ROCKVILLE – Preventing new buildings from blocking sunlight to local residents’ homes and developing more access roads along MD-355 are two of the hot topics City Council members and staff plan to address with the new Rockville’s Pike Neighborhood Plan.
There will be public hearings on the Pike plan April 11 and May 16, which are separate from the April 4 and April 18 public hearings for the Fiscal Year 2017 budget.
City Planning Commission Chairman Charles Littlefield presented the plan to the mayor and council March 14 as a document to replace the 1989 Rockville Pike Neighborhood Corridor Plan. The Planning Commission began working on the new document in January 2011.
The City Council will be tasked with accepting, changing or rejecting the plan. For city planners, how to pay for the access road recommendations is a key sticking point.
“We’re going to have to find a way to fund it,” said Acting City Manager Craig Simoneau.
Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton and Council member Virginia Onley both pointed out the heights of new residential buildings is key to satisfying residents.
On March 21, they made the case large buildings blocking sunlight from residential buildings would be unacceptable as residents would not want to live entirely in the shade.
“Even if it impacts one home, that’s a problem,” said Onley.
“We have to figure out the sweet spot,” said Newton.
According to the plan, different areas of the Pike should include different building placement, height and form standards “to reflect different characteristics of the South, Middle, and North Pike and the east and west sides.
“Maximum building heights should allow for a coherent look along the length of the boulevard. Lower heights should be mandated on the east side of the Middle and North Pike where parcels are located proximate to existing Twinbrook houses on Lewis Avenue. As in the Core, the majority of any building façade in the Corridor should be located at the sidewalk.”
Another part of the plan states the tallest buildings “are allowed near the Twinbrook Metro station, while less building height is allowed near existing residential neighborhoods.”
Buildings fronting Rockville Pike should have “variable, but generally mid-rise, heights to frame the wide boulevard and provide an opportunity for a vertical and horizontal mix of uses,” according to the plan.
Taller buildings would be acceptable close to the Twinbrook Metro Station, particularly for nonresidential use “that could complement the multifamily dwelling units that are currently planned near the Metro station, and where strong potential exists for creating the type and intensity of uses that serve and promote transit.”
Noted in the plan is a request from local residents to limit building heights to “no more than 10 stories” near the Metro station.
The plan calls for the lowering the height of buildings toward the west side of the plan area and being their lowest height near existing homes. The minimum height is two stories for most of the Plan Area though the plan allows some exceptions.
Access points are limited along the east side of MD-355 because the Metro’s Red Line runs parallel to the roadway.
That created “an extended block length of almost 7,000 feet between Edmonston Drive and the next intersection to the south at Halpine Road,” states the plan.
Planning commissioners made the case for shorter blocks by setting up “a traditional grid system of streets with good connectivity throughout the neighborhood and to areas outside the neighborhood.
“This approach provides for shorter walking trips and allows easy and efficient pedestrian access. Rockville’s Pike Neighborhood Plan recommends reducing the size of existing blocks as part of the redevelopment process, wherever possible and practical, by creating a more developed street network than currently exists.”
Making the Pike more pedestrian-friendly “is a key strategy for reducing automobile trips,” according to the plan.
Smaller blocks can be set up along the South Pike and on the west side of the Middle Pike.
“The network can be improved by extending north-south streets such as Fleet Street in the north, Jefferson Street in the Middle Pike, and Chapman Avenue in the south, as well as extending east-west streets such as Congressional Lane from Rockville Pike eastward to Chapman Avenue and streets that connect the Pike to East Jefferson Street.”
As for whether the plan is viable, Simoneau said that is something “the mayor and council are going to have to decide.”