Wednesday, March 12, 2008

City gets ‘creative’ in raising money for senior center

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The largest development ever in Gaithersburg continues to bring the city a windfall of money as the project’s annexation agreement is renegotiated.

Gaithersburg’s mayor and City Council on March 3 approved a revised agreement with the developers of Aventiene, a planned mixed-use community on the 181-acre Crown Farm site near Interstates 270 and 370.

Under the new terms, the developers will donate $1 million for a new and expanded senior center, bringing their total contributions to the city to more than $10 million. Gaithersburg’s annual budget is $52 million.

‘‘An annexation agreement is a negotiation, and we like to try to be sure that the public gets some benefits out of the change when it is renegotiated,” said Assistant City Manager Fred Felton. ‘‘We want to be fair to the developers, but we also want to be fair to ourselves and the public.”

City leaders agreed that Crown Village LLC, which now plans to build Aventiene’s commercial center before it builds single-family homes as originally planned, can increase the number of apartments in the commercial center’s five-story buildings. They also agreed that 400 apartments or condominiums in another section’s up to 20-story buildings could eventually be converted to 400,000 square feet of office space with County Council consent. Apartments would be traded at a cost of $2,500 per 1,000 square feet, and the money would go to a city affordable-housing fund.

In the process, city leaders swung a deal: Aventiene’s developers will donate the $1 million when they receive their 51st building permit or on June 1, 2010, whichever comes first.

A new senior center is a top budget priority for the city.

It will be built on land donated by Monument Realty, the developer of the future Casey East project off Watkins Mill Road and Route 355, which plans to build a hotel near the future Watkins Mill interchange on I-270.

Monument Realty is in negotiations with the city that could result in another $400,000 being contributed for the senior center, Felton said.

When a developer changes an agreement to make a profit, the negotiated changes will impact traffic, school zones, density and business, said City Councilman Michael A. Sesma. Gaithersburg and its residents should benefit from the change, he said.

‘‘I can’t stress enough that simply providing funds to the city does not result in a zoning approval,” said Felton, who called requiring the developer contributions ‘‘creative” capital funding.

Aventiene’s developers have also given $2 million to a farmland preservation fund and $5 million for a recreational center, money banked for an indoor pool in the nearby Lakelands.

The project’s August 2006 annexation agreement also said developers will donate a 32-acre school site, set aside land for a Corridor Cities Transitway stop, build a nearby parking lot and pay $2 million for a shuttle service that brings residents to Shady Grove Metro station until the CCT is built.

Crown Farm LLC, a team of local business leaders and developers, has also committed to making 14 significant road improvements, giving $200,000 in public art and $130,000 for offsite stream improvements and donating 5 acres of historic property for public parkland.