Rockville Town Square in Rockville, MD. Photo by Dan Reed via flickr.
Located just outside Washington, DC to the northwest, suburban Rockville, MD is one of the largest municipalities in Maryland with a population just over 63,000. Rockville serves as the county seat of Montgomery County—the largest county in Maryland by population, with over 1 million residents.
Rockville’s Councilmember Julie Palakovich Carr, a member of the Maryland Chapter of Smart Growth America’s Local Leaders Council, is working to use transit access to help make Rockville a place with a unique identity and a strong sense of community. “Being a suburb of Washington, DC, we are struggling with traffic congestion and other issues that come with rapid growth and redevelopment,” she says. “A lot of it is just managing those things in a way that we are maintaining a good quality of life with nice neighborhoods where people can enjoy open space and parkland, while trying to envision a future where people may be using their cars less and people will be walking more and able to ride their bikes.”
Much of the City’s efforts focus on taking advantage of extensive transportation connections to Washington, DC and the rest of Montgomery County. The City has access to three Metro stations, multiple bus routes, and a future Bus Rapid Transit corridor. Carr notes that most of her constituents are in favor of transit and smart growth. “People acknowledge that by having higher density around transit centers we can be mitigating the impact of traffic and keep what open space we have left,” she says.
One important achievement for the City of Rockville is Rockville Town Square, a walkable mixed-use development near a Metro station with retail at street level and multi-family housing on upper floors. “I think it highlights a lot of the smart growth principles communities should be striving for. It is important to have a nice gathering place for the community where people can enjoy going out to eat, or listening to music in the evenings, or grabbing a drink at the bar,” says Carr.
Part of a larger Rockville Town Center Master Plan, which was adopted in 2001, the current Town Square was completed in 2007. Rockville Town Square was built through a private-public partnership, in which the City funded parking garages while the rest of the development was privately owned and operated. The City is currently considering applications for additional redevelopment projects in the surrounding area as part of the Town Center Master Plan.
In addition to achieving the vision of the Town Center Master Plan, Councilmember Carr is working with the community to re-envision Rockville Pike, a retail corridor situated along a highway. After several years of planning, the City is gearing up to gather public input with the goal of a finished plan by 2015. “We will be creating more of a boulevard concept by incorporating the principles of mixed-use and making it more bike and pedestrian friendly by adding bicycle tracks that are protected from car travel lanes and having much wider sidewalks,” says Carr.
As a result of Rockville’s successful growth and development, home affordability has become a challenge for some residents. In order to protect affordable units, the City passed a Moderately Priced Dwelling Unit (MPDU) ordinance. The MPDU Program requires that a percentage of units, whether rental or sold, in any new development within the City be affordable to moderate-income households. Each year, the City adjusts the income limits and rental rates for the program. “This is a great tool that created 868 affordable units over a 10-year period. The program has been very successful at preserving access to affordable housing for people of moderate incomes,” says Carr.