Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Developer, community redraft plan

Latest proposal for Ashton Meeting Place is closer to community’s vision

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It was back to the drawing board last week as Ashton Meeting Place developer Fred Nichols met with architects and community members to draft a new plan for his proposed shopping center.

Nichols’ previous plans had been rejected by planning staff and the Planning Board, citing issues with parking in residential zones and noncompliance with the Sandy Spring⁄Ashton Master Plan.

By the end of a charrette last Thursday, the group collaboratively created a new plan for the mixed-use center to be located on the southeast corner of Ashton Road (Route 108) and New Hampshire Avenue (Route 650).

The plan builds on one that was drafted by Sandy Spring-Ashton Rural Preservation Consortium’s (SSARPC) design team, including local architect Miche Booz and member Brooke Farquhar.

‘‘The basic concept was what Miche had,” Nichols said. ‘‘We met and were able to make his drawing work with deck parking.

‘‘It went very well,” Nichols added. ‘‘We’re trying to get things on an expedited path.”

SSARPC co-chair Michelle Layton said community members are pleased with the outcome of last week’s charrette.

‘‘We’re very pleased that the SSARPC and the developer were able to work together to come to a plan that’s master plan-compliant and represents the rural village center that we all feel belongs in Ashton,” Layton said. ‘‘It was a nice experience to bring this project to closure in a way that we’re all working together.”

Nichols is trying to move the project forward as quickly as possible, he said, because time is running out to use funds from the state for road improvements at the intersection.

While there is no deadline for when the state funds could be used, Ashton Meeting Place developers could lose the funds for the road improvements if the Planning Board denies the plan again, according to David Buck, spokesman for the State Highway Administration.

‘‘We’re drafting a letter to Del. [Karen S.] Montgomery that says if the development is not approved that the money would be moved to other higher priorities within the county,” Buck said.

Montgomery, a Democrat from Brookeville, represents District 14, which includes Ashton.

Buck said SHA officials are actively working with the developer to make sure that the road improvements are appropriate for the development that is built.

‘‘What that would be depends on what gets approved by the Planning Board,” Buck said. ‘‘We told them, ‘If you get something else on the table that the community agrees with, we’ll expedite our review process extremely quickly,’ but they still have to go to the Planning Board to get approved.”

Buck said the current plans for the intersection include widening the roads at the intersection to add turn lanes. However, he said, those could change depending on how the project changes. Buck added that if the shopping center is scaled down, road plans might be different.

Nichols said he asked SHA to reconsider allowing parallel parking on New Hampshire Avenue, something that was not included in his previous plan, but Buck said that is not likely.

‘‘We made it clear that we can, in no way, shape or form, inhibit traffic by allowing parallel parking on [Route] 650 (New Hampshire Avenue),” Buck said.

Parallel parking on New Hampshire Avenue was previously rejected by SHA officials, but parking along Ashton Road was approved.

The developer and architects also met with county planning staff on Friday to review the newly drafted plan.

‘‘We went through the plan with them and they were very receptive,” Nichols said, adding that there are a few minor details that need to be tweaked before officially submitting the plans to Park and Planning.

The new plans call for a facility that is approximately 74,000 square feet, or about 76 percent the size of the plan that was denied by the Planning Board last month.

Nichols said one of the biggest changes to the project was adding six single-family homes on land zoned for residential use. Nichols’ old plan had parking spaces on that land.

During the June 28 meeting, Planning Board members said they rejected the plan largely because of the parking spaces in the residential zone and noncompliance with the Sandy Spring⁄Ashton Master Plan.

The plan addresses the master plan guidelines by changing the previously larger buildings into multiple smaller buildings and brings them closer to the street, Nichols said.

What was once a large building, which included the anchor store, is now two smaller buildings with retail and office space facing Ashton Road. That eliminates what planning staff called a ‘‘lifeless rear wall” facing the street.

Along New Hampshire Avenue are also two smaller buildings instead of one larger building.

The anchor store is now 18,000 square feet — down from 30,000 — and located at the south end of the shopping center.

Montgomery said she attended the charrette because of the many phone calls she received about what will happen to the road.

‘‘I wanted to hear what was happening and I wanted to confirm that the parties seem to be in pretty general agreement, which it seems they were,” Montgomery said.

‘‘I think that after a lot of back-and-forthing and a level of unpleasantness, everyone realized that the best thing was to work together,” she added. ‘‘If everyone comes together in good will from the beginning ... it would’ve saved about a year.”

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