Gaithersburg is poised to take the now-vacant Sears Great Indoors property on Shady Grove Road into its borders after a county vote Tuesday.
The city is hoping to annex the nearly 28-acre property before neighboring Rockville moves forward with a plan to block Gaithersburg’s efforts by annexing the portion of Shady Grove Road that runs in front of the store.
The Montgomery County Council voted unanimously Tuesday to rezone the portion of land that contains the former home of the Sears Great Indoors store, which closed this year. The parcel is located on the south side of Shady Grove Road, near its intersection with Frederick Road.
At Gaithersburg’s request, the council rezoned the property from one that permits only research and development activity to one that allows the parcel to continue to be used by retailers.
The change means that, once annexed, the property can be immediately used as a store by another owner. Under Maryland law, had Gaithersburg annexed the property with its previous zoning, the city would have had to wait five years to rezone the land, according to a March report by Gaithersburg city planners.
On Tuesday, County Councilwoman Nancy Floreen (D-At large) of Garrett Park said the council voted to change the parcel’s zoning somewhat reluctantly because the county does not want to lose the tax revenues from the property but has no legal recourse to stop Gaithersburg’s annexation.
Because the Sears store was in operation in 2006 — the year in which the council rezoned much of the area in hopes of promoting research and development there — it was allowed to continue operating as a retail outlet, according to a July 27 report by Jeffrey L. Zyontz, a legislative attorney for the county council.
Officials in the City of Rockville have opposed Gaithersburg’s efforts to take the property, claiming that it rightfully stands on the Rockville side of Shady Grove Road.
In a letter to Gaithersburg officials, Rockville’s mayor and city council claimed that Shady Grove Road always has stood as the unofficial boundary between the cities and that Gaithersburg’s annexation would violate that boundary.
Rockville Mayor Phyllis Marcuccio could not be reached for comment.
County Councilman Marc Elrich (D-At large) of Takoma Park said Tuesday that he agrees that it would be more sensible if the property were in Rockville instead of Gaithersburg but that the county has no authority to stop Gaithersburg from taking it.
“I think of this as a sticky wicket and it raises more questions than answers,” he said.
In June, Rockville officials proposed a plan to annex a two-mile portion of Shady Grove Road — including the portion that runs in front of the Sears property — in hopes of blocking Gaithersburg’s move. The Rockville City Council is expected to act on the proposal in September.
Mayor Sidney Katz said Gaithersburg will move to annex the property during the city’s next Mayor and City Council meeting, which is set for Monday.