I spoke with Amy Lindsey, the Planner Coordinator at Mont. Planning for the White Oak Town Center (WOTC) project; the final plans were certified on 19 January 2022. Although the original plans called for 289 apartments, they had to remove the residential portion “due to problems with [the] State Highway” Administration. “It was an economic decision,” she said. “It was easier to go with a commercial venture plan.”
She told me that the site where the Gannett Newspaper building is has been rezoned for residential use and that the owner of the WOTC property (Finmarc Management, Inc., which also owns the buildings immediately behind and beside WOTC) “is planning on doing residential in future development.” Despite the thriving businesses in those “industrial” buildings, I suspect their leases will be terminated within a few years.
Lindsey said the Planning department “recognized that the area is changing” and wanted to “bring in a mix of uses.” She added, “We know that this area is under-served” as far as access to groceries is concerned.
Finmarc — owned by two men who grew up in our area (they used to own both Woodmoor and Burnt Mills Shopping Centers but have sold both) — “really pushed us as their retail client was anxious to get going,” she said. “They’re trying to get it done as fast as possible.”
Finmarc originally tried to get a Trader Joe’s in the 41,000-square-foot grocery space (the largest area out of a planned 105,000 square feet), but the company declined.
Lindsey could not discuss who the major tenant would be. “[Finmarc] signed agreements they would not release this information,” she said.
My guess (which no one would confirm) is that the grocery store chain in negotiations with Finmarc is Amazon Fresh. Expanding rapidly, the first Amazon Fresh opened in August 2020 in California; now there are 23, including one in Chevy Chase and one in D.C. near Logan Circle. Six of those locations use “Just Walk Out” technology, which uses (quoting from their website) “overhead computer-vision cameras, weight sensors, and deep-learning technology to detect merchandise that shoppers take from or return to shelves and track items selected in a virtual cart. At the store’s automated entry gates, customers are prompted to select Just Walk Out shopping (cashierless) or use the traditional checkout lanes. Those choosing Just Walk Out enter the store by scanning the QR code in the Amazon mobile app, scanning their palm on the Amazon One palm signature device, or inserting a credit/debit card linked to their Amazon account. When shoppers exit the store, using the same method for entry, the Just Walk Out technology automatically debits their Amazon account for the items they take and then sends a receipt to the app.”
There will be 405 parking spaces, including eight for motorcycles and several for car-sharing and electric vehicles. There also will be four long-term and 12 short-term bicycle parking spaces; the applicant must also provide “one bicycle repair station.”
Although the 2018 Bicycle Master Plan calls for separated bike lanes (one-way) on both sides of the street, Finmarc got MCDOT to agree that “a sidepath is a more appropriate and flexible facility for the site’s anticipated users, and as such, the proposed separated bicycle lanes were replaced with a sidepath.”
The large and specimen trees on-site were conveniently removed prior to plan submittal, allowing the developer to pay a fee instead of meeting forest conservation requirements of 1.29 acres of trees.
The sign/clock tower is subject to the approval of a sign variance by the Sign Review Board, so that could still change. But I doubt it.
[Note: This article was truncated in the printed newsletter.] ■
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