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Change is coming to our neighborhood

"He who rejects change is the architect of decay." -- Harold Wilson

The “always challenged” site that was once home to an Upton’s department store parking lot and Boston Market (and Hunter Green and Famous Dave’s and …) is on a path to become an apartment complex. B. F. Saul is planning the first phase of the Kentlands Square redevelopment as a city block of “taller” (up to 12 stories) mixed-use buildings that will replace Kmart and the parking lot in front of it. Kimco purchased the Market Square property from the Beatty Management Company and intends to revitalize it with new traffic patterns, a vastly different movie theater, and infill development.

The part of Kentlands that will be affected the most by these changes will be Main Street and the Midtown district. The north-western section of Lakelands, north of Golden Ash Way, will also feel the changes deeply.

Importantly, however, these changes will be significant for the entire surrounding area including all of Kentlands and all of Lakelands. They will also be significant for Quince Orchard Park and the part of the City on the northwest side of Quince Orchard Road, which includes Fernshire Farms and Longdraft Estates.

Accurate information on which to base a plan of action is a key to choosing the right path. The Kentlands Citizens Assembly (KCA) Board of Trustees authorized a small expenditure for a preliminary retail study at its June meeting for that reason. The KCA then contracted with the Gibbs Planning Group, a leading urban retail consultancy, and Gibbs produced a preliminary report that addresses the near-term retail market within a Primary Trade Area (PTA) almost five miles in radius. Gibbs’ findings include demand for up to 214,250 square feet of new retail and restaurant development, or 55 to 70 new stores and restaurants, in the near term.

While Gibbs believes there is sufficient demand to support that impressive new development, the estimate is “not what once it was.” For example, the Saul sketch plan, which was developed based, in part, on the 2008 Kentlands Master Plan, calls for “up to” 1,450 living units and 1,050,000 square feet of new “commercial/office” use. If all 1,050,000 square feet is developed as retail, it, alone, would be about five times what Gibbs indicates our Primary Trade Area can support.

There is no reason to believe such a massive effort, especially a massive all-retail effort, is in Saul’s plans because it would be self-destructive. On the other hand, the first retail development (whether Saul, Kimco or another development within the 5 mile primary trade area) might crowd out recovery for the shops along Main Street or seriously limit other redevelopment options.  Therefore, Saul’s development could impact the possible footprint of Kimco’s development and Kimco’s development could impact Saul’s efforts.  In addition, the Gibbs Report does not take into consideration substantial new residential development.  For instance, the apartments being proposed by S&T Kentlands on the site of the restaurant Diya Bistro and the redevelopment by Saul and Kimco will each add residential density to the area.  That would create additional consumer demand for the additional commercial square footage the developers plan.  All three of these developments must be developed in cooperation with each other and with collaborative oversight by the City of Gaithersburg City Council, Planning Commission and the Planning & Code Administration Department.

“The greatest victory is that which requires no battle.” — Sun Tzu

We cannot stop these planned developments. Importantly, there is no reason to try to stop them. A well-planned, new urbanist, integrated redevelopment is likely to provide many benefits and few disadvantages. The key is to make these changes, changes for the better; changes that will be the “rising tide that lifts all boats.” This will require cooperation rather than coercion, partnership rather than partisanship, and information over ignorance. We cannot influence the developers’ decisions unless we understand their motivations and limitations. They cannot include our goals in their planning unless we know what those goals are and communicate them very, very well.

Thus, the challenge that we face is multi-fold. We must decide:

  1. What outcomes from the changes would we, as a community, view as “good?”
  2. What changes do we want the most?
  3. What things are possible versus impossible; easy versus hard?
  4. What action(s) can we who live in the area take? “How” can we guide such changes?

The preliminary Gibbs study is only the first small step along a challenging road that stretches years into our collective future. It is a beginning that needs our commitment today and the commitment of those who supplant us as the years pass. There will be a constant need for accurate, up-to-date information on a wide variety of topics: What will the market support today? How is the market changing and likely to change? What do we, as a community, want? What are we willing to pay to make that want a reality in terms of “blood, toil, tears and sweat” as well as “treasure?”

Our new Kentlands Downtown Working Group (KDWG) is the second step along that road. It is charged with developing the information our citizens will need and communications infrastructure “determined spirits” can use to keep our community up-to-date with the accurate, carefully vetted information we need to understand, plan and act. To be considered as a volunteer, please email Barney Gorin, the KCA’s President.

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