Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2007

Humane Society plans much larger campus

Preliminary proposal for Watkins Mill interchange calls for two office buildings up to 12 stories each

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The national Humane Society headquarters in north Gaithersburg could eventually make way for two 6- to 12-story office and residential buildings, according to a new long-range development plan.

The sketch plan submitted to city planners on Aug. 8 identifies an about 10.5-acre plot wedged between Interstate 270 and Route 355 owned by the Humane Society of the United States.

A joint public hearing with the City Council and the Planning Commission to consider the plan is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 4 at City Hall, 31 S. Summit Ave.

The plan was submitted to secure future development in the area, and to dedicate about an acre parcel needed for an exit in the upcoming Watkins Mill Road interchange at I-270, Thomas Waite, the Society’s chief financial officer, said Monday.

‘‘We have no plans to develop the property at this point per se,” Waite said. ‘‘We just want to keep our options open. This is a way of maintaining and increasing the value of our property and protecting our development rights.”

The State Highway Administration would receive the right-of-way for the ramp, which will feed into the upcoming Watkins Mill Town Center.

The proposal also resolves an outstanding issue since the property was rezoned in 1997 as part of a comprehensive rezoning effort, Greg Ossont, Gaithersburg’s planning and code administrator said Monday.

Sketch plans are required to accompany all mixed-use development or ‘‘MXD” zones, and one was never created when the city rezoned the plot from a light industrial or ‘‘I-3” zone, he said.

The proposal also would be considered a sketch plan amendment, with the original by default including the existing two-story building, according to the Society’s proposal.

The plan calls for a building with 350,000 square feet of office space and an adjacent 10-level parking garage, and a residential building that could house 252 multi-family residential units and an adjacent five-level garage.

The Society’s about 15-year-old, two-story building at 700 Professional Drive might be removed to allow for the future development, but nothing is certain at this point, Waite said.

‘‘The idea is we own this piece of property, we have to respond to donors and constituents,” he said. ‘‘We need to maintain and enhance it because eventually, whether we develop it or sell it or whatever it is that we use it for ... this will be an asset for the Humane Society and it will assist in our animal welfare programs.”

Construction for the Watkins Mill interchange will provide needed access to the Watkins Mill Town Center, Ossont said.

‘‘The interchange is imminent at this point,” he said. ‘‘This provides a crucial part of the proposal, getting the right-of-way.”

The I-270 interchange construction is expected to begin in about five years, he said.

The center is set to include 1,075 homes, 259,939 square feet of mixed-use commercial space and 936,650 square feet of office space.