Fears of Montgomery fair fleeing Gaithersburg unfounded -- Gazette.Net


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Imagine retail stores where the carousel spins, cafés instead of piglet races and a 12-story apartment building where Old MacDonald’s Barn now stands.

It could happen, thanks to last spring’s rezoning of the Montgomery County Agricultural Fairgrounds. But the executive director of the fair, Martin Svrcek, says there are no plans to scrap the fair in favor of a neighborhood with more than 1 million square feet of commercial and office space and 1,350 homes, as outlined in the rezoning documents.

“The only new plans are the construction of the new Old MacDonald’s Barn,” Svrcek said. The Montgomery County Agricultural Center owns the 63 acres. “The fairground is not for sale.”

In June 2012, Gaithersburg leaders approved an application from the Montgomery County Agricultural Center to rezone the fairground. The zoning had been light industrial and changed to a mixed-use development zone, which means that residential, commercial, office and public use spaces can be built, according to city documents.

The fairground is in a sought-after area — bounded by Interstate 270, and Md. 117 and Md. 355, major county thoroughfares. The city’s MARC station is only a few blocks away.

A new development could include new on-ramps to the surrounding highways, according to city documents.

The motive behind rezoning was simply to increase the value of the land, Svrcek said, and does not reflect any plans to move.

The land is estimated at $14.41 million, according to Maryland State Department of Assessments and Taxation records. But that number might not yet reflect the increased value due to the change in zoning, said Trudy Schwarz, Gaithersburg’s community planning director.

“They may not have updated the zoning,” Schwarz said of the state’s assessment, which is updated every three years. “They may base it more on the current use than potential use.”

Schwarz said there has been no movement since last spring to follow up on the rezoning.

“We certainly haven’t received any applications,” she said. Based on the testimony during the hearings, she said, “plans are way in the future.”

What was passed is called a “bubble plan,” Schwarz said. It allows for a wide range of development but no specific layout.

Montgomery County Agricultural Center Inc. is a tax-exempt, privately operated 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, whose stated mission is to “promote the continuance of agricultural activities by providing facilities for agriculture related organizations,” according to its tax return.

According to its 2011 tax return, the most recent available, the fair had $2.9 million in revenue, up from $2.7 million the year before, and “there were no tax liabilities for unrelated business income for the year ended December 31, 2011.”

The Montgomery County Agricultural Fairgrounds was purchased in 1949 for $12,500 and for 64 years has provided entertainment and food for hundreds of thousands of fairgoers.

This year, more than 200,000 people were expected to show up to ride the Vortex, race hermit crabs and eat funnel cake. They won’t have to worry that this will be the last year, Svrcek said.

“Cotton candy is not leaving Gaithersburg anytime soon,” Svrcek said.

ablum@gazette.net