A few years ago, the Kentlands celebrated it’s 25th anniversary and honored its rich history. Now our downtown is about to experience a significant transformation over the next 25 years. Today, we are confronted with three business redevelopment plans that will mold and shape our community. In addition, under discussion are a pedestrian bridge across Great Seneca Highway and pedestrian improvements to Kentlands Boulevard. The Kentlands Citizens Assembly (KCA) and Lakelands Community Association (LCA) leaderships are providing our communities with information regarding each of the three plans that currently sit before the City of Gaithersburg and some background information on the process.
Let’s first look at the three public steps that a developer must take through the planning process in developing this part of the Kentlands Commercial district which is zoned MXD.
Sketch Plan – A concept or “bubble” plan including approved uses of the buildings. The sketch plan will normally go through three steps with the City.
1 – A joint public hearing of the Mayor and City Council and Planning Commission.
2 – A meeting at which the Planning Commission gives its recommendations
3 – The Mayor and City Council meet to render a final decision on the sketch plan.
Schematic Development Plan (SDP) – After sketch plan approval, the developer submits a SDP to the city which involves a preliminary site plan with preliminary engineering (roads, specific buildings, specific locations of uses and amenities, public spaces, parking, etc). While architecture is not a part of the approval, preliminary architecture is normally included when the SPD is submitted to the Code and Planning Administration Department. The SDP also goes through a three-step process.
1 – Joint public hearing
2 – Planning Commission recommendation
3 – Final decision by Mayor and City Council
A joint work session (or more) may be added between step 1 and step 2.
Final Site Plan – The developer submits the final plans which formalize everything about the project including final architecture and go straight to the Planning Commission for approval. There is a final, fourth step, where the City’s Permits and Inspections Division issues the building permits that will occur before construction, but this is not a part of the public discourse concerning the project.
Now, let’s look at the three ongoing development projects and where are they in the process.
Kimco Realty – Kimco is planning a redesign of some portions of the Kentlands Market Square, including the stretch of retail along Market Street and along Center Point Way. There is nothing in the current Kimco plan that adds residential units to this side of Kentlands Boulevard. However, Kimco has some long-term plans to develop its parking areas that may include added residential units. Kimco has submitted its final site plan to the City of Gaithersburg. A meeting with the Planning Commission to seek final approval of the site plan has not been set. Kimco hopes to begin renovation this year.
Kentlands Apartments – The owner of the property where the restaurant Diya currently resides has submitted plans for a six-story apartment building with approximately 295 units. Kentlands Apartments is at the SDP phase of the process. It did not have to submit a Sketch Plan because its SDP application is building on the original Sketch Plan for all of Kentlands approved back in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. Its SDP has been tabled pending a redesign. Its second work session is tentatively scheduled for July 10th, and the record is still open for public comment.
Since Kentlands Apartments is maxing out the count for total residential units found in the original Kentlands Sketch Plan, both Saul Centers and Kimco will need to submit a new Sketch Plan to add resident units to the Kentlands Commercial District.
Saul Centers – Saul Centers has submitted a sketch plan for a first phase of development, specifically building the beginning of a “town center” over the current Kmart and neighboring stores and across the parking lot towards Lowes. This plan would involve first floor retail and primarily office, parking and multi-family dwellings units constructed above (potentially a mix of condos and apartments), including buildings up to 12 stories high. This development will be designed to create a “front door” to the community for people who arrive via the projected CCT. The Saul development will abut the planned Kentlands CCT station. The record is still open for public comment for the Planning Commission until May 5th and for Mayor and Council until May 26.
Kentlands Community Foundation Downtown Initiative
In addition to this redevelopment work, there are community organizations and stakeholders working to help harmonize these projects with the original New Urbanist vision for the Kentlands.
The Kentlands Community Foundation (KCF), under its Downtown Initiative, reached out earlier this year to Kimco, Saul, MedImmune, Kentlands Historical Trust (KHT), the Lakelands Design Review Committee (DRC) and the City to discuss cohesiveness in our Downtown. The discussion yielded a consensus that a closer look at the City’s Master Plan prepared in 2007-2008 by HOK must be taken. The KCF then reached out to DPZ Partners (DPZ) and Michael Watkins Architect (MWA) who have kindly volunteered their time to review the Master Plan. The Kentlands and Lakelands leaderships met with the KCF, DPZ, and MWA last week to discuss KCA and LCA involvement in the process.
Early this month, the KCF will once more meet with Kimco, Saul, MedImmune, Kentlands Apartments, the KCA (including KHT members), LCA (including DRC members), and representatives from the City of Gaithersburg to hear observations from DPZ and MWA.
In early June, the KCF will hold a Town Hall meeting, where DPZ and MWA will present to the community on their Downtown Kentlands Master Plan observations.
In addition, DPZ and MWA will present their work to the KCA and LCA at their respective future board meetings. This is an exciting time for the Kentlands and Lakelands. There is also plenty of time for our citizens to be heard on issues they feel are important as these plans move forward.