Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2007

Olde Towne upgrade is moving forward

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Three projects that could bring more than 960 new apartments and condominiums and nearly 60,000 square feet of retail and office space to Gaithersburg were unveiled at recent city meetings.

The larger project, at the vacant Summit Shopping Center at 559 Girard St., would include seven four- to five-story apartment buildings connected around a retail street and park that developers said resembled a college quadrangle.

Several residents who attended a joint public hearing by the City Council and Planning Commission on Nov. 19 called the site an ‘‘eyesore.”

‘‘I have to tell you, I am in favor of this project over that eyesore ... if it could be done in a quality way,” said Julian Greenspun, who lives in the adjacent Hidden Creek Land Bay III community.

The 6.58-acre parcel, on the northeast corner of Girard Street and Goshen Road, ‘‘has been completely vacant and in a state of disrepair for quite some time,” said Barbara A. Sears, a lawyer with Linowes and Blocher LLP. She represents the developer, Hearthstone Communities L.C. The parcel is owned by Sandler at Summit LLC of Virginia Beach, Va.

The shopping center has not been fully active since the early 1980s, Sears said, and seeks to rezone the property from commercial to ‘‘mixed use.”

Developers have offered to use ‘‘green-building” standards in the buildings where 349 apartments are proposed, according to plans. About 53 of the homes would be affordable-housing units.

Drawings of The Summit showed up to 15,000 square feet of commercial or retail space and two parking garages.

Buildings would surround a park, a pool, connecting walkways and other amenities.

Six residents testified, citing concerns including crowding, a need for adequate and well-marked parking, and quality amenities that would prevent the building from becoming outdated.

Al Roma of Cedar Spring Street was skeptical. He said he ‘‘would like to see that eyesore gone,” but worries the facility would be too densely populated and not match townhouse neighbors.

Council member Cathy Drzyzgula and Kentlands resident Richard Arkin said retail space should remain commercial to invite shoppers and deter crime and neglect.

Planning Commissioner Leonard Levy eyed the four-to-five-story parking garages and said he could not imagine tree buffers that tall.

‘‘Even though it’s the back, people still look out the backs of their houses,” he said, asking architects to come up with creative plans for ‘‘something attractive.”

‘‘Wye-Site”

Projects at the city-owned Wye site and 315 E. Diamond Ave. were also presented last month. The mayor and City Council authorized Assistant City Manager Tony Tomasello to enter into negotiations with two developers. The authorization allows city staff to execute contracts that help developers move planning forward.

Clark Realty Capital LLC of Arlington, Va., and Douglas Development Corp. of Washington, D.C., were selected in a bid process earlier this year as potential developers for the Wye site and 315 E. Diamond Ave. property, respectively.

Preliminary drawings for the two-acre Wye site that occupies a former railroad loop behind Olde Towne Avenue show two four-story retail and residential buildings connected by an atrium lobby open to the public during certain hours, Tomasello said. A planned pedestrian bridge crossing train tracks to the lobby may help link the neighborhood, said Drzyzgula, who lives on Walker Avenue.

The buildings would have 212 multifamily units and 17,600 square feet of retail, he said. A private garage with 252 spots for residents would extend from the city garage.

While the city’s master plan calls for a nine-story tower and five-story mixed-use building with ground floor retail facing Olde Towne Avenue, Douglas Development decided the ‘‘twin tower” design allows better transition to the Fulks Corner development, Tomasello said.

Designs for the slightly smaller 1.5-acre property at 315 E. Diamond Ave. showed a public plaza and three-story building with 25,000 square feet of retail and two stories of office space, as well as underground parking.

Retail drawings showed restaurants with outdoor seating that would face the long-discussed clock tower approved for Olde Towne Park.

Have your say

On Jan. 2, the commission will make a recommendation to the mayor and council for a final decision on whether to approve rezoning of the Summit Shopping Center property and the sketch plan for ‘The Summit.’

The Planning Commission record remains open until 5 p.m. Dec. 19. The mayor and City Council record is open until Jan. 8. Write to Chairman John Bauer, Planning Commission, or Mayor Sidney A. Katz at City Hall, 31 S. Summit Ave., Gaithersburg, MD 20877.