Jessica Rodriguez’s Cuba de Ayer restaurant in Burtonsville is tucked behind a beer and wine store on Md. 198, a busy four-lane state highway without a continuous sidewalk.
It goes mostly unnoticed except to those who have been tipped off by other patrons, a problem Rodriguez shares with her neighbors, a diverse group of locally-owned restaurants.
The businesses of Burtonsville Village Center lack visibility because the town offers no reason for people to stop, Rodriguez said.
“It’s sort of a hidden gem I’m not sure many people know about,” Rodriguez said. “Even people in Burtonsville don’t know about it.”
In April, County Planning Department staff will present a Burtonsville Crossroads Neighborhood Plan draft, which planners and community leaders hope can revitalize a commercial corridor that is made up of disjointed strip malls such as the Village Center and through-traffic traveling to nearby Howard County, U.S. 29 and Interstate 95.
“Burtonsville has so much potential,” said Miti Figueredo, director of the Eastern Montgomery Regional Services Center. “People right now pass by it without even knowing what’s there.”
Residents have long advocated for a town square, something Yoav Katz, developer of the Burtonsville Village Center, said would foster a sense of community.
Many of his properties underwent a county façade improvement program last summer, and he’s financing the April 14 “Taste of Burtonsville Village Center,” an open house with children’s activities, entertainment and food samples.
The Village Center includes Rodriguez’s restaurant, which she co-owns with her husband, Afghani, Chinese, Ethiopian and Mexican restaurants and a Subway, among others.
“We see [Md.] 198 as a friendly main street rather than a state highway and the Burtonsville Village Center as key to revitalizing Burtonsville,” said Katz, who has owned property in Burtonsville for 30 years. “Right now is the time. The sleepy crossroad is now in the process of waking up.”
Figueredo said it’s crucial the Burtonsville Crossroads Neighborhood Plan include commercial-residential zones that would allow for mixed-use development, especially in the Burtonsville Crossing shopping center. It has sat mostly empty since anchor tenant Giant Food moved across Old Columbia Pike to the Burtonsville Town Square shopping center in 2010.
Figueredo also said Burtonsville has yet to recover from the improvement of U.S. 29, which made the road a highway that bypasses the town.
“It really kind of killed Burtonsville,” she said.
Katz agreed. Still, he thinks aggressive marketing, like the April 14 event, can bring some much-needed recognition. Katz’s company is hoping to draw 500 people to the open house, which, for lack of a better central gathering place, will happen in the parking lots surrounding his 16 storefronts.
“I’ve seen Burtonsville decay and I’d really like to see it come back,” said former East County Citizens Advisory Board Member Betsy Matthews. “The people there really do have to raise their visibility, to let people know that they’re there and how hard it is to have their own business.”
Rodriguez is unsure a single event can bring the type of sustained traffic that would boost her business.
“But you never know until you try,” she said. “It’s a great community. If the residents are well enough informed, they will really support you.”