Questions remain about plan for apartments, health club at Washingtonian North -- Gazette.Net


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Questions linger about the plan that will bring office space, a health club and hundreds of apartments to Washingtonian North in Gaithersburg.

At a public hearing Monday, the Gaithersburg City Council and one resident aired comments and concerns about the plan.

In October, the mayor and council unanimously passed an amendment to the annexation agreement for the property to allow the construction of a health club and for Camden Property Trust of McLean, Va., to build up to 400 apartments on a 27-acre parcel in Washingtonian North.

The parcel, off of Sam Eig Highway near Fields Road, once was the proposed site of Manuguistics Group’s headquarters, with about 850,000 square feet of office space planned there, but has been vacant since the deal went bad in 2000. The land has been owned by Boston Properties since 1998.

Under the plan, a 320,000-square-foot office pad will remain available for a future user. However, about 6 acres will be sold to Camden Properties for apartments renting in the range of $1,600 per month, according to Jay Johnson, director of new development for Camden.

In addition, Lifetime Fitness has proposed building a 127,000-square-foot fitness complex on 8 acres of the site, complete with indoor and outdoor pools, a salon and a café.

A 10-foot-wide, 600-foot-long bike path would be created and connected to an existing path in Malcolm King Park. The path also would link riders and walkers to Washingtonian Center, on the other side of Sam Eig Highway.

After a presentation by representatives of each of the participating companies, council members shared their thoughts. Most of the discussion centered around parking structures.

Councilman Michael Sesma explained his desire to see more visually appealing parking garages on the site because they will often be seen by those who live on the property and those who are passing by.

“I’d like to see some elevations of the parking structures that actually enhance or complement the design features that we see in these buildings,” he said.

Councilman Jud Ashman agreed.

“As I look at the project, no matter what direction people are coming from, potentially the first thing you’re going to see geographically on the layout is a garage, so I want to make sure that you guys understand how important it is to us and to the city and to your project that it’s an inviting and attractive structure and different from typical garages,” he said.

Joe Allen of Gaithersburg said he likes the idea that the property has mixed uses, but with only one entrance to the site, he doesn’t think the property looks and feels connected.

“I think a lot of the plan, though, still focuses kind of on an autocentric view,” he said. “It doesn’t seem very connected. It seems like three distinct parcels. The entrances all face separate ways that try to encourage people to drive there.”

The mayor and council voted to keep the public comment period open through 5 p.m. March 20. A policy discussion is scheduled for April 7.

jedavis@gazette.net