On September 1, 2015 the Montgomery County Planning Department held a “Rock Spring Master Plan Open House” at Walter Johnson High School to launch the Rock Spring Master Plan. Community residents and business owners gathered to discuss the goals of the Master Plan and learn about existing conditions and challenges for reimagining an older suburban office park as a vibrant, mixed-use community. Ideas for discussion include a new street network, public use spaces and amenities, residential and non-residential uses, sustainable environmental measures, and infrastructure needs within this area of North Bethesda.
The meeting began with a presentation by county planners to explain the planning process and opportunities for public participation. Following the presentation, broke into smaller “breakout” discussion groups to provide community feedback and initial ideas for the Plan.
The Rock Spring Challenge
- Rock Spring is the nucleus of Montgomery Country.
- Rock Spring is centrally located within the triangle formed by the junction of the I-270 spurs and the Beltway
- Rock Spring is disproportionately important to rest of the county when it comes to high paying professional jobs, Class A office space and medical researchers and professionals.
- Rock Spring is adjacent to the county’s leading retail mall (Westfield Montgomery) and highest performing strip center (Wildwood).
- Rock Spring is near, but not easily walkable to Metro Rail (Grosvenor and White Flint).
- Rock Spring is near, but not linked to, Cabin John Park and the Bethesda Trolly Trail
Challenges confronting the Rock Spring planners include:
- Reinventing a suburban office park, with its auto-oriented street network and surface parking lots.
- Identifying opportunities for a new street grid.
- Examining places for public use spaces and amenities.
- Introducing residential and retail uses into predominately non-residential development to create a mixed use environment.
- Planning sustainable environmental measures.
- Evaluating infrastructure needs for the area.
The large audience included people with diverse interests. Residents of adjacent neighborhoods emphasized the need for improved transit, walkability and useful retail. Parents of public school children in the Walter Johnson cluster focused on the impact on class size. Others emphasized the needs of seniors, environmental protection, recreation and a desire to keep tax rates down. Naturally there were differing views, but there was a significant consensus around certain issues.
Predictably, the impact on schools was a concern of many. While most recognized the inevitability of infill development given the central location importance of Rock Spring, the need to address school crowding prompted several suggestions from attendees:
- Assess development impact fees to cover the full cost of new schools
- Reopen former schools in the immediate vicinity such as Woodward High School and Grosvenor Elementary to address the demographic bubble that the schools now face
- Redraw outdated school district lines that have students located very near other schools (Einstein) located in the Walter Johnson Cluster
County officials acknowledged the frustration, but politely noted that current school crowding is distinct from the challenge of reinvigorating the Rock Spring area. Of course, preserving Rock Spring as a locus of high paying professional jobs is critical to the school system. replacing high income professionals who send their children to private schools with parents of public school children could cripple the school system.
Transit, Traffic & Walkability
There was broad consensus favoring improving transit to Metro and increasing walkability to “interconnect” Rock Spring, Montgomery Mall , and nearby parks and trail with adjacent neighborhoods. Some suggested that the planned BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) line (North Bethesda Transit way) would be a “game changer” and should be prioritized. Others suggested pedestrian walkway, overpasses and traffic calming infrastructure to reduce current barriers to walkability and improve access.
While Rock Spring has abundant green space, some noted that the existing green space is not easily accessible to the public. The green space should be preserved, but made more accessible. Attendees also spoke in support of public parts, community gathering places, public art, a recreation center, bike trails and connection to existing parks.
For more information about the Rock Spring Master Plan, contact:
Don Zeigler, tel.301.495.4638, email Don.Zeigler@montgomeryplanning.org.
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