Rockville officials last week approved an annexation plan that could block Gaithersburg from acquiring a parcel of land along the boundary between the two cities.
The move is the latest volley in a disagreement between officials of the cities about Gaithersburg’s plan to acquire a parcel containing a soon-to-close Sears store on Shady Grove Road.
The road has long served as an unofficial boundary between the cities. Rockville officials have said Gaithersburg’s annexation plan fails to respect that boundary.
Rockville Mayor Phyllis Marcuccio and the Rockville city council voted unanimously June 18 to begin annexing an approximately 2-mile portion of Shady Grove Road between a point just southwest of Pleasant Road and a point slightly northeast of Interstate 370.
The portion of the road contains that along which the Sears store sits.
The city aims to legally establish a boundary between Rockville and Gaithersburg along Shady Grove Road, said David Levy, Rockville’s chief of Long Range Planning and Redevelopment.
Rockville’s plan conflicts with Gaithersburg’s planned annexation of a 27.89-acre parcel containing the Sears Great Indoors on Shady Grove Road that is slated to close.
According to state law, cities may annex only land that is directly adjacent to land currently under the city’s jurisdiction.
Rockville’s planned acquisition of a portion of Shady Grove Road would sever Gaithersburg’s physical connection to the Sears store, preventing Gaithersburg from completing the annexation.
“The two annexations can’t both occur,” said Trudy Schwarz, Gaithersburg’s Community Planning director. “[Rockville’s plan] is interesting. That’s all I can say.”
No one has jurisdiction of the land until the annexation process is complete, so Rockville and Gaithersburg now are in effect racing each other to annex the land, said land-use lawyer Jody Kline, who represented the Sears Great Indoors when it first opened.
Rockville’s move is legal, if unusual, Kline said.
“I've never seen that happen, but I've never seen a statute that says you can't do it,” he said.
Sears, Roebuck and Co. filed a petition Jan. 12 for its The Great Indoors store on Shady Grove Road to be annexed by Gaithersburg. The property is currently in a Montgomery County area zoned for Research and Development.
If Gaithersburg annexes the property, the land can be zoned for mixed-use development, allowing for retail and residential development.
Sears representative Erin Girard declined to comment for this story.
The Sears property currently is under county jurisdiction, though it’s within both Gaithersburg’s and Rockville’s maximum expansion limits, as defined under the cities’ master growth plans.
Rockville has abided by an unwritten agreement with Gaithersburg that Shady Grove Road is the boundary between the cities, Levy said. But since Gaithersburg began considering annexation in March 2011, the Rockville city council became concerned that the boundary no longer was being respected.
“That’s the primary concern,” Levy said. “Gaithersburg has lots of stuff to expand to. This isn’t a logical expansion, from our point of view.”
Marcuccio sent a letter to Gaithersburg Mayor Sydney Katz when she first heard about the annexation plans, urging him respect the Shady Grove boundary, Levy said.
Marcuccio sent another “more strongly-worded” letter in lieu of attending a Gaithersburg public hearing May 21 about the planned annexation, Levy said.
“Our understanding is that no one has the land yet,” Levy said. “The intent of our annexation was to be consistent with Rockville’s past comments on the subject.”