplanning.org/wf2

About the ULI Technical Assistance Panel

The objective of ULI Washington’s Technical Assistance Panel (TAP) program is to provide expert, multidisciplinary advice on land use and real estate issues facing public agencies and nonprofit organizations in the Metropolitan Washington Region. Drawing from its extensive membership base, ULI Washington conducts one and one-half day panels offering objective and responsible advice to local decision-makers on a wide variety of land use and real estate issues, ranging from site-specific projects to public policy questions. The TAP program is intentionally flexible to provide a customized approach to specific land use and real estate issues. Learn more at http://washington.uli.org/TAPs.

The panelists for the Rock Spring and Executive Boulevard areas were:

Bob Eisenberg, Chair, Clark Enterprises

Robert Atkinson, Davis Carter Scott

Dean Bellas, Urban Analytics

Brigg Bunker, Foulger Pratt Development

Barbara Byron, Fairfax County Office of Community Revitalization

Matt Klein, Akridge

Alex Rixey, Fehr and Peers

Rebecca Snyder, Insight Property Group

Stan Wall, HR&A Advisors

About The Montgomery County Planning Department
The Montgomery County Planning Department, part of The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, aims to improve quality of life by conserving and enhancing the natural and built environment for current and future generations. The Planning Department creates great communities by developing master plans, reviewing applications for development and analyzing various types of information to help public officials plan for Montgomery County’s future. The Department comprises 140 staff members and provides recommendations, information, analysis and services to the Montgomery County Planning Board, the County Council, the County Executive, other government agencies and the general public. Visit www.montgomeryplanning.org.

About ULI Washington
ULI Washington is a district council of the Urban Land Institute (ULI), a nonprofit education and research organization supported by its members. Founded in 1936, the Institute today has more than 30,000 members worldwide representing the entire spectrum of land use planning and real estate development disciplines working in private enterprise and public service. As the preeminent, multidisciplinary real estate forum, ULI facilitates the open exchange of ideas, information and experience among local, national and international industry leaders and policy makers dedicated to creating better communities.

ULI’s mission is to provide leadership in the responsible use of land and in creating and sustaining thriving communities worldwide. ULI Washington carries out the ULI mission locally by sharing best practices, building consensus, and advancing solutions through educational programs and community outreach initiatives.

 

 

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