More evidence of Montgomery County's abysmal office market was on display at this week's Rockville Planning Commission meeting. Developer JBG is requesting an amendment to its Pre-Development Plan for 5 Choke Cherry Road, in the Upper Rock District off Shady Grove Road.
When the plan was approved on May 23, 2005, it included 293 residential units, retail and restaurant space, a community park, and 73,700 square feet of office space, with a surface parking lot.
Devon Lauer, Senior Development Analyst for JBG, said the company wants to replace the 73,700 SF office space component with 35,000 SF of retail and restaurant space. This would be arranged in four, single-story structures, with surface parking serving all four. Potential tenants under discussion include CVS and MOM's Organic Market.
The applicant's attorney, Bob Harris of Lerch, Early & Brewer, said the change is needed due to the poor office market. Residential would not work either, Harris said, due to “the evolution of the residential marketplace in this area,” noting that such units would have to compete with Crown Farm, the Reed Brothers project, and others on the east side of MD 355, around the Shady Grove Metro. That "softness in the office market” is being felt by existing office building owners near the Upper Rock District. JBG believes that adding retail and restaurant amenities will help it attract new tenants to its existing office space in Upper Rock, as well as to nearby office buildings. Harris recalled another office owner saying he’s struggling to keep his tenants, and could use the retail nearby to help retain them.
JBG will return at future sessions with more detailed information for the commissioners regarding the request. Once again, the weak office market is casting doubt on whether smart growth can be applied in Montgomery County, if there are not adequate, high-wage jobs nearby these new developments.