For years residents have complained about parking rates in Rockville Town Square, business owners have complained about high rents under Federal Realty, and nothing has changed. It is a problem that members of the Rockville City Council said during Tuesday night’s meeting that they were aware of as a growing problem – local businesses that are disappearing from the town center.
For many, the closure of Dawson’s Market is a sign of bad times in the City. When owners of the beloved, eco-friendly Rockville market stocked with organic produce announced they would be closing their doors for good at the end of October, residents became outraged.
They blamed city officials for fostering a poor business climate where only large chains like Starbucks and Buffalo Wild Wings could survive in the town center. Now, as businesses are leaving, or have already left Rockville’s main downtown hub, City officials are scrambling to come up with a plan to fix the damage.
At Tuesday night’s Rockville Mayor and City Council meeting, City Manager Robert DiSpirito outlined an 11-point plan to improve the business climate in the town square. In his plan, DiSpirito recommended that the City make parking more accessible by expanding free parking hours, appoint a business-improvement liaison, fund a study of retail business in the town square, and reexamine the City’s regulations that could be hurting businesses.
DiSpirito said that if businesses in Rockville Town Square continue to fail, that will severely hurt the City’s budget in the long run.
“Without a strong retail component, the demand for residential and office space uses may diminish,” he said. “Which may in the long run negatively impact real estate valuations, which would eventually impact City revenues.”
For Council member Mark Pierzchala, the answer to fixing the retail woes in the town center is simple — more development.
“But this is not new to us. This has been a long time coming,” Pierzchala said.
Pierzchala blamed building moratoriums, caused by Richard Montgomery High School being over capacity and by height restrictions on buildings. He said if the city allowed more density in Rockville Town Square, it would help solve much of the City’s business woes.
“All of these things are Rockville shooting itself in the foot,” he said.
One issue of major agreement was parking.
When the City held its town hall meeting on the business climate in the Town Square, one of the biggest complaints among residents involved parking in Rockville’s town center. For many residents, parking options are limited, as most people have to pay to park in a garage in order to shop in Town Square.
In his 11-point plan, DiSpirito recommended removing validation parking in Town Square and giving shoppers two hours of free parking, reducing parking violations fees, and asking parking enforcement officials to give warning to people rather than parking tickets for first offenses.
“From the day that I was elected five years ago, that was one of things that I heard about from folks living all over this City,” said Council member Beryl Feinberg about parking.