Tuesday, March 25, 2014


Will it be a Walmart? A trojan horse town center jammed with residential units? Or stay as it is today?

With the lack of demand for office space in Montgomery County, Lee Development Group hopes its property at 4115 Aspen Hill Road can be rezoned to include other uses. The Montgomery County Planning Department has begun a Minor Master Plan Amendment process, to study what uses should be permitted on the site. A planning "scope of work" document also expands the amendment study area to a parcel on the south side of Aspen Hill Road, at its intersection with Connecticut Avenue.

A second community meeting on the matter will be held Tuesday, April 1, 2014, at 6:30 PM, at the Aspen Hill Library (4407 Aspen Hill Road).

Formerly home to facilities for Vitro Corporation, the office space has sat vacant for about a decade. Interest in the site by retail giant Walmart added urgency to the zoning question, and predictably ignited controversy.

A Walmart store sounds like a good fit for the site, as its immediate neighbor would be another Big Box store (Home Depot), the property is located in a major retail mecca in Aspen Hill, and low income and middle class residents alike could benefit from Walmart prices on groceries and other goods. Traffic would be a primary issue, particularly with the county's failure to build the Rockville Freeway originally planned to bisect Connecticut and Georgia Avenues in Aspen Hill. Ramp stubs for the freeway's cloverleaf interchange with Connecticut were constructed decades ago, in advance of its expected construction. They remain in place today.

The Montgomery County Council already led a full-court-press to sink plans for a Walmart store in south Rockville, on MD 355. Preventing Walmart from opening stores countywide naturally increases regional demand for the existing Germantown store, in the Milestone Shopping Center. An Aspen Hill store would be a similar draw for patrons outside of the Aspen Hill area. Conversely, one could argue that Kohls and Kmart are also rare, and regional draws as well.

What's the bottom line? Aspen Hill is indisputably a suburban bedroom community, with high-quality, desirable brick homes on leafy, tree-lined streets. It also boasts a central commercial area that serves residents of surrounding communities, with businesses of all sizes. While there will be some impact on the community no matter what use is chosen for the Lee site, it would seem that the Walmart proposal would be the most consistent with the character of the neighborhood. The structure would be far less imposing than "town center" apartment towers, which would reduce the impact on immediate neighbors.

A finished amendment could be before the Planning Board by summer.

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