The City of Gaithersburg Planning Commission’s March 28 discussion of the three proposed Kentlands Square infill buildings on the Lowe’s side of the Kentlands Square shopping center was guided by walkability and pedestrian safety concerns. This, Chair John Bauer said, is what the Planning Commission hoped to communicate to the Mayor and City Council in its 4-1 recommendation that the Council approve SDP-7712-2017.
The Council’s public record closed Tuesday, April 3 at 5 p.m. A policy discussion is anticipated at the April 16, 7:30 p.m. Mayor and City Council meeting.
The Planning Commission’s recommendation for approval is based primarily on the successful resolution of site E drive-thru traffic flow; it no longer impedes pedestrian access. “Up to this point, the drive-thru was essentially a hindrance or a compromise to promoting a walkable community,” Bauer said. “Now it essentially follows that true town development where all of that service stuff happens out back. It’s in the back parking lot … it’s not a part of the public street, it’s not a part of the streetscape, it’s not part of the public realm.”
The Planning Commission on Dec. 6, 2017 asked the applicant, Saul Holdings Limited Partnership, to reconfigure the drive-thru aisle for site E so that it not cross any sidewalks. Saul submitted the revised drive-thru design on Feb. 20, 2018.
Entrance and exit for the drive-thru is now on the back, parking lot side of site E and away from the streetscape and main drive aisle between Kentlands Boulevard and Main Street. “The revised plan makes it as palatable as it can be,” said Philip Wessell, Planning Commission member. “It increases queuing space for the drive-thru itself. … It’s as good as I think you can get for a drive-thru.”
Wessell was concerned that the Planning Commission clearly understand and communicate its responsibilities in considering SDP-7712-2017. In addition to drive-thru opposition, many community members questioned the proposed infill building’s non-conformance with the 2008 Kentlands Boulevard Commercial District Master Plan.
Kirk Eby, city planner, explained, “Because the plan was approved under a former master plan and a former sketch plan and a former SDP, those still apply until the applicant decides to implement the newer master plan, the 2008 master plan full scale … so essentially you’re reviewing this against the 1988 master plan for Kentlands.”
The city’s long-range planning manager Rob Robinson took this a step further. “Vested rights are in place,” he said. “This is private property. … The master plan does not obligate a private property owner to implement that plan.”
Ruthzaly Weich, Planning Commission member, suggested that the Planning Commission encourage the applicant to work on a solution that takes into account community feedback. Encouraging the applicant to resolve community issues would not be outside of the Planning Commission’s legal purview, she said. Saul and other stakeholders agreed to the vision in the 2008 master plan, she noted. Weich was the only Planning Commission member to vote against the Planning Commission’s recommendation for approval on March 28.
The Planning Commission did amend the staff recommendation that streetscape improvements only kick in when two or more buildings are built. The new condition sent to the Mayor and City Council for its review requires the applicant to “include a phasing plan detailing the timing of construction for temporary and permanent pedestrian streetscape improvements and changes to the parking lot” in their first final site plan application.
Planning Commission member Danny Winborne expressed concern for pedestrian safety at the four-way stop/Whole Foods intersection and asked about traffic study findings. Pedestrian safety was not specifically studied by the traffic engineers, he learned.
Planning Commission and staff agreed that studying pedestrian safety outside of the shopping center was not required of the applicant. Owned and managed by the city, Kentlands Boulevard will be improved soon, Robinson said.
Wessell suggested the Planning Commission look into how other municipalities handle pedestrian safety with respect to new development. Studying pedestrian facility adequacy off-site is not currently required of applicants.