Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2007

Ashton Meeting Place back in the hands of Planning Board

Developer Fred Nichols worked with community to ‘aggressively’ work out residents’ concerns

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The once-controversial Ashton Meeting Place is back in line for approval after the developer for the proposed shopping center recently submitted his latest plans to Park and Planning.

‘‘We’ve aggressively been trying to satisfy community concern through redesign, from the layout of the buildings to architecture,” project developer Fred Nichols said.

The project has been the subject of controversy within the Ashton community in the last couple of years over the size of the shopping center and how it fits with the rural character of the town.

The proposed mixed-use center will bring 74,000 square feet of retail and six single-family homes to the corner of Ashton Road (Route 108) and New Hampshire Avenue (Route 650).

The newly submitted plans include parallel parking along the northbound lane of New Hampshire Avenue, which State Highway Administration (SHA) officials previously said was prohibited, citing safety reasons.

In Nichols’ previous plan, on-street parking would have encouraged pedestrians to cross the street and pull in and out of the parking spaces unsafely, according to Chuck Gischler, SHA spokesman.

But recent changes in the plans submitted to Park and Planning would include safety measures that would be conducive for pedestrian and vehicle traffic.

‘‘The concern of the state was that parking impedes the congestion already there,” Nichols said. ‘‘Rush hour on the east side of [Route] 650 is northbound in the evenings.”

Nichols said he and his team are requesting on-street parking at least during non-rush hour.

‘‘We’re working with the developer to provide on-street parking that would not create problems with the flow of traffic and keep pedestrians safe,” Gischler said.

The Ashton Meeting Place project would also call for road improvements at the routes 108 and 650 intersection, including right-turn lanes.

The plan initially submitted to the Planning Board in April called for nearly 100,000 square feet of retail and residential space. After deferring its decision, the board denied the project in June, citing issues with parking in residential zones and non-compliance with the Sandy Spring⁄Ashton Master Plan. The plan has since been reduced by 24 percent after meetings were held to develop a compromised plan with members of the community.

The developer added six single-family homes in place of the parking in the residential zones and the designs of the buildings now reflect more of the rural village character required in the master plan. Nichols and his design team presented drafts of the site plans and elevations during a community meeting in August, which were generally well-received.

Joshua Sloan, planning coordinator with the Park and Planning Development Review Committee, said the developer met with planning staff prior to submitting his revised plan to work out some of the concerns the Planning Board had with it.

‘‘At the end of the day, I hope this new plan addresses any and all concerns,” Nichols said.