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52 years later, Rockville will be whole again

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Rockville’s awful parking lot, and the development that will replace it.

For literally decades, downtown Rockville’s most central block has sat empty, used only as a parking lot. It’s been a huge hole in the city’s urban fabric, separating the area near Rockville Metro station from the more vibrant Town Square. Now, after multiple failed attempts, it is finally, finally, being developed.

And with this property, the most visible sign of Rockville’s failed 1960 urban renewal will be erased.

Back in 1960, Rockville was transitioning away from its historic role as a sleepy county seat, and into a booming post-war suburb. City leaders fully embraced the notion that walkable urban places were obsolete, and approved an urban renewal plan that bulldozed 111 buildings covering 47 acres – almost all of Rockville’s historic downtown.

Like countless such plans from that era, this one was a disaster. A few mostly car-oriented buildings were constructed, including the short-lived Rockville Mall, but much of downtown remained empty.

It wasn’t until New Urbanism started taking hold in the 1990s that Rockville once again began thinking about its downtown as a downtown, instead of a glorified strip mall and office park.

Since then Rockville has had many successes. The Regal Theater opened, a grand new courthouse was built, and of course, the impressive new Town Square redefined the center of downtown. But in all that time, one key property has failed to redevelop, despite repeated attempts.

Town Center parking lot

Ever since the 1960 mass bulldozing of downtown, the block bounded by Middle Lane, Montgomery Avenue, Maryland Avenue, and Monroe Street, has been vacant of buildings. It’s the central block in Rockville’s downtown street grid, and marks the transition between the remaining urban renewal era highrises to the south, and the new Town Square to the north.

Arguably, it’s the most important single block in Rockville, and it’s been nothing but a parking lot for decades. In 2009 I named it the 5th most offensive parking lot in the Washington region, and the #1 worst outside of the District.

In 1994 the city worked with developers to plan a huge complex of office towers, including what would have been the tallest building in the city. The proposal floated around until the dot com bust soured the upper Montgomery County office market. By the turn of the millennium, the proposal was dead.

Then in 2005 the City of Rockville approved a new mixed-use redevelopment for the property, with somewhat shorter buildings. But development never got started, and when the recession hit those plans were once again tabled.

But now it appears that 2005 proposal has been dusted off and is ready to be built. The developer has a tenant and bank financing, which had always been the major holdups.

7 years after project approval, 18 years after the first proposal, and 52 years after urban renewal ruined Rockville, downtown is finally being stitched back together.

Upon seeing the property fenced off for the start of construction last week, Thisisbossi said it best on Twitter: FINALLY.

Cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington.


December 12th, 2012 | Permalink | {num}Comments
Tags: development, history



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