Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Residents: ezStorage not compatible to downtown Sandy Spring

Owners of business call it a ‘quiet, clean use’ for the site

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The proposal to open an ezStorage facility in the heart of downtown Sandy Spring ruffled some feathers during a community meeting last week as residents expressed concern over the facility’s size and conformity with the rural village character.

The 116,000-square-foot storage facility is proposed at 500 Olney-Sandy Spring Road (Route 108), which currently houses the shell of a former equipment rental shop that closed within the last year.

Craig Pittinger, vice president of Siena Corp., which owns ezStorage, said the facility as a retail shop is permitted in that area zoned for commercial use.

Many community members do not feel the storage facility is a good fit for the area.

‘‘While that land is zoned commercial, the [Sandy Spring⁄Ashton] Master Plan said it should be commercial consistent with a village center,” Thene Mernick, Sandy Spring resident, said. ‘‘An ezStorage is not village center friendly.”

The master plan restricts new development to specific guidelines that maintain a small-scale village center, such as street entrances, height limits compatible with the Sandy Spring Historic District, design that encourages pedestrian traffic and stores that serve the local residents.

Michelle Layton, co-chairwoman of the Sandy Spring Ashton Rural Preservation Consortium, said the majority of residents present at the meeting had the same concerns, such as ‘‘lack of adherence to the master plan and lack of understanding of what the Sandy Spring⁄Ashton community is.”

‘‘This is an opportunity to bring community groups together to work to get something there that belongs there and that is in compliance with the master plan,” Layton said.

Residents of Auburn Village, a 29-home residential community whose homes abut the proposed ezStorage property, said the storage facility would disrupt the historic nature of the area.

Herman Hewitt, president of the Auburn Village Homeowners’ Association, said residents are concerned about the amount of traffic an ezStorage would attract.

‘‘The whole Auburn Village community feels that it is not a good fit for Sandy Spring,” Hewitt said.

Mernick said that of all of the ezStorage locations in Montgomery County, none of them compare to the Sandy Spring community.

‘‘It’s really a residential area with a little patch of commercial area near high-end homes,” Mernick said. ‘‘Various homeowners are concerned with what it will do to their property values.”

The master plan shows that the property is one of the few commercial areas located in the stretch along Route 108 between the village center cores at the Brooke and Meetinghouse roads intersection and the New Hampshire Avenue intersection. The other commercial zone is across the street from where ezStorage proposes its new facility, which houses a gas station.

Pittinger said that architectural drawings have not been submitted because they are looking for input from the community.

‘‘We had some elevations of some existing facilities in Montgomery County and offered to revise the architecture to fit in with the rural character of the Sandy Spring⁄Ashton area,” Pittinger said.

Pittinger said they suggested adding retail to the façade of the building along Route 108 to give the building an active storefront.

Joy Turner, Sandy Spring resident and Sandy Spring Civic Association community outreach director, said she does not believe the storage facility would add to the ‘‘walkable” community residents want with the revitalization of the downtown area.

‘‘My personal opinion is that an ezStorage or any storage facility is not the best use of that space,” Turner said. ‘‘It is the last remaining piece, or one of last remaining pieces, of commercial properties in the village center. It should be used to its full potential to serve the Sandy Spring, Ashton, Olney communities.”

The Columbia-based ezStorage has 43 locations in Maryland, Washington, D.C., and northern Virginia, with local stores in Gaithersburg, Germantown, Rockville, Bethesda, Takoma Park and Burtonsville.

Pittinger said about 85 percent of ezStorage customers are residents who use the facility for short-term storage. He said good visibility and access along Route 108 were the main criteria they used to choose the location.

‘‘We’re a quiet, clean use,” Pittinger said. ‘‘ ... Most are residential customers who are coming and going with family vehicles.”

Pittinger said preliminary plans for the ezStorage facility would be submitted to Park and Planning this week.