A plot of land across the street from Walter Johnson High School on Rock Spring Drive will become the site of Rock Spring Center—an 850,000 square-foot array of new office space, apartments, a movie theater, retail and a 157-room hotel—following the Montgomery County Planning Board’s vote of approval for the project at a Feb. 18 meeting. Board members ratified developer DRI Development Services, Inc.’s plans to construct the center on the 52 acres of land at the intersection of Rock Spring Drive and Rockledge Drive.
The outcome of the board meeting, which took place at the Maryland National Capital Park & Planning Commission (MNCPPC) office in Silver Spring, brings years of negotiations over the center to a tentative end. A previous developer had received previous approvals for the project, but due to protracted legal battles and an economic downturn, only one apartment complex—Avalon Bay—was ever completed. DRI subsequently acquired the property and reintroduced the development plan with modifications.
“This has been a long, long haul to get to where we are today, not only because of the complexity of the issue, but because of the economy; it was a double-whammy,” said Steve Robins, an attorney representing DRI.
DRI’s now-approved plan calls for 10,000 fewer square feet of retail space and 10,000 more square feet of office space. Neil Braunstein, an M-NCPPC planner coordinator, told the board that this “10,000-square-foot swap” will create less traffic congestion.
Sandra Pereira, an M-NCPPC senior planner, went over all of the modifications in a slideshow presentation that showed maps of the future Rock Spring Centre, the dimensions of all its major buildings, and their accessibility via side streets.
Pereira also pointed out the “green screens”—sheets of vine and plant cover—that will span large sections of many buildings’ outer walls. Other wall sections will be crafted sheets of mesh or glass.
“Having a combination and variety of visual elements would enrich the overall façade,” she said.
Rock Spring Center's planned parking garages will extend seven to eight stories high, which means that they will loom above many of the stores. Pereira noted that the planners counted on architectural treatments like green screens to make sure the garages would not detract from the whole center’s appearance.
“They are highly visible, and we have quite a few of them. We worked hard with the staff to come up with visual treatments to negate visual impact,” she said.
The planning board members remained concerned that the tops of the garages would still be a turnoff. They asked Pereira about adding rooftop gardens or fusing colorful patterns into the top-level asphalt to liven up the appearance, but finally agreed to leave this problem up to the developers to solve.
“The top of a parking garage tends to be pretty stark. I guess we’re open to ideas about how to soften the appearance. There must be a way to do this,” said Francoise Carrier, board chair.
The site had at one point been approved for a 30,000 square-foot community center, but developers will instead dedicate recreation space.