In response to development just outside the edges of the city, the Rockville Planning Commission wants to rethink its potential future growth, especially in the area just north of Shady Grove Road.
Commissioners voted Aug. 29 to revisit Rockville’s municipal growth element, which details potential areas that the city could annex in the future if property owners wanted to join the city.
The move comes after Gaithersburg’s mayor and council voted Aug. 6 to annex a property housing a now-closed Sears Great Indoors store south of Shady Grove Road in an area that both cities said they would consider annexing. Sears approached Gaithersburg and asked for the property be annexed by that city, however, according to both Gaithersburg and Rockville planning officials.
Commissioner Jerry Callistein said now that Gaithersburg has broken the “gentlemen’s agreement” to recognize Shady Grove Road as the boundary between the two cities, it makes sense to consider whether Rockville might want to annex any properties north of the road in the future.
David Hill, chairman of the commission, suggested that some properties now between the two cities might make sense as part of Rockville.
“It seems to me the action by Gaithersburg has clearly punctured the agreement that we had ... for a long time, which I think has been controlling on us for what we thought we might expand to in that northward (area),” Hill said.
Trudy Schwarz, Gaithersburg’s community planning director, told The Gazette the two cities did not have such an agreement.
“There’s been a whole discussion on that, and we really haven’t found any documentation that supports that,” she said.
Sears approached Gaithersburg and asked to be included in the city limits, Schwarz said.
“That’s how annexations generally work throughout the state of Maryland,” she said. “... One of the reasons that Sears didn’t go to Rockville is that there wasn’t really anything adjacent to it that was in the city limits.”
Neither city’s border currently touches the property, so Rockville Commissioner John Tyner II told The Gazette either municipality would have had to annex a strip of land leading out to the property in order to annex it.
“Either city would have had to go through some little gyration to make sure that it got there,” he said. “... The point of the matter is the property owner approached Gaithersburg, not Rockville.”
The Sears annexation will officially take effect Sept. 20, Schwarz said.
As part of its municipal growth element, each city must define its maximum expansion limits, or the area it would consider adding to its city limits. Rockville’s current maximum expansion limits stop at Shady Grove Road.
Commissioner Kate Ostell cautioned the others against basing long-range planning policies on political disputes.
"What do we actually get out of that besides one-upping Gaithersburg in some reactive boundary scuffle?" she asked the other commissioners.
Commissioner Don Hadley said any annexation would have to benefit Rockville’s citizens and make sense as part of the city.
Hill said Gaithersburg’s expansion south of Shady Grove Road could also get in the way of Rockville expanding its municipal limits to the Shady Grove Metro Station.
“(The Sears property) butts up against the transfer station, which in turn butts up against the Metro station and will cause a problem for us to continue to expand out to the north-northeast across the Metro tracks,” he said.
Some commissioners also speculated that Gaithersburg might eventually try to add the station to its city limits. Schwarz said, however, that the Shady Grove station is not in Gaithersburg’s current maximum expansion limits, which show what areas the city would consider annexing.