Monday, July 8, 2024

New retail development proposed for "impossible" Rockville property

Attempts to redevelop a lucrative but hard-to-access piece of land along Rockville Pike have failed for nearly twenty years. Previous proposals for a furniture store and a shopping center on the former gas station site at 900 Rockville Pike stalled, and ultimately went nowhere. Property owner Danshes, LLC is hoping the third time will be the charm. 

Location of the property

A public hearing by the Mayor and Council will be held tonight, July 8, 2024 at 7:00 PM at Rockville City Hall on a proposed amendment to the approved 2006 furniture store project plan. It proposes a 27' tall retail building in lieu of the furniture store, with 4400-square-feet of retail space, and a surface parking lot at the south end of the property. 33% of the property would be green space, and 15% of that would be "public use space." 

Proposed new retail use and parking lot

Of interest to residents, no restaurant tenants would be permitted in the new development without a change-of-use approval, so the new development would be retail-only. And the "unknown" future tenant will be a single retail business, according to a May 2023 letter from the architecture firm designing the proposed retail center.

One of the major obstacles to redeveloping the property after the closure of the gas station was its location. While it is a prime property on one of the busiest commuter routes in Maryland, it is hemmed in on three sides by Edmonston Drive to the north, by the CSX and Metrorail tracks to the east, and by the Edmonston Crossing development to the south. The Edmonston Crossing property includes a popular strip mall and office building.

Questions of ingress and egress, existing and proposed curb cuts, and liability and congestion issues of a shared curb cut with Edmonston Crossing were all controversial in the past. Forcing Edmonston Crossing to bear the full weight of all of the new traffic in and out of 900 Rockville Pike was an issue for the Edmonston Crossing property owner, and new curb cuts onto the Pike or so close to a bridge and busy intersection on Edmonston were opposed by transportation agencies.

The new proposal once again suggests using the existing curb cut for Edmonston Crossing. According to City planning staff, the owner of Edmonston Crossing continues to oppose the impacts of this vehicular access plan. But City staff are currently arguing that their review of "historical records" leads them to conclude that "drivers visiting the subject property can reach the site from the recorded public access easement, which can be accessed from multiple curb cuts [at Edmonston Crossing] south of the subject site." Those curb cuts further south of the Edmonston Crossing property include ones near Taco Bell and Best Buy. However, those vehicles would still ultimately have to travel through the Edmonston Crossing property to reach the easement.

A 2011 Rockville Planning Commission decision, ordered by the Maryland Court of Special Appeals, approved the use of Edmonston Crossing's curb cuts over the objection of that property's owner. But the development of the furniture store stalled, and that approval expired.

Jim Whalen of Edmonston Properties LLC and Investment Properties, Inc., the owner of Edmonston Crossing, continues to dispute the view of the applicant and City staff regarding the public access easement. Whalen "argues that a narrow strip of private property separates the public right of way from the public access easement at the northernmost curb cut, granting him the right to exclude visitors to the subject property [900 Rockville Pike] from using that curb cut." the staff report states. In contrast, City staff have countered that the public access easement was a part of previous development approvals dating back more than 50 years.

How did the previous gas station business at 900 Rockville Pike operate with regard to access, you might ask. It had two curb cuts, one onto the Pike, and one onto Edmonston Drive. The two curb cuts that directly access the property have ceased to be viable since that business closed. 

A curb cut on Edmonston Drive was
closed off over a decade ago

A previous curb cut onto Edmonston was ordered closed by transportation officials in the past, the staff report indicates. And the Maryland State Highway Administration has said that the existing curb cut along Rockville Pike is too dangerous, because it is accessible from a right-turn lane on the Pike, and therefore recommends the use of the proposed public access easement instead. It's unclear how that existing right to direct Pike access is not grandfathered in for 900 Rockville Pike, with the result that SHA forces a dispute with the Edmonston Crossing property owner.

This curb cut along the Rockville Pike side of
the property remains in place, but the MDSHA
doesn't want the new development to use it

Access is not the only transportation-related challenge for the 900 Rockville Pike site. The new retail use proposed is smaller than the one proposed in 2016. Part of the reason for the approximately 2000-3000 fewer SF of the new project is the taking of more of the MD 355 right-of-way for a future Bus Rapid Transit line that would pass by the property.

Staff are recommending approval of the plan amendment, but have attached a list of 21 conditions that it suggests the Mayor and Council mandate for release of the required permits for the project. These include closure of the Rockville Pike curb cut, limiting of all trash or service vehicles to "SU-30 equivalent or smaller" trucks, compliance with all provisions of the WMATA right-of-way and easement requirements at the rear of the property, and termination of any existing City of Rockville right-of-way easements (likely for the service road that was for decades envisioned to one day run alongside the Pike between Twinbrook Parkway and Dodge Street; several segments of this were constructed, but the vision was abandoned in the latest Rockville Pike Plan).

If the Mayor and Council direct City staff to prepare a resolution of approval for the amendment at the conclusion of tonight's public hearing and meeting, they would likely vote on the resolution at their August 5 meeting. Should they not give such instruction to staff, the amendment would be placed on the August 5 agenda for further discussion, postponing any such vote until September 30.

Can the applicant pull it off this time, and successfully redevelop a prime site that at least one Rockville real estate observer declared an "impossible property" after previous attempts fizzled out? Will the owner of Edmonston Crossing take legal action to defend his rights and interests, if the Mayor and Council accept staff's analysis of the access easement and approve the amendment? Stay tuned!


  1. Belbys could take over that property and build a bigger store

    1. Other side of w edmondston

    2. You don't seem to get it or understand the landuse constraints contained by this site. Try reading the entire article and pay attention to the traffic and circulation, and access issues presented in detail.

  2. Why would anyone build on such a small plot of land??