by Mike Conroy
On Thursday, April 21, representatives from Atlantic Realty Companies (ARC) met with nearly 100 residents to discuss their plans to improve their latest purchase, the Montgomery Village Center. Concept plans shown at the meeting included centralizing the retail area, a new façade, road/traffic flow improvements and adding residential units.
In December 2015, ARC purchased the Village Center property from Washington Real Estate Investment Trust (WRIT). According to ARC President David Ross, the Village Center property is very similar to other aging centers they have revitalized, including Hunter’s Woods and Tall Oak (Reston, Va.) and Newark Shopping Center (Newark, Del.). Improvements made at these centers have increased traffic flow and center use, and it is believed that the Village Center has the same potential to be a central location again in Montgomery Village. Ross stressed that ARC wants to work with residents to make the Village Center a great place once again. “We want to listen to the community and make this successful for the next 50 years,” he commented.
Ross went on to say that since 1992, ARC has specialized in retro-fitting village centers in Columbia, Md., Reston, Va. and other areas. He noted that this would be a challenging project because of the amount of cooperation needed; the store owners and center tenants, as well as the community and the county, need to work together to make this a successful project.
Former Village resident and ARC’s Land Use Attorney Jody Kline informed residents that this project will require a number of steps before any work could begin. He mentioned that the new CRT Zone that came out of the MV Master Plan would be in place by the fall of this year. Once this happens, a Sketch Plan Application would be filed with the county, noting an overall plan and vision for the center. Then ARC would need to work on individual Site Plan Applications for specific parcels in the Village Center. Kline said it would likely be mid 2017 before Zoning Entitlements were issued and residents saw any outward work at the center.
Polleo Group Principal Tom Dinneny (ARC’s Lead Architect/Master Planner) explained the proposed changes to the Village Center. He noted the center has “good bones,” but needs a facelift and some reconfiguration to make it successful again. First, the center would be given a new façade, complete with a new sign package to be determined with the Commercial Architectural Review Committee. The idea for the center is not a complete tear down, but a modern, fresh face.
ARC also plans to create two new pad sites in the front of the center, moving the current Denny’s location and the Suntrust Bank drive through. They are confident about their ability to attract a national grocery store, which, along with Big Lots, would anchor the center. Centerway Road is proposed to be cut all the way through the center, eliminating the current half circle near the Village Café. This road will wrap all the way around the back, giving access for all traffic (pedestrian and vehicular), to create a constant flow of activity. Traffic calming measures like street parking would be implemented.
To consolidate the retail to a central location accessible by all traffic, ARC plans to make all storefronts street-facing, and eliminate the pad in the rear of the center where Global Food currently is. This space will make room for an apartment complex (approximately 212 units) and a parking garage, which will service the apartments and employee parking for the center. The apartment complex will also have a 3,000 sq. ft. space that can be used for community meetings and events.
Other townhouse units will be placed on top of and behind the other existing retail strip. It is proposed that Denny’s would move to a corner location here, making it more accessible to foot traffic. There are approximately 130 units proposed for this area. Townhouses here are envisioned to have front porches or stoops in order to create activity and promote residents being outside their homes.
Dinneny said there would be no changes to bring the center closer to Montgomery Village Avenue, though they would like to enhance pedestrian access from that entrance to the center. Current entrances to the center would remain the same, with a new entrance at Centerway and Watkins Mill roads (Centerway Road would cut all the way through the center).
Ross also mentioned the use of environmentally friendly features as part of the renovations to the center. He said that ARC would work toward some level of LEED certification, though that is undetermined at this time; they would incorporate electric vehicle charging stations at a to be determined, yet convenient, location; and based on input from the meeting, would look for the best places for bicycle traffic and parking. Ross noted that all of ARC’s current projects incorporate these types of features.
Addressing the issue of density, especially with other new units proposed in Monument Realty’s plan on the former golf course, Ross said that ARC was aligning the number of residential units with the use of the center. “The site will only sustain so much retail,” he noted. His sentiments regarding the new trends toward mixed use and residential units helping to fuel center use reflect those initially expressed at the beginning of the Vision 2030 charette process.
While the pricepoint of the units would be dictated by the housing market, residential development is crucial to the viability of the center in a few key ways. First, from a sustainability aspect, having residential units in the center breeds activity and keeps center use steady. The higher pedestrian traffic flow allows for higher-end retail, something Village residents have been seeking for some time. Secondly, Ross said that while ARC will fund the renovations to the retail portion, the residential portion will actually finance the upkeep of the center in the long term. “The retailers need to sustain their rent dollars through consistent sales … revenue from the residential portion will help maintain and enhance the center.”
Ross was realistic to note that while his team is working hard to attract retailers to the center based on the concept plans, there have been no commitments at this time. ARC is hopeful for a national grocer, a high-end coffee shop and other healthy and convenient establishments that would boost the center’s clientele. Suggestions from the community at the meeting included a 5 Guys Burger and Fries, Starbucks and a bike shop.
While ARC is excited to get renovations started, Ross noted the reality of the process involved to make that happen. He said they are hopeful to be done sooner, rather than later, but the overall timeframe for the project will be dictated by ARC’s work with tenants, the community, the county and resources available. In closing the presentation, Ross said, “ARC saw an opportunity, similar to Hunter’s Woods, to be part of change and help revitalize an aging facility—we can provide the support this center needs. The bones of the center are good, but the time is now to fix the face and move forward for the community. WRIT wanted to sell; we’re not property holders, we’re motivated to make this a success.”
The presentation slides, featuring artist renditions of the current vision, can be found here.
ARC will host a Sketch Plan Application Pre-filing Community Meeting at 7 p.m. on Thursday, June 2 at North Creek Community Center, 20125 Arrowhead Road. Residents are encouraged to attend.