Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Delayed Town Center park moves ahead in Germantown

Construction on Locbury Drive in Town Center to begin in July

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Chris Rossi⁄The Gazette
Part of the area that will be an urban park in Germantown Town Center is mowed, the rest is a protected wetland. County officials say they will soon put design for the project out for bid.
After years of starts and stops, business leaders and government planners say they are beginning a long-awaited push to complete the undeveloped, unnamed urban park behind Germantown’s library and BlackRock Center for the Arts in Town Center.

Money obtained from the state and county in the last year has given the project new momentum after a long period of sluggishness, said Andy Frank, project manager for the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission.

The commission will begin advertising bids for the design team within the next few days, said Frank, who has been assigned to manage design and construction of the park.

Plans call for the park to be designed through fiscal 2009 beginning July 1 with groundbreaking in spring 2010. The total cost of the project is set at $6.9 million, Frank said.

The completed construction is expected to include a boardwalk, walking and interpretative trails, signage, benches and an open lawn, according to Marilyn Balcombe, president and CEO of the Gaithersburg-Germantown Chamber of Commerce.

‘‘The park is a crucial component of the town center. I think it will really complete the town center,” she said.

The park occupies three to four acres between Pinnacle Drive and Town Commons Drive and Locbury Drive and the library’s parking lot, a patch of land that civic leaders say has left people questioning its purpose, identity and even aesthetic value.

The park’s defenders say they have labored to explain to some skeptics why only a band of grass on the outer edge of the park has been mowed while the rest of the parcel remains a miniature wilderness of tall, tangled grass and plants.

The answer is that much of the park is designated as a wetland protected by law, according to Balcombe, who has been paying close attention to the area. Frank estimated that the protected wetland occupies one-third to one-half of the park.

Balcombe said she contacted county officials after fielding several calls inquiring about the park’s untidy appearance.

‘‘When it first happened, they didn’t mow any of it. I did say they needed to mow at least a portion of it,” Balcombe said.

Frank said wetlands are usually managed to preserve their character as a dividing line between natural and built environments.

‘‘They typically would not be mowed or maintained,” he said.

As for its size, the park’s supporters said it comes as no surprise in a county where most of the land has already been developed.

‘‘Town center parks are small by definition,” Balcombe said.

The park’s history goes back to Germantown’s 1989 master plan, but detailed plans weren’t approved until 2005, which ushered in another period of inactivity.

‘‘It kind of got held up with the feeling that the library needed to be finished first,” Frank said.

Last fall, several organizations held a cleanup day at the park after trash began to accumulate from illegal dumping. Participants removed a shopping cart, construction debris and other litter, she said.

She blamed the problem on a 300-foot gap that interrupts Locbury Drive along one side of the park and isolates it from people and traffic along busy Century Boulevard on the opposite side of the library.

Construction to link Locbury Drive on either side of the park is scheduled to begin in July, she said.

‘‘People do use that back end as dump because it doesn’t look like anything,” Balcombe said. ‘‘When Locbury Drive is completed, it will make a difference. Right now, it doesn’t look like a park. Right now, it looks like land that’s really dumpable.”