Even as Gaithersburg finalized its annexation of a now-defunct Sears store on Shady Grove Road this week, Rockville officials said the fight over the land between the two cities wasn’t over.
Despite protests from nearby officials in Rockville, Gaithersburg’s mayor and City Council voted unanimously Monday to annex 27.89 acres of land on Shady Grove, part of which includes the former Sears Great Indoors store, which closed this year.
In response, Rockville officials said they now will try to annex land surrounding Sears in the hope of blocking any further annexations by Gaithersburg south of Shady Grove Road — land that Rockville officials say should be theirs, and not Gaithersburg’s, to annex.
Gaithersburg City Councilman Ryan Spiegel defended the city’s effort to take the property, saying Sears approached Gaithersburg hoping to be annexed into its borders in exchange for a zoning change that would let it continue to operate as a retailer.
“This is a matter of respecting the rights and choices of a property owner ... Rockville has absolutely no right to this property,” he said.
The Montgomery County Council rezoned the property July 30 at Gaithersburg’s request. The land is now zoned for commercial and residential use.
The county previously had zoned the property for research and development uses in 2006 as part of a larger effort to encourage such industry there, according to county records. Because Sears was operating as a retailer at the time, it was allowed to continue using the property as a store.
Sears representatives claimed in their May application for annexation that leaving the parcel zoned for research and development could hamper their ability to fill the now-vacant building.
In hopes of blocking Gaithersburg’s annexation of the Sears property, Rockville’s mayor and City Council proposed in July to take control of the portion of Shady Grove in front of the store, an effort they abandoned Monday night.
City planners say such a move would have prohibited Gaithersburg from annexing the Sears.
Despite the failure of that effort, Rockville Mayor Phyllis Marcuccio said Monday she wants they city to act aggressively to annex property around the Sears to stop Gaithersburg from taking more land along Shady Grove Road.
Marcuccio and the council wrote in a letter of opposition to Gaithersburg’s annexation that Shady Grove Road was determined in a 1992 agreement between the cities to be an unofficial barrier between the municipalities, with Gaithersburg to the north and Rockville to the south.
Maryland law allows municipalities only to annex land directly next to its borders as long as it has been previously designated as land appropriate for annexation by state planners. The land along Shady Grove Road has been designated as land to be annexed by both cities.
Marcuccio said the city hopes to annex the nearby Shady Grove Plaza as well as a post office on Shady Grove Road so that Gaithersburg cannot continue to annex land she believes belongs to Rockville.
“It seems our plan of action should be very aggressive,” she said.
Marcuccio said this could include Montgomery County’s Solid Waster Processing Facility and Transfer Station, which is adjacent to the Sears property.
Rockville’s Planning Commission will be charged with creating a plan of action for annexing more land. The commission’s next meeting is scheduled for Aug. 8, she said.
The Sears property will officially become part of Gaithersburg Sept. 25.
Surplus landAs Gaithersburg moved to annex new land, it also began an effort to get rid of some.
Gaithersburg officials approved a move Monday night to begin negotiations over the sale of nearly 18,000 square feet of city land located at the corner of North Frederick and Travis Avenue.
Nearby property owner Fitzgerald Auto Mall has shown interest in taking over the land for commercial use, said acting City Manager Tony Tomasello.
Tomasello said he will discuss the sale in coming weeks to negotiate the price of the land.