Washington Grove fights nearby apartment development -- Gazette.Net







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In a part of the county where new townhouses and apartments have erased farms and forests from the map, the residents of quiet, tree-filled Washington Grove won a small victory in the fight to protect their community.

The developers of Towne Crest, an aging Gaithersburg apartment complex adjacent to Washington Grove homes on Daylily Lane, presented a plan to transform their 8-acre space into a high-density residential area with 356 apartments and single-family homes, more than three times the current number of units on the site.

Towne Crest’s plan would put buildings 25 feet away from four of Daylily Lane’s properties, according to the developer’s application to the county.

“This means there will be a three-story apartment building with rows and rows of windows looking out over their homes,” Washington Grove Mayor Georgette Cole said.

In a Thursday afternoon hearing in Silver Spring, about 60 residents of Washington Grove came out to oppose the Towne Crest plan, vastly outnumbering Towne Crest’s representatives. After hearing testimony from about a dozen Washington Grove residents, the Montgomery County Planning Board denied Towne Crest an amendment to Gaithersburg’s master plan that would have allowed the higher-density development.

In this case, Planning Board Chairman Francoise Carrier said, the local government must respect the intent of the master plan.

“This is three times the density that is recommended. I personally just can’t get past that,” Carrier said.

Ted Ventresca, a Washington Grove resident, agreed, saying the density in the master plan was low because it takes surrounding neighborhoods into consideration.

“[The planned development] is something that is so foreign to the makeup of that community,” he said.

On the other side of Towne Crest, a set of townhomes form the Wedgewood Court community in Gaithersburg. A representative for the Wedgewood homeowners association said the Towne Crest area is deteriorating, in terms of public safety and the property itself.

“[Towne Crest] is deteriorating because it’s been owned by this very applicant,” Washington Grove resident Shelley Winkler told the board.

The board’s vice chair, Marye Wells-Harley, agreed the property needs renovation, but that the new community should be smaller than the 356-unit Towne Crest proposal.

Legal representatives arguing for Towne Crest said the applicable section of the master plan, last revised in 1985, was outdated and couldn’t be applied to a modern development.

“We were disappointed by the decision,” said Charles Maier, a spokesperson for Towne Crest. “We will revisit it and see what can be done, and what economics will allow.”

The board’s decision would mean big changes for the planned development, especially since an underground parking lot would no longer be an option.

“If we have to reduce the number of units significantly, that makes the parking issue more of a challenge,” he said. Though it is too early to determine what will be in the new plan, Maier said they will follow the board’s suggestions for improvement.

After hearing the board’s decision, the town’s mayor said she is, for now, “cautiously optimistic.” Cole, the town’s council and supporters plan to attend a related Oct. 5 zoning hearing.