Science City' road grid could isolate neighborhoods
Ahead of the County Council's public hearings next week on the multi-decade proposal to triple jobs, development and housing in an 800-plus-acre area in Shady Grove, Gaithersburg City leaders are increasingly anxious about the proposal's intensity and impacts — particularly the network of highway interchanges and widenings that some say will cut neighborhoods off from the would-be "Science City."
The version of the Gaithersburg West master plan that the County Planning Board signed off on this summer calls for development in the Shady Grove Life Sciences Center over the next 30 and 40 years to grow from 7 million square feet to 20 million square feet, jobs from 20,000 to 60,000 and housing units from 3,300 to 9,000.
The area would be served by the Corridor Cities Transitway, a 14-mile rapid bus or light rail line that would run from the Shady Grove Metro Station to just south of Clarksburg.
At a briefing last week with county planners, Gaithersburg's mayor and council groused over the thousands of cars and trucks that would drive into Science City along several widened roadways — from 45,000 daily trips via Route 28 to nearly 90,000 trips via Sam Eig Highway. That much traffic would require four or five overpass highway interchanges, planners said, acknowledging that their construction would snarl traffic and that neighbors would be discouraged from walking to the area.
"So if you live in the city of Gaithersburg and you want to work at the Life Sciences Center, you're going to need to drive there?" asked City Councilwoman Cathy Drzyzgula.
"Or take the CCT," said Nancy Sturgeon, Gaithersburg West's lead planner.
Some of Gaithersburg West's most vocal criticism has come from neighborhoods around the 107-acre Belward Farm off Muddy Branch and Darnestown roads, where Johns Hopkins University wants to build a 4.5 million-square-foot research campus.
Despite efforts to include ballfields and make the campus as inviting as possible, Belward neighbors echoed the fear that their communities — Washingtonian Woods, Mission Hills, Decoverly and North Potomac — will be isolated by the widened highways and grade-separated interchanges.
"The density of traffic that will result from these interchanges will effectively sever our community from that development," said Washingtonian Woods resident Gary Robinson. "It completely betrays this vision of the integrated live-work-play community. This is essentially a wall that will be imposed on the communities surrounding [Belward.]"
To accomodate growht without overwhelming existing neighborhoods, the planning board's draft breaks construction into four stages, which can only be triggered by meeting specific infrastructural milestones.
The first stage would immediately allow 400,000 square feet to be added to the 7 million already there.
Before work can start on the next 2.8 million square feet, the CCT would have to be funded from the Shady Grove metro station to Metropolitan Grove and the county's police and fire/rescue academy would have to be moved from its property on Great Seneca Highway. Before entering the third stage, which allows up to 13.2 million square feet, the CCT has to be under construction from Shady Grove to Metropolitan Grove and two road interchanges must be funded.
The final stage requires the CCT to be fully operational and the other interchanges to be funded before the last 4.5 million square feet can be built.
Sturgeon stressed that full construction would take 35 to 45 years, "if it occurs at all." And because the County Council stripped similar requirements out of the master plan it recently OK'd for Germantown, planners urged city leaders to call on the council to keep it for Gaithersburg West.
Mayor Sidney A. Katz and the City Council were set to lay out their position Tuesday night after Gazette deadline.
"It needs to be a part of this element. If we don't have this infrastructure and the transportation pieces … in place, then I don't see how the county could consider going forward with this project," Katz said Tuesday morning.
County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) will unveil his assessment Thursday. The County Council final decision could come by the end of the year.
The County Council's hearings on the Gaithersburg West master plan are at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 15 and 17, 100 Maryland Ave. in Rockville. Call 240-777-7931 to sign up to testify.