After Years of Study, Rockville Pike Neighborhood Plan Finally Heads to City Council

Plan for 2-mile stretch of Rockville Pike recommends “multi-way boulevard” and limiting new residential buildings to seven floors


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A plan the City of Rockville hopes can spur the revitalization of a 2-mile stretch of Rockville Pike strip shopping centers is finally in front of the city’s council and one step closer to approval.

Last week, the city’s Planning Commission submitted its version of the Pike Neighborhood Plan to the council, which has until mid-August to make changes and adopt the plan through a series of public hearings and work sessions.

The plan recommends transforming Rockville Pike south of the city’s center into a “multi-way boulevard,” akin to the Passeig de Gracia in Barcelona or Ocean Parkway in Brooklyn.

The defining feature of the road would be parallel access streets on either side of the corridor separated by a median from existing lanes for through-traffic—changes that could be made when individual properties are redeveloped but would likely require intensive cooperation with the State Highway Administration and Montgomery County.

From Rockville's Pike Neighborhood Plan: A typical section of how the Rockville Pike multi-way boulevard could look. Via City of Rockville

The plan also recommends limiting new residential buildings to seven floors and new commercial or office buildings to 10 floors, a far cry from the 300-foot maximum building heights allowed by the county’s 2010 White Flint Sector Plan, which applies to a section of Rockville Pike just south of the city border.

“The plan’s focus is the creation of a vibrant and comfortable mixed-use environment, more dense than the current mostly suburban levels, but less than fully urban,” the plan says, though it does seek to transform the area “from an architecturally non-distinctive suburban retail strip into an attractive and vibrant neighborhood for shopping, living, and working.”

The Planning Commission has been working on the plan since January 2011 after a team of consultants spent more than three years creating its recommended draft plan.

“It has come full circle,” Planning Commission Chairman Charles Littlefield told council members while submitting the plan last week. He referred to John Tyner, a member of the Planning Commission who was the group’s chairman in 2011 when it started work on the plan.

“Mr. Tyner slipped me a note when I walked in that says, ‘We’re here finally,’ ” Littlefield said.

The amount of time the plan took became an issue in the city’s mayoral campaign last November. Sima Osdoby, who lost her bid to unseat incumbent Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton, pointed to development happening south and north of the city and what she characterized as Newton’s indecisiveness on the plan.

The mayor and council reviewed a previous Planning Commission draft of the plan between July 2014 and March 2015 before suggesting changes. The Planning Commission approved its new draft March 9 and the council is set to hold its first public hearing April 11.

Another key focus of the plan is breaking up the long blocks along Rockville Pike. The plan area contains about 382 acres stretching north to south from Richard Montgomery Drive to the city’s southern limits near Bou Avenue.

One long block on the east side of Rockville Pike between Edmonston Drive and Halpine Road measures about 5,600 feet without being divided by an intersection, a distance almost as long as the National Mall in Washington, D.C., and one which discourages walking, according to the plan.

The plan recommends extending existing streets such as Fleet and Jefferson streets, Chapman Avenue and Congressional Lane to create a more complete street grid that “provides for shorter walking trips and allows easy and efficient pedestrian access.” Those changes could happen during redevelopment of individual properties on those streets “wherever possible and practical.”

From Rockville's Pike Neighborhood Plan: An existing 5,600-foot-long block along the east side of Rockville Pike compared to the lenth of the National Mall. Via City of Rockville

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