ULI Washington recently released a Technical Assistance Panel Report analyzing existing challenges and documenting possible scenarios for the future of Research Boulevard in the City of Rockville, MD.
The Research Boulevard study area is a 272 acre site in the City of Rockville. Located 12 miles northwest of Washington D.C., the study area is just outside the Capital Beltway and in a regional corridor defined by Interstate 270 and MD-355, also known as Rockville Pike. With about 3.7 million square feet in 46 buildings, the study area is home to some of the City’s prominent businesses and to roughly 9,000 employees. The west branch of the Metrorail Red Line roughly parallels MD-355 and serves the city with three Metro stations, terminating at the Shady Grove Metro Station. Rockville is the seat of Montgomery County, and the County Executive and County Council offices are located in downtown Rockville along with a County Circuit Court and a Maryland District Courthouse.
Technical Assistance Panels, or TAPs, provide expert, multidisciplinary advice to public agencies facing complex land use and real estate issues in the Metropolitan Washington Region. Over the course of two days, a team of nine ULI members endeavored to understand the market position of the existing office parks on Research Boulevard, and made recommendations with regards to the future land use, urban design, and economic development actions as the City of Rockville drafts their next Comprehensive Master Plan – Rockville 2040.
Panelists analyzed the context of the study area, physical attributes of the site, office and laboratory market in the Shady Grove micro market. At the larger urban context scale, they found that the study area is successfully positioned along Interstate 270; located in close proximity to the Shady Grove Life Sciences Center; and a comfortable 10-minute drive to mixed use centers like Washingtonian Rio, Crown Farm, King Farm and Falls Grove.
However, these advantages are met with several significant challenges. Throughout the study area, sidewalks are narrow and are lacking in streetscape features; there little continuity in the way buildings are placed and relate to the street curb; some parcels have exceptionally deep setbacks from building to curb as well as building to building; and few buildings are concentrated together.
Furthermore, while many properties are situated near I-270, they cannot be seen or identified from the highway because of their positioning away from the major arterial. This creates a missed opportunity for passers-by to identify the types of uses existing along Research Boulevard.
The Panel determined that the current market trend is not going to support new office construction on Research Boulevard, and that it may not be worthwhile to reposition existing office space. As tenants leave existing office buildings over time, property owners may consider upgrading their properties; but the poor return on investment will not make it viable for significant investment in these assets. In cases where structural conditions are intact and if the market is right, Panelists contended that some buildings could potentially be converted into lab spaces. However, this will not be possible for all vacant buildings, in which case property owners will start considering infill options.
After studying existing conditions and understanding the market trends, the Panel explored a list of alternative land uses for infill development along Research Boulevard. They presented three illustrative scenarios – Market Responsive, Maximize Fiscal Impact, and Aging in Place; and offered strategies to implement these scenarios. Furthermore, Panelists made global recommendations advising the City of Rockville to engage in the following:
- Define A Desired Future
- Form Business Partnerships
- Program area-wide improvements
The Panel acknowledged that the City has questioned the future of Research Boulevard at the right time, and there is still time to act. By and large, Panelists were optimistic about the future of Research Boulevard. They emphasized that the study area is not a traditional office park, and consequently, it is important to consider the study area’s subareas, rather than viewing a development approach that is parcel-by-parcel. Most importantly, the City will have to define a vision and focus for the area in order to achieve a desired future.
The TAP was chaired by Nat Bottigheimer, the DC Regional Market Lead for Fehr & Peers. Members of the Panel included: Arlova Jackson Vonhm, Arlington County; Dawn Volz, Dewberry; Eduardo Han, Keller Williams; Kaushambi Shah (local Urban Designer /Planner); Marvin Poole, StonebridgeCarras; Pat Larrabee, Facility Logix; Robert Atkinson, Davis Carter Scott; Tammy Shoham, Jones Lang LaSalle Incorporated.
A final version of the report may be found here.