Shopping center remains on hold

Owner says nothing is ‘definite’ with expansion project

Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2006

The Montgomery County Planning Board has approved an expansion proposal for Burtonsville Shopping Center, but a month after the ruling, nobody knows exactly what to expect.

Chris Jones, the owner of the property, said there are no definite plans yet.

‘‘There’s been no change since the last time we talked,” he said. ‘‘Nothing is set and we haven’t signed any tenants.”

The shopping center is located in Burtonsville at the northwest corner of the intersection of Route 198 and Old Route 29. It currently features a large horizontal facade and a single surface parking lot.

After a public hearing in July, the Planning Board voted in December to approve Jones’ preliminary proposal, which included the possibility of replacing the current structure with 10,000 square feet of office space and 250,000 square feet of retail buildings.

If the center is built to its maximum 250,000 square feet, the area will be more than double the current area of less than 100,000 square feet. By comparison, the shopping center at White Oak is 158,000 square feet, and the larger regional shopping center at Route 29 and Cherry Hill Road stands at 400,000 square feet.

The concept plan, which Jones characterized as strictly provisional, showed several separate buildings, rather than a ‘‘big box” shopping center configuration, which would go against the intent Fairland Master Plan, a long-term area development guide.

However, Fairland resident Stuart Rochester, chairman of the Fairland Master Plan committee, said the concept plan still falls short of what the committee had hoped for.

‘‘The plan he has unfortunately is massive and not particularly attractive,” Rochester said. ‘‘It doesn’t really live up to the intent and expectation in the Master Plan — to create an attractively scaled ‘Main Street’ type of shopping village.” According to Rochester, the business owners in the two shopping centers — Jones’ property, as well as the Burtonsville Crossing center across Old Route 29 — have met to discuss what they would like to see in the community.

Patrick Zilliacus, a member of the Fairland Master Plan committee, said the plan was not opposed to redevelopment.

‘‘Ultimately, Mr. Jones inherited a very old shopping center that was kind of run down — if he would like to build a modern shopping center, there’s no objection to that,” he said. A welcoming, town-center area with a facade — similar to the plazas at Briggs Chaney or Cloverly shopping centers — would be preferable, he said.

Under the preliminary plan, parking areas would accommodate up to 800 vehicles in surface and underground facilities. The plan also included a new access point to the east, connecting the shopping center to Old Route 29 opposite the Burtonsville Crossing center. A loop road to the west would serve the nearby Burtonsville Elementary School, and another to the north would mark the north perimeter of the developable land.

Beyond the northern perimeter is a buffer zone to the north against the Patuxent watershed area, as well as a stormwater management pond to the northwest to be established on Jones’ property.

However, the perimeter road to the north has come with a request to waive environmental setback requirements — a request that has worried local environmentalists.

Jim Hughes, vice president of the Patuxent Watershed Protective Association, said the main concerns were water runoff and impervious surfaces. He also said that the latest updates to the provisional plans included further proposed changes, which increased the uncertainty about the finished product.

‘‘We always have a concern about how firm the plans and presentations and discussions are,” he said. ‘‘What exactly are we talking about when we say ‘not a big-box store?’ ”

The Planning Board’s December approval focused primarily on the maximum allowable build options for the site — meaning that fewer could be used. The board’s approval did not concern specific aspects such as the exact internal layout of the shopping center, which is a matter for other county agencies to review. According to Piera Weiss, community planner with the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, separate permitting services will review issues such as access roads, stormwater management and sewer hookups.

No leases have been determined yet, and Sam Beiler, owner of Beiler’s Meats business — a shopping center landmark of sorts — said he wasn’t sure what the future holds.

‘‘We’ve talked to the owners, and we’re not sure what’s going to happen at this point,” he said. ‘‘It depends on the anchor store and if there’s enough room.”

Beiler has been a tenant in Burtonsville for 19 years, and he said he would be sorry to leave.

‘‘I’d really like to stay in the area — we have a lot of nice people, good customers, and this is where we make our living coming down [from Pennsylvania] three times a week,” he said. ‘‘It’s like a unique country store and we’d like to keep that atmosphere.”