City Approves Kentlands Square Sketch Plan

Photo | Submitted Phase one of the Kentlands Square mixed-use redevelopment features up to 1450 multifamily units and up to 784,080 square feet of commercial on the 12 acres currently home to Kmart and parking lot.

Photo | Submitted
Phase one of the Kentlands Square mixed-use redevelopment features up to 1450 multifamily units and up to 784,080 square feet of commercial on the 12 acres currently home to Kmart and parking lot.

The sketch plan for Kentlands Square mixed-use redevelopment was approved by a 4-0 vote at the July 17 Mayor and City Council meeting. Kentlands Square SK-7503-2017 features up to 1450 multifamily units and up to 784,080 square feet of commercial.

A public comment period preceded policy discussion of the sketch plan. Kentlands residents spoke in personal and official capacities, urging the city to look at the big picture in terms of Kentlands downtown redevelopment. The record for public comment on the sketch plan closed May 26, but resident input was heard.

Marina Khoury, Kentlands town architect and Duany Plater-Zyberk (DPZ) partner, referred to detailed comments submitted by herself and Mike Watkins of Michael Watkins Architect, LLC, and urged the city to back them. Khoury said that they support greater density downtown, but this should follow the best practices of urban design and fit into Kentlands’ larger design. She also noted the retail density survey being prepared by Bob Gibbs, and shared that Gibbs’ survey will show the area can support far less retail than that being considered.

Kentlands Citizens Assembly (KCA) Chair Chris Campbell said that the KCA is very supportive of the sketch plan, and believes that designers Torti Gallas are terrific. He stressed, however, that the KCA strongly supports sketch plan comments submitted by Khoury and Watkins, as well as the Gibbs retail survey. He urged the city to “provide over-arching structure. … We challenge you all to keep the bigger picture in mind.”

KCA President Barney Gorin echoed Campbell’s sentiments when he urged the city to take the “30,000-foot view.” While he is happy with Saul, Kimco and the Kentlands Apartments project, he continues to be concerned about Main Street and believes that the numbers in the Kentlands Square Sketch Plan—up to 784,080 square feet of commercial—may freeze out Kimco and make it impossible for Main Street to compete.

Kentlands resident Bob Bachman said that he supports the Kentlands Square redevelopment but is concerned about the dramatic increase in commercial space. Businesses are struggling now, he noted, and the increase in commercial might overwhelm the retail environment of Kentlands.

Rob Robinson, the city’s long-range planning manager, briefed the meeting on the Kentlands Square Sketch Plan process to date, and answered questions from Mayor Jud Ashman and Councilmembers Neil Harris, Mike Sesma, Ryan Spiegel and Robert Wu during the ensuing policy discussion.

Wu pressed the concern about the area’s ability to absorb the proposed increase in retail, and asked how Saul might impact Kimco’s Kentlands Market Square and other businesses.

Robinson stressed that sketch plan numbers are “up to” and said, “We all acknowledge that won’t really occur. These 12 acres can’t really absorb 1450 residential units and almost 800,000 square feet of commercial uses.”

Equally important, commercial uses encompass more than retail, he noted, like childcare, special education, personal services. “At SDP (schematic design phase),” he said, “the Council can pare back … make sure it’s a sustainable use.”

Sesma said that he would like to see the overall vision for Saul’s redevelopment, and not just the phase one redevelopment of 12 acres. His concerns include transportation and infrastructure, school capacity, traffic, and the planned Corridor Cities Transitway station at the Kentlands Square Great Seneca Highway property line. “Redevelopment affects people within a five-mile radius,” he said.

Harris said that the sketch plan largely matches the city’s 2008 master plan for the Kentlands Boulevard Commercial District. The density, he noted, is still under Council control and can be decided at future meetings in the planning process. The city continues to work with Montgomery County Public Schools to alleviate Rachel Carson Elementary School (RCES) overcrowding, he said, beyond the planned 350-seat addition to Dufief Elementary and reassignment of RCES students to that school.

Harris pressed city staff on making sketch plan comments submitted by Khoury and Watkins part of the process. Robinson said that consideration of their comments would come mainly at the SDP stage.

Spiegel said that while not perfect, the sketch plan “aligns well with the master plan.” Noting that this is just a sketch plan, he also suggested the Council exert its control at the SDP stage, if necessary.

Mayor Ashman shared councilmembers’ concern about long-term impact on schools and traffic, but said, ”We’re way early on that. … We’ll have to pay strict attention to how buildout will impact our infrastructure.”

The Council seemed to reach consensus that the sketch plan is consistent with the city’s master plan and as a preliminary document could be approved. The vote was unanimous, 4-0.