The Washington, DC region is great >> and it can be greater.


Montgomery planning science hub in White Oak

Tomorrow, Montgomery County planners will hold an open house to discuss the East County Science Center Master Plan. They propose creating a new center for technology and commerce around the FDA's new campus and a relocated Washington Adventist Hospital.

The eastern side of Montgomery County hasn't always enjoyed the fruits of its prosperity. It doesn't have Bethesda's shopping or Rockville's jobs, and it wasn't too long ago that downtown Silver Spring was largely abandoned. Until recently, many of our community leaders actively opposed new development, fearful of traffic, crime or changing demographics.

Major landmarks in the master plan area.

In concept, it's very similar to the Great Seneca Science Corridor Master Plan, a controversial proposal for dense, mixed-use development west of Gaithersburg that the county passed earlier this year. Though civic activists and smart growth advocates criticized that plan for being too large and too far from transit, they've expressed support for creating a life sciences center here.

Many of the critics of that plan, including Greater Greater Washington, said that White Oak would be a better location for the science planned for Great Seneca. White Oak is simultaneously more accessible to UMD in College Park, Hopkins in Baltimore, and Washington, DC.

But like Great Seneca, the East County Science Center can't just be about doctors and lab coats. It'll hopefully bring more shopping, more housing, and other amenities. If done right, this plan could give East County a town center like people in Germantown or Rockville already enjoy.

WesTech Village Corner, a shopping center on Tech Road.

Planners won't put markers to trace paper for a while. Right now, they're developing a "scope of work" describing what the plan will include. So far, all we know is that the plan could cover a 1,200-acre area bounded by Route 29, Cherry Hill Road, New Hampshire Avenue, and the Prince George's County line.

Today, that area contains a mash-up of residential, commercial, and light industrial uses. It's divided by the Paint Branch, which feeds into the Anacostia River. More than half of it is taken up by the Federal Research Center, home to the FDA and other government agencies. Though most of the 710-acre campus is undeveloped, local civic associations have opposed adding commercial or residential uses there.

As a result, the plan will focus on re-imagining older commercial and industrial parks in the study area. Local developer Percontee proposes redeveloping its concrete recycling plant on Cherry Hill Road and an adjacent sludge treatment facility called Site 2 into a mixed-use community called LifeSci Village. When completed, the 300-acre development could contain four million square feet of offices and retail, a conference center, and as many as four thousand new homes.

Rendering of LifeSci Village courtesy of Percontee.

Another candidate for redevelopment is the 1960's-era White Oak Shopping Center, located at New Hampshire Avenue and Route 29 and filled with a mix of chains and mom-and-pop stores. Its proximity to major roads and transit make it a good place for a mixed-use town center, but the mall's suffered from a reputation for crime.

If built out, the plan could revitalize East County, providing the kind of amenities residents have long clamored for. But it could also create new problems, like increased traffic. As a result, there are a few things planners will have to consider as they begin work.

The East County Science Center Master Plan must address transportation improvements. Though the InterCounty Connector will open in 2012, the area will need a network of new, local roads to improve circulation. It'll need to create connections to surrounding neighborhoods, parks, and the Paint Branch Trail, which is inaccessible east of Route 29. And we'll need sidewalks and bike paths to tie all of it together, enabling people to get around without driving.

The Food and Drug Administration's campus under construction in White Oak.
Photo by Evan Glass on Picasa.

The plan will have to address the need for rapid transit as well. In its long-term transportation plan (PDF), Montgomery County proposes building a "Purple Line Spur" between Langley Park and White Oak, while Councilmember Marc Elrich's bus rapid transit plan would have multiple lines serving the East County Science Center. Both of these proposals should be vetted as the planning process begins.

The biggest challenge, however, will be reaching out to the area's diverse population. For far too long, the public discourse in East County has been dominated by a small but vocal minority who doesn't represent the whole community. For this plan to truly consider the wants and needs of everyone in East County, we'll have to listen in new ways.

Come out tomorrow for the open house, to be held from 4:30 to 8:30 pm at the Eastern Montgomery Regional Services Center, located at 3300 Briggs Chaney Road.

Dan Reed is an urban planner at Nelson\Nygaard. He writes his own blog, Just Up the Pike, and serves as the Land Use Chair for the Action Committee for Transit. He lives in downtown Silver Spring. All opinions are his own. 


Add a comment »

If the county is able to turn that area into a biotech hub along with gaithersburg west it will vault moco into one of the top biotech centers in the nation. lets just hope county officials and nimbys dont stifle this development

by Mike on Jun 29, 2010 11:48 am • linkreport

A Purple line spur? How about dust off the plans to put a metro line on/under US 29?

by Steve S on Jun 29, 2010 12:46 pm • linkreport

Ah yes. The infamous crime sprees associated with federal biotech workers.

*Rolls eyes*

by andrew on Jun 29, 2010 1:23 pm • linkreport

County planners would be mistaken not create this underutilized area into Science City II. This projects is integral to regional and national economic development and I focus on 3 sectors of the future master plan:

Economic Development:
-Montgomery County DBED must create a comprehensive framework to integrate the Science Cities with existing science infrastructure. In addition to creation of the “Biotech Triangle” with NIH at the apex and linked by the new ICC, we should also look into creating a “Nanotechnology Corridor” linking a federal research assets at NIST, NIH, DOE, BARC, and GSFC. With Science City II at the geographic center of this massive corridor it could be an integral asset to the National Nanotechnology Initiative. The FRC has enough available land, land the size of the NIH Bethesda Campus, to accommodate significant federal facilities. The focus should be to attract research-oriented agencies with a focus on the pharmaceutical, medical research and nanotechnology fields.
-Tax incentives should be given to attract 1-2 major pharmaceutical companies to the area, providing needed jobs and serving as an anchor for the private-sector component of Science City II.
-Other components to contemplate include a university campus and a commercialization center for transforming federal and private sector research into marketable products.

Land Use:
-Density should be approved to remake the area into an urban center with increased density at the White Oak Shopping Center to redevelop the decaying commercial strip into an urban town center. The redevelopment of Parole Plaza in Annapolis serves as a good model and a similar center would attract upscale retail to serve the East County. Integration of The Enclave complex and redevelopment of the surrounding low-income apartment complexes would enhance this urban center.

-Extending the proposed Georgia Avenue light rail from DC through downtown Silver Spring and up the US 29 Corridor to Burtonsville is essential for corridor mobility and development. It could be run in the US 29 ROW, only diverging at Science City II where it would penetrate the proposed LifeSci Village (in a similar fashion to the CCT route at Shady Grove Life Sciences Center) and return to US 29 and/or potential split off to serve the Konterra project only 3 miles away. (the proposed Purple Line spur from Langley Park would be far less effective and offer less regional interconnectivity than a route to downtown Silver Spring)
-Completing the upgrade of US 29 to a freeway between I-70 and MD 650
-Extending the Paint Branch Trail to LifeSci Village
-Completing the US 29 Bikeway from Silver Spring to Columbia as a Class I facility. The 20 mile distance between the two urban centers is within an acceptable daily commute for a significant population and the light rail would only enhance the Bikeway as a commuter option.

by Cyrus on Jun 29, 2010 6:45 pm • linkreport

Cyrus u make some excellent points and in a perfect MoCo that is what will happen. But sadly the county is far from perfect and its leadership has been known to be pretty anti business at times. If you have the time take a look at the 2010 MoCo business report that the gazette does each year. If you look at the most common concerns from the largest chambers of commerce in moco it is always the concern of increases in taxes, fees, and regulations all this that are considered anti business and limit economic growth, and is exactly why Fairfax has outpaced MoCo in job and economic growth. So while it seems MoCo has a opportunity to create 2 large world class science cities within the county it is doubtful it will actually happen because of the counties leaderships continued implementation of anti business policies that has been a problem since the 70's and 80's.

by Mike on Jun 30, 2010 8:33 am • linkreport

Add a Comment

Name: (will be displayed on the comments page)

Email: (must be your real address, but will be kept private)

URL: (optional, will be displayed)

You can use some HTML, like <blockquote>quoting another comment</blockquote>, <i>italics</i>, and <a href="http://url_here">hyperlinks</a>. More here.

Your comment:

By submitting a comment, you agree to abide by our comment policy.
Notify me of followup comments via email. (You can also subscribe without commenting.)
Save my name and email address on this computer so I don't have to enter it next time, and so I don't have to answer the anti-spam map challenge question in the future.


Support Us