Rockville’s Mayor and Council may vote to approve construction of 144 new townhouses at King Farm during their meeting on Monday, after a developer said building homes in that community would be more profitable than building offices.
Michael Harris Homes and the Penrose Group development companies submitted the proposal to build new townhouses on vacant land at 900 and 901 King Farm Blvd. in the Irvington Centre section of King Farm, originally intended for offices, according to city documents.
The developers told the mayor and council that building offices on that land in the current economy would not be “economically feasible,” said Rockville Mayor Phyllis Marcuccio, who supports the proposal to allow that land to be used for housing instead. Adding more homes could create a larger customer base for businesses in the city, Marcuccio said.
“We are not lacking in commercial capacity in the city of Rockville,” Marcuccio said. “In order to have good retail and offices you have to have people there to make use of it.”
If the mayor and council approve the proposal on Monday, the developers will work with the city staff to review site plans for the new development, said Councilman John F. Hall Jr.
The Mayor and Council voted 3-0 on Aug. 5 to request city staff to prepare a resolution approving the housing construction request. Hall and Councilman Tom Moore were not present.
The mayor and council have asked city staff to analyze the property tax potential for both offices and housing for that King Farm land, Hall said.
Hall said he is “favorably disposed” to the proposal to build housing once the mayor and the council review the property tax analysis to determine whether offices might be a more profitable development in King Farm when the office space market improves.
Moore said he is undecided about his vote and is also eager to see that data.
“Office space there in 10 years could be a better idea,” Moore said. “If you make that land residential there is no going back.”
Officials from the Penrose Group and Michael Harris Homes declined to comment because a key staff member was on vacation.
Before any houses are built, Hall said he would like developers to assess whether new amenities are needed for the Irvington Centre neighborhood, including perhaps a barrier to muffle noise from nearby Interstate 270.
“I don’t want residents six years from now coming to the city saying, ‘We need a sound barrier,’” Hall said.
Building and selling new office space in King Farm may not be as attractive as trying to sell new townhouses in this property market, said Cindie Harrison, a business development specialist at the Montgomery County Department of Economic Development. The amount of office space tenants entering the market “is fewer than it has been in years,” Harrison said.
Of the existing commercial and retail properties in King Farm, 21 percent are vacant, which is an average vacancy rate for a development of that size in this property market, Harrison explained.
“We are seeing the same pattern all over the county. There are not many office space users out there,” Harrison said. “Or they might renew their lease and renew with lower square footage.”
Public facilities such as schools, water and transit would not be strained above capacity or trigger the Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance if the proposed homes were built because the city accounted for the possible addition of residences in King Farm when the community was first developed, Marcuccio said.
The original plans for King Farm called for 3,200 homes, with the potential for a maximum of 3,600 homes if the Mayor and Council approved development, according to city documents. The construction of those 144 townhouses would bring the total of residences in King Farm to 3,344. Eighteen of the new townhouses would be designated for affordable housing, according to city documents. Residents of the proposed townhouses would attend the Gaithersburg High School cluster, and their addition would not exceed school capacity limits, the documents said.