Developers that did not stake their claims for commercial space in Montgomery County’s future bioscience hub by last week now must wait indefinitely.
On Thursday, the county planning board approved roughly 169,000 square feet of commercial development for Johns Hopkins University’s Montgomery County campus in the Life Sciences Center — about 900 acres between Rockville and Gaithersburg on which 17.5 million square feet of research and development space is planned.
Because of staging requirements for the center, the Hopkins approval is the last of 11.1 million square feet of commercial space allowed until funding for a portion of the Corridor Cities Transitway is allocated. The transitway, estimated to cost between $460 million and $1 billion, is a roughly 14-mile mass transit system that will connect Clarksburg to Rockville.
Because funding sources are unclear, county and state officials say it’s hard to predict when space will be available again.
Depending on what Gov. Martin O’Malley decides, the CCT could have either two or four stops in the center, and it could be either a rapid bus system or light rail.
The CCT is competing with the Red Line in Baltimore and the Purple Line in Prince George’s and Montgomery counties for state funds, and both of those projects currently are prioritized higher, said Rick Kiegel, CCT project manager at the Maryland Transit Authority.
By tying the center’s development to the CCT, the county hopes to mitigate traffic from the projected 52,500 jobs in the center.
To speed development at the center, a county committee examining bus rapid transit has discussed options for that may require less state funding, said County Council member Marc Elrich, the lead proponent of a countywide bus rapid transit system.
“There are other ways of achieving these [goals] without state funding and without compromising the service,” Elrich said.
Johns Hopkins University is one of many property owners jointly funding a study that will develop recommendations for cost-effective approaches to expediting CCT construction, said Robin Ferrier, director of communications for Johns Hopkins University Montgomery County campus. The study group hopes to be able to share results in the first quarter of next year.
Johns Hopkins is approved for 2.45 million square feet of total commercial space in its two properties in the center — Montgomery County Campus and Belward Farm — but could build millions more.
Former County Council member Mike Knapp, now owner of Orion Ventures, LLC, said that, in hearing these conversations, he is worried that less-expensive options, such as a shuttle service rather than bus transit, will not provide the same traffic relief.
“If we are going to develop that corridor — which should happen — the only way to make it sustainable and to make it what we all envisioned — the only way to make that work is with a strong transit connection,” Knapp said.
County Council member Nancy Floreen said the county would ensure proper infrastructure is in place. With commercial approvals on hold for now, she sees an opportunity for the county to press harder for the CCT.
Before the project’s funding is prioritized, O’Malley needs to select the mode and route for the system, but that can’t happen until the Maryland Transit Authority sends in a recommendation.
That had been set to occur this spring, but Kiegel said it will happen in the first quarter of 2012. If money wasn’t a factor, the fastest construction on the proposed CCT could begin is by 2018, Kiegel said.