Gaithersburg may swap office space for more apartments at Washingtonian North -- Gazette.Net


Washingtonian North could become the new home of hundreds of apartments and a health club if the Gaithersburg city council approves changes to an old annexation agreement.

At the city council meeting Monday night, Community Planning Division Chief Trudy Schwarz presented the terms of the proposed amendment to the annexation agreement that, if passed, would allow Camden Property Trust of McLean, Va., to construct up to 400 apartments and a health club on a 27-acre parcel in Washingtonian North. The parcel once was the proposed site of Manuguistics Group’s headquarters, with about 850,000 square feet of office space planned there, but has been vacant since the deal went bad in 2000.

The council is expected to vote on the amendment request at a meeting scheduled for Oct. 7.

The land is currently zoned for a mixed-use development, which fits with the proposed project, but the annexation agreement with the city, which supersedes zoning, required solely office use on the land.

The parcel has been owned by Boston Properties since 1998. Jake Stroman, senior project manager for Boston Properties, said it has not been able to find an office user of the size slated for the property.

“There is a change in the way office space is being used locally. The suburban office space is dying. It is not where office users want to be. They don’t want to be in mixed-use properties,” Stroman said. “If the land was valued at zero, we still can’t make an office development work. That is just a fact right now.”

Under the proposal, a 320,000-square-foot office pad would remain available for a future user. However, about 6 acres of property would be sold to Camden Properties for apartments renting in the $1,600-per-month range, according to Jay Johnson, director of new development for Camden.

In addition, Lifetime Fitness has proposed building a 127,000-square-foot fitness complex on 8 acres of the site, complete with indoor and outdoor pools, a salon and a café.

Across Sam Eig Highway, some of the more than 2,000 housing units approved at the 180-acre Crown Farm Project are already under construction.

Downtown Crown is expected to have 538 apartments. The project’s Neighborhood 5, however, has been designated for more high-rise, multi-family units contingent on the construction of the Corridor Cities Transitway, a transit service from the Shady Grove Metro to Clarksburg, according to Gaithersburg City Planning and Code Administration director John Schlichting.

As a result of the booming development in the area, several residents spoke against the annexation agreement changes at the meeting, citing more traffic and poor use of space as primary concerns.

Shady Grove Village resident Gloria Aparicio Blackwell wondered if there would be enough businesses and residents to fill the proposed new space.

Gaithersburg resident Nancy Stevenson said that the land does not need retail stores and health clubs because they already exist in many of the land’s surrounding areas.

“In light of all the development at the Crown, all I see are more people, more traffic and yet another health club,” she said.

Stevenson said she would rather see the space used for affordable housing for teachers and seniors, as well as the location of a charter school to eliminate the overcrowding of city schools.

“I don’t want to see so many vacant businesses or vacant space that would really lower my property value,” she said.

One aspect of the plan that pleased both the city council and residents was the proposed addition of bike and pedestrian connections from the property to the adjacent Malcolm King Park and clean-ups to nearby stream systems.

More paths would maintain the feature of community walkability that Gaithersburg residents enjoy, Mayor Sidney Katz said.