Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2007

Big ideas are borne out of Kentlands planning charrette

Special study examines Kentlands commercial district

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The Kentlands’ shopping district could one day house three-story parking garages wrapped with retail, housing and commercial space.

That vision, likened to the new Rockville Town Center, is one of several ideas that came up during an intensive study of the area in Gaithersburg wedged between Quince Orchard Road, Great Seneca Highway and on both sides of Kentlands Boulevard.

The Kentlands Commercial Boulevard District charrette opened Thursday evening and included numerous meetings throughout the week. It was expected to conclude Tuesday evening.

The charrette examined the two shopping districts on the city’s west side split between Kentlands Boulevard, with larger franchises dominating Kentlands Square north of the street and smaller businesses located in Market Square on the opposite side.

The intensive study is part of Gaithersburg’s 2003 Master Plan update, and is intended to help guide planning in the area for the next 20 years.

The results should be presented to the mayor and City Council this winter, said city Planning Director Greg Ossont.

Kentlands residents were pleased with the charrette and the ideas.

‘‘This place is not yet the kind of destination we need it to be and until then we’re kind of caught between a little shopping center and a national mall,” said Jim Hubbard, who has lived in the Kentlands for 13 years.

Several Kentlands residents, such as Sandy Champion and Ailene Renzi, also said they are pleased the city is investing so much in this process.

Champion said she wants to see more high-class retail - ‘‘I’m not going to stop at K-Mart and buy a cocktail dress,” she said — and possibly a canal in Kentlands Square similar to the Riverwalk in San Antonio.

More big ideas

Dozens of green and red notecards with suggestions from residents filled a wall in the rented Kentlands storefront that was hosting the charrette.

Some simply exclaimed ‘‘bookstore!”, while others requested restarting the fountain at Market Square, or adding lightpoles with flowerboxes.

Tentative proposals posted by the planners for Market Square include a three-level parking garage, with roughly 420 spaces, behind the row of small, live-work establishments along Main Street.

Buildings including 20,000-square-feet of retail along with 50 residential units would line and mask the garage.

A similar structure could be added next to the movie theater at Center Point Way.

Kentlands Square, with its wide parking arrangement in three boxy lots strung between Merchant and Commerce places, could eventually utilize those lots for similar developments. A museum or reasonably-sized open space could take the place of an asphalt parking lot, said HOK Group architect Colin Greene. HOK is coordinating the charrette.

‘‘We want to move away from anything as plain as a shopping center and transform it to a town center,” he said. ‘‘A real town center with more than retail with residential above.”

Development in either area will largely be affected by placement of the proposed Corridor Cities Transitway, which could place a rapid bus or lightrail station at different locations along Great Seneca Highway, which borders the commercial district, Greene said.

The Kentlands Boulevard also could see change, such as the addition of a wider median or wider sidewalks, Ossont said.

‘‘There’s a thousand different options,” he said.