Planners refuse to reconsider Burtonsville Shopping Center plan

Board upholds year-old ruling

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

A request to reconsider an already-approved plan to redevelop the Burtonsville Shopping Center was turned down Thursday by the Montgomery County Planning Board.

Stuart Rochester, the chairman of the Fairland Master Plan Citizens Advisory Committee, and A. Cleveland Brown, president of Patuxent Watershed Protective Association Inc., filed separate reconsideration requests in March regarding a preliminary plan the Planning Board had approved with conditions at a hearing held July 28, 2005.

Developer Christopher Jones, president of BMC Property Group that owns the Burtonsville Shopping Center, presented the preliminary plan.

Rochester said Jones’ preliminary plan as approved by the board could have resulted in a development that was not in accord with the Fairland Master Plan, which called for a pedestrian-friendly center.

But Planning Board Chairman Derick P. Berlage said Rochester’s request was denied because the majority of the board decided that it was rooted in what was possible rather than an actuality.

‘‘Mr. Rochester’s motion to me seemed to be based on a hypothetical,” Berlage said. ‘‘The concern was premature.” Planning Board Commissioner Meredith Wellington voted to reconsider, but no one seconded the motion. Commissioner John Robinson abstained.

According to Berlage, Brown’s request for reconsideration, because of concerns of runoff into the Patuxent watershed, was denied because it dealt with a matter that was not under the Planning Board’s jurisdiction.

The Fairland Master Plan, which Rochester helped create, detailed development for areas in northeastern Montgomery County. It details a Burtonsville town center with adequate walkways and calls for the shopping center to feature one anchor store and several smaller stores.

Rochester was concerned that Jones might use the C-2 zone’s latitude to transform the buildings into a ‘‘big box” Wal-Mart type store.

But at a public forum April 5 at the East County Citizens Advisory Board, Jones stated that he had no plans to place a ‘‘Wal-Mart type business” in the shopping center.

‘‘Early on, we said we will not rent to Wal-Mart or Kmart, because the community did not want it,” Jones said in a telephone interview Thursday.

Jones is satisfied with the vote.

‘‘I think the decision was the appropriate one. The issues raised by Rochester and Brown had already been very openly discussed,” Jones said. ‘‘I didn’t think it was necessary to revisit the case when no new information has emerged.”

Despite having his request rejected, Rochester is satisfied with the decision, citing both the board’s apparent understanding of his concern and what he perceived to be the board’s ‘‘rededication” to holding developers accountable.

‘‘I thought that the majority of the board understood our concern. We are pleased with how they handled the proceeding,” Rochester said. ‘‘There has been a rededication to achieving truth and compliance to our planning.”

Subsequently, Rochester is now convinced that Burtonsville residents will receive the shopping center outlined in the master plan.

‘‘We’re confident that Burtonsville will get the attractive, walkable town center that the master plan calls for, that residents expect, and that we believe the Planning Board intended,” Rochester said. ‘‘Developers have to understand that even when given a lot of leeway, they must abide by conditions.”

Jones said that Rochester asked that Jones provide a definitive plan for the shopping center, including how it would look and who its tenants would be. It was a request Jones said would have been impossible for any developer to meet.

‘‘I believe that fundamentally Mr. Rochester misunderstood the process of the preliminary plan at this point. It’s not intended to show a final layout,” Jones said. ‘‘Each tenant is different, and the layout of the store will adjust to who the tenants are. This is the reality of building design.”

For the time being, development of the shopping center will not move forward without an anchor tenant. Previously, Jones has said that bringing in an anchor store is the key to revitalizing the center. He said he does not expect development of the shopping center to begin for at least another year.