Group wants more reasonable' version of future Science City
Looks to cut development to 38,000 jobs in 6 million square feet of construction
Chris Rossi/The Gazette
A coalition of environmental groups and residents of west Gaithersburg and North Potomac is proposing a scaled-down alternative to a live-work research campus planned in Shady Grove, west of Interstate 270.
Discussions to rewrite the Gaithersburg West master plan have called for the 500-acre area to be transformed into 22 million square feet of research and office space plus a 2,000-residence neighborhood — the county's long-term vision to turn the Shady Grove Life Sciences Center into a world-class "Science City" that would create more than 60,000 jobs.
While county, state, science and business leaders have hailed the plan as a key to the county's economic future, "Residents for Reasonable Development" emerged out of "pure frustration" after a series of public forums this fall left members feeling slighted and dissatisfied.
Other master plans have had citizen's advisory committees that met for a year or more.
"We felt that a voice of reason needed to be heard," Jan Fine, the group's spokeswoman, said at a press conference Monday morning in the County Council building in Rockville, comparing Science City to three NIH's or 100 Wal-Mart Superstores.
The group — which includes leaders from the Sierra Club of Montgomery County, the Western Montgomery County Citizens Association and the North Potomac Citizens Association — wants to cut development to 38,000 jobs in 6 million square feet of construction in "a more compact, transit-oriented form," with densest development around a proposed transit stop near Shady Grove Adventist Hospital — away from homes in North Potomac, Westleigh, Mission Hills and Washingtonian Woods.
"Our approach strives to meet the goals of County officials and landowners for further growth, while preserving the integrity of the surrounding low density neighborhoods," the group wrote in a Jan. 3 letter to the County Planning Board, signed by 16 residents and leaders of civic groups.
At the Belward Farm — a 107-acre parcel on Muddy Branch and Darnestown roads owned by Johns Hopkins University that would hold most of Science City's new research and laboratory space — the group wants to shift development to the eastern third of the farm and limit building heights to half of the 10-12 stories that have been suggested.
To compensate Hopkins for the drop in density, the group thinks the county should give them Transfer of Development Rights to apply to the school's 35-acre campus on Medical Center Drive or could be sold to developers elsewhere in Science City.
County planners declined to comment on the specifics of the group's proposal, stressing that Gaithersburg West is still taking shape and that there will be ample opportunity for public input.
"We encourage people to stay involved," said spokeswoman Valerie Berton. "Right now they're reacting to … a range of options that may not even go forward."
The draft is "just about done" and should go to the County Planning Board "in the next several weeks," she said. The board is expected today to set a date for a public hearing, which will be posted on the Web site for Gaithersburg West, which can be found at www.montgomeryplanning.org.
Gaithersburg West is tentatively scheduled to go to County Executive Isiah Leggett this summer before heading to the County Council for approval in the fall.
Meanwhile, the row continues to grow over the City of Gaithersburg's interest in annexing portions of what could become Science City. Echoing a Dec. 1 request from County Executive Isiah Leggett, the chairman of the County Planning Board Chairman last week asked the city to eliminate Belward farm and other areas in the Life Sciences from its municipal growth plan.
"Parcels in the Shady Grove Life Sciences Center (LSC) should remain outside Gaithersburg limits and under the planning and zoning jurisdiction of the County because the County has made a substantial investment in this area as a cornerstone of County economic activity," Royce Hanson wrote in a Dec. 22 letter to city leaders.
Hanson also asked that the city require residents of lands annexed in the future to continue paying the county's "Metropolitan District Tax" for use of county parks.
"Despite the Planning Board's repeated request for the City to include this language in its annexation petitions, to date the City has yet to implement this recommendation," Hanson wrote.