Friday, May 12, 2017

New development aims to "fill the gap" between Metro and Rockville Town Square

Developer Foulger-Pratt unveiled its plans for a mixed-use development at 220 E. Middle Lane at a public meeting last night at Rockville Town Square. An 85', 230000 SF mixed-use building will include 240 rental apartments, and about 8000 SF of ground floor retail. BKV Group is the architectural design firm for the project, which will sit between Federal Realty's Rockville Town Square and Foulger-Pratt's two Class-A office buildings, Rockville Metro Plaza and Rockville Metro II, on what is currently a surface parking lot.
Foulger-Pratt SVP Dick Knapp
introduces the project team
at VisArts last night
Foulger-Pratt Senior Vice-President Dick Knapp said the project is designed to "fill the gap" between the Rockville Metro station and Rockville Town Square. Ground-level retail, landscaping and amenities will be utilized to activate what is currently a dead stretch of E. Middle Lane. "To the extent E. Middle Lane is activated," Knapp argued, "it's going to make that connection between the Metro and Town Center that much better." 
The existing site of the
future apartment building,
looking northwest from
E. Middle Lane
Knapp said the theme of filling the gap expanded, after the company met with Rockville Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton, and City Councilmembers Julie Palakovich Carr and Mark Pierzchala.

"We got a lot of excellent feedback from those three," Knapp said of those elected officials. In direct response to their input, he said, new elements were added to the project that fill needs for the city. Knapp said that Foulger-Pratt has agreed to Newton's request for family-size, 3-bedroom units. As a result, 11% of the MPDUs in the building will be 3-bedroom units, a longtime housing priority for the mayor.

Those 3-bedroom MPDUs will rent for only $1400-a-month, Knapp said. 1-bedroom MPDUs will run as low as $1000, and 2-bedrooms for $1335-a-month. He predicted market-rate units in the building would be similar to The Upton across the street. Studios would likely start at $1500-a-month, 2-bedrooms at $2300, and 2-bedrooms with dens at $2500.
This existing vehicle
access to nearby buildings
will be preserved under the
future building
The building construction will be wood-frame atop a concrete base, with 6 levels of residential over parking and retail. In order to preserve access to the existing parking for both The Palladian and the Foulger-Pratt office buildings, as well as to the existing loading docks, a sizable garage entrance will be located on E. Middle Lane. On the right side of the building, an "urban grotto" will provide pedestrian access to the office buildings and parking.

Aerial view of the site,
with future building at
center in white
In the garage entrance on the left side near HSBC Bank, there will be a Capital Bikeshare station, a map of parks and trails in the city, and a bike repair station with tools and an air pump. Knapp credited Palakovich Carr and Pierzchala, both cycling advocates, for suggesting those amenities. Out front, there will be cafe seating potential, if a restaurant tenant ends up leasing space there. The building will wrap around a central courtyard, which will feature a pool. Environmental features will include a green roof, a green panel along the building's frontage, and a bio-retention facility.

Closer view
(click to enlarge)
As Phase 3 of Foulger-Pratt's development of this site, the project has existing approvals from the City of Rockville. But that approval was for a 100' office building, not residential. The applicant will have to file, and get approval for, a project plan amendment to make the change. Barbara Sears, the applicant's attorney, said the project already complies with the city's Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance. Bill Robinson, a civil engineer with VIKA working on the project, said the team believes the existing water main at E. Middle Lane and Monroe Street - which flows south toward City and Montgomery County government buildings - is adequate for the new sewer demands this project will represent. If during the process they find otherwise, they will be prepared to address that, he said.

Sears said school capacity is "adequate under the test" now applied under the city's updated APFS. Students living in the new building would attend Beall Elementary, Julius West Middle School and Richard Montgomery High School.  The target demographic for the project includes "singles and couples in the technology field," and empty nesters, Knapp said. Foulger-Pratt anticipates both groups will find the "lock-and-leave" services the company will provide as the property manager appealing. He said the company plans to hold on to the property for the long-term.

Tree-lined path pointing
NW at right is the
"urban grotto"
Both Sears and Knapp suggested traffic would be lighter under the residential use than the original office proposal. There will be 1.2 parking spaces per unit, Knapp said, as well as capacity in nearby garages. He noted that hundreds of spaces were available in the adjacent Maryland Avenue garage at Rockville Town Square, when he pulled in last night. "We're going to provide plenty of parking, I assure you."

The interior bike station
accessible from E. Middle Lane
Montgomery County's moribund private sector economy continues to drag down demand for office space. No major corporation has relocated to the County in two decades. Foulger-Pratt's Phase 3 office project seems to be the latest victim. County officials eager to get rid of office parks favored by biotech and defense firms have tried to spin the office vacancy crisis, arguing that only office space near Metro is viable.

Vehicle and bicycle access
from E. Middle Lane
Foulger-Pratt's real-life experience suggests otherwise. The company tried to attract an anchor tenant for the third office building, steps away from Metro, Knapp recounted, but there were no takers. He said demand is hurt further by the large number of vacancies south of Rockville, in places like White Flint and downtown Bethesda. "Bethesda has a lot of vacancies," Knapp said. Rather than continue to sit on the property, he said, the company decided to switch gears and develop as residential. Duball, LLC has its own residential project that will be directly across the street. Knapp announced that construction on that project should begin next summer.

Courtyard with pool
Construction was on the minds of nearby residents who attended the meeting. Noise and dust were immediate concerns for residents of The Palladian at Rockville Town Square, which is directly adjacent to the Foulger-Pratt site. One resident of that building was concerned that the E. Middle Lane access for Palladian residents to Garage B would be cut off when Maryland Avenue closes for events. A representative of the architecture firm said the design will maintain that vehicle access. He said they are working closely with Federal Realty on that issue, as well as on making the side of the building that will be seen by Town Square patrons walking between the development and the garages, appealing. Residents of the new building will have elevator access from that side. "We are looking closely at that design. It's a challenge."
Town center residents also expressed strong opinions on current retail, and potential tenants for the new building. Knapp said project planners were making locally-owned retail and restaurant tenants a priority, but some residents dissatisfied with limited options said they would welcome a chain grocery store or market. "This place is so dead," said a resident of the town center. Dawson's Market is too small and specialized, she said, and the closest full-size grocery store is "the most pathetic Giant I've ever been to." The resident said she had moved north from White Flint, and noticed the difference in retail options. "I miss Harris Teeter," she said.
View from E. Middle Lane
The resident suggested a more mainstream grocery market as the tenant for the 8000 SF of retail space in the new building, far less than typical grocery stores require. "It's one thing to make money," she said. "It's another thing to say, 'Here's some trees, here's a place to sit, and here's a market.'"  Knapp said the technical term for what she wanted was "small format grocer." He assured the woman her market suggestion "will be in the minutes" of the meeting. Another resident disagreed with having a chain, saying he preferred Foulger-Pratt's original concept of attracting local tenants.
A resident who lives across E. Middle Lane from Rockville Town Square lamented the vacancies in that development. He suggested that adding residents from the new building to the area would help. "We need more residents here...who can shop here," he said. Knapp agreed. "Town Center needs support."

That support is still nearly five years away, however. "It's going to take awhile," Knapp acknowledged of the timetable. He said groundbreaking is two years away, and that it will take about two years to construct the building. Sears predicted the project's Pre-Application Submittal would likely be filed "toward the end of the month." Next up, will be informal presentations to the Planning Commission and Mayor and Council, followed by the formal approval process and public hearings before both bodies.

With the announcement of a Japanese steakhouse as the future ground-floor tenant at Rockville Metro II next door, the entire block between MD 355 and Maryland Avenue could be fully-activated at street level by 2021 or 2022.


  1. What was the point of posting images 17 through 22? They are all the same image.

    And it would have been better to get the images shown in the presentation directly from Foulger-Pratt, rather than posting grainy, poorly centered snapshots here.

    1. Where are your pictures? You don't have any. They are not "the same image," they are of different floors. It's an 8-story building, Einstein.

  2. Replies
    1. 12:40: Sounds like somebody has sour grapes because their small and slightly-failing magazine slept through this important development meeting. And the steakhouse story, too.

    2. What?
      That stands for Too Long; Didn't Read. How that is some else's fault is preposterous.

  3. I think I am going to start just posting here. It is sad as a Bethesda resident what your bethesda blog has become. It is just a cesspool of trolls. These reports are the reason I am a fan of your work. Thank you!

    1. Why not require user log-in to decrease the # of trolls in the comments? It isn't a full proof solution but it is something.

  4. Foulger-Pratt are the idiots who botched the Silver Spring Transit Center.

    You sure can pick 'em, Dyer.

    1. Was it Foulger-Pratt, or the County who was to blame? That's what's being decided in court, and the County has a very low chance of prevailing.

    2. How was the County responsible for Foulger-Pratt making the concrete too thin or too think in many places?

    3. Foulger-Pratt was also the main developer for downtown Silver Spring and are a big-time "Pay-to-Play" firm. They gave then County Executive Doug Duncan tens of thousands of dollars in campaign cash as well as several other County Council Members (Leventhal, Floreen, etc.) I have to wonder if Foulger-Pratt promised any campaign donations for this development to City of Rockville Mayor and Council candidates, who will run in 2019. Also, did Foulger-Pratt receive any tax abatements or other taxpayer-funded "incentives" for this project? I'd be surprised if they didn't.

  5. What it would *really* take to "fill the gap" between the Metro and the Town Center is sinking/tunneling 355. Get the highway out of the way and make the space friendlier to actual people.

    1. That is actually being studied right now, but it's unclear if the county and state have the foresight to support it. These are the same folks who don't understand why traffic is congested on 495 and 270 when they've failed to construct major pieces of the master plan highway system. Kind of like trying to play pro sports with a major part of your cardiovascular system blocked.

    2. NoVa has a wider Beltway, I-66, I-395 and the George Washington Parkway inside the Beltway, and the Fairfax County Parkway... yet their traffic is even worse than ours.

  6. This is a good step towards "filling the gap" but there is still critical employment gap that exists around here. Everything cannot be just housing, restaurants and retail. At the end of the day we still need other jobs (IT, finance, research, anything) to inject money into our local economy. Currently we're heading toward a very lopsided economy. Now if downtown Rockville could attracted a major corporation or federal agency that would be impressive and would really give a boost to the failing Town Center.