Science City' jobs and housing detailed
County Council President says balance' is key
This story was corrected on Dec. 18
A 500-acre area between Gaithersburg and Rockville could in 30 and 40 years be home to 62,000 jobs and 22 million square feet of research, commercial and office space: a "Science City" that would dwarf the National Institutes of Health and could put Montgomery County at the forefront of science worldwide, according data being compiled for the Gaithersburg West master plan released last week.
Set for county Planning Board review early next year, the master plan looks to transform the Shady Grove Life Sciences Center into a live-work community clustered around a transit line and a walkable street network with ground-level retail and ample civic space. Many state and county leaders hail that vision as a centerpiece in Montgomery's cultural and economic future.
County planners hammered out the details of density, traffic and transit projections after months of study and public forums that wrapped up earlier this month. The plan hinges largely on funding and approval of the Corridor Cities Transitway, a proposed light rail or rapid-bus line.
As presented last week, the master plan focuses on three key areas in and around the Life Sciences Center.
The "Central Core/Medical Center" would have a stop for the CCT, a reworked road network with retail and housing and an expanded medical center at Shady Grove Adventist Hospital. It would add 17,800 jobs in 6.2 million square feet of development, tripling the 3.5 million square feet now in use.
The plan for "LSC West" would transform the triangle between Darnestown Road, Great Seneca Highway and Key West Avenue — home of the county's police and fire rescue training academy — into a 2,000-residence community with a retail center, elementary school, civic space, fire station and CCT stop.
On a 108-acre farm at Muddy Branch and Darnestown roads, "LSC Belward" would see the most drastic change, with up to 6.5 million square feet of office and research space creating up to 17,000 jobs. The tallest buildings — as high as 140 feet — would be bundled in the center around a proposed CCT stop, while a cordon of green space around the property's fringes would buffer neighborhoods. The county wants to preserve about 7 acres around the 19th century farm as an interactive community museum.
The planning board will hold public hearings before making its decision. After review by County Executive Isiah Leggett (D), the County Council is set to make the final decision next fall.
Though an array of county and state elected officials endorse the proposal, concerns remain as to how much might be too much.
"It's really hard to envision how that could be supported by present and future infrastructure," County Council President Philip M. Andrews said of the new figures. "It is a huge number of jobs and a huge amount of density and I remain to be persuaded about how that could accommodated."
Andrews (D-Dist. 3) of Gaithersburg hopes that the planning board — which has voiced a desire to maximize density and development in Gaithersburg West — will keep Gaithersburg West in context with other pending master plans that call for extensive redevelopment and density, especially in Germantown and White Flint.
"The life sciences are attractive to us all in terms of the types of jobs it brings and the benefit to the community," he said. "But you can overdo anything and there are still limits to how much development an area can handle regardless of how good a use is. The key here is going to be the right balance."
The proposal has piqued residents and civic groups from Montgomery Village to Potomac, who worry that its size is out of step with what the county can handle.
Johns Hopkins University, which owns the Belward Farm and has a 30-acre campus in the Life Sciences Center, is continuing its community outreach.
Mission Hills resident Lynne Rose credits Hopkins for being earnest in their outreach, but she is increasingly skeptical that complaints from a few scattered communities will make much of a difference — especially as she looked over 3-D models representing what could be 10-12 story buildings or the sprawl of other models that depicted more buildings with lower heights.
"It definitely made the point. It's a lot, it's a lot of office space. It's going to overwhelm people here because we're used to very open space. It's going to change the landscape here, there's no doubt," said Rose who attended last week's meeting with Hopkins.