ROCKVILLE – For the first time in 27 years, the City Council updated the Rockville Pike Neighborhood Plan, including more lanes for traffic, mass transit and bicycles along a 1.9-mile stretch of MD-355 Monday night.
“Even though it’s not perfect, it is a great compromise and we are moving forward with something that will transform the Pike,” said Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton. “It’s a wonderful day.”
Newton joined Council members Mark Pierzchala, Julie Palakovich Carr, Virginia Onley and Beryl Feinberg in voting for the new plan during the last council session before the August recess.
The plan includes no new restrictions on building heights, contrary to the draft plan recommended by the Planning Commission.
It also allows for a 252-foot-wide Pike area, though the council members made exceptions for “Champion” projects, developments that must meet certain criteria in order to cut into that distance to 216 feet.
That’s where developer B.F. Saul has a planned mixed-use community. Company employees petitioned against building height restrictions below 14 stories and urged the council to consider a 216-foot-wide Pike area rather than 252 feet.
The council agreed and established the Champion projects criteria benefiting B.F. Saul.
Council members also included two bike lanes running parallel north and south on both sides of the roadway and encouraged development near the Twinbrook Metro station.
Newton and Pierzchala debated about the bicycle lanes before the council decided not to change them.
The mayor favored bicyclists traveling in only one direction consistent with the flow of traffic on each side of the road, saying drivers turning right would be less likely to look out for bicyclists from both the left and right.
Pierzchala, an avid bicyclist, disagreed, saying drivers don’t look out for bicyclists often enough in the first place and it would be counterintuitive for bicyclists to cross the road before pedaling in the opposite direction.
In the middle of the road, the Pike Plan includes room for a mass transit system.
City officials from Rockville and Gaithersburg have discussed with their County counterparts bringing Bus Rapid Transit to the MD-355 corridor but there is no finalized plan for the three councils to approve or disapprove.
Palakovich Carr noted the city government has worked on the Pike Plan for most of the last decade.
“It’s been 8.5 years for the city to get to this point,” she said.
Newton noted the council, Planning Commission and consultants all worked on the Pike Plan during that time.
During the 2015 campaign, Newton’s opponent Sima Osdoby of the Team Rockville ticket repeatedly criticized her for the time it’s taken for the Pike Plan to make it out of the planning stage.
Two months after Newton won the November race along with three Team Rockville members (Pierzchala, Palakovich Carr and Onley) and Feinberg, the council put together a list of 25 legislative priorities for 2016.
Council members slated completion of the Pike Plan as the top priority in the planning and preservation subsection of the list.
Two months later, the Planning Commission submitted its draft. Council members then had 150 days to either approve the draft, alter it, send it back to the Planning Commission or kill the plan.
During that time, they opted to edit the plan page by page, offering instructions to city staffers on what changes to make.
“You have done a yeoman’s job. You have been herding cats,” said Feinberg to staffers Aug. 1.
On Monday, they approved two minor changes to wording errors caught during a final review by Pierzchala before approving it 5-0.
“Hallelujah,” said Newton after the vote.
The mayor and Council are off for the next six weeks. They are scheduled to hold their next regularly scheduled meeting Sept. 12.