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Planning Board backs one Clarksburg outlet mall plan

Thursday - 7/18/2013, 3:58pm  ET

The battle of the planned Clarksburg outlet malls took a step forward Thursday as the Montgomery County Planning Board backed a proposed outlet mall at Cabin Branch.

McLean's Streetscape Partners LLC, Newton, Mass.-based New England Development and Simon Property Group Inc. are behind a development plan amendment to bring 484,000 square feet of retail, anchored by the Simon-managed Clarksburg Premium Outlets, to the Cabin Branch area immediately west of Interstate 270, on land once planned for a new Adventist Hospital.

The approved development plan for the core Cabin Branch neighborhood, adopted in 2003, permitted a maximum of 120,000 square feet of neighborhood-serving retail, 2.3 million square feet of office and 1,139 residential units. The proposed amendment, backed unanimously by the planning board, reduces the office component to 1.9 million square feet while boosting retail and adding a 1,000-seat amphitheater.

"The tenant interest is overwhelming, and I would be shocked if we didn't open 95 percent leased," Ron Kaplan, co-managing Streetscape principal, told the planning board. "These are not false promises."

The overall Cabin Branch development may take 20 years to build, but Kaplan said the retail portion could open as soon as late 2015. Dozens of Clarksburg residents have written the planning board in support of the project, several of whom spoke out Thursday.

"The retail center is a good use for the property since we're not getting the hospital," said Barry Fantle, a Clarksburg resident. "To me, this is just a no-brainer."

Just to the east of I-270, meanwhile, Fair Lakes-based The Peterson Cos. and Tanger Outlet Centers have proposed an "upscale outlet center" within walking distance of a planned transit center and the planned Clarksburg Town Center.

Peterson executives say Streamside at Clarksburg — 450,000 square feet of retail and restaurants, up to 450 residential units, two hotels and up to 300,000 square feet of office — will be livable and walkable, ease traffic on Route 355 and improve water quality in nearby Ten Mile Creek by bringing public sewer to an area currently served by septic.

The Peterson proposal is the subject of a scheduled Sept. 5 planning board hearing.

The retail competition is the "elephant in the room," said Planning Board member Casey Anderson. Building outlets on one side of I-270, he said, "presents a problem for the other side of 270."

Other members expressed concern that too much retail on either side of the highway may make it more difficult to finally develop Clarksburg Town Center — a stalled project nearby residents have waited years for. The panel sought to address that issue by limiting the size of any store in Cabin Branch to a maximum of 50,000 square feet.

But board member Norman Dreyfuss said, "It seems like there's room for everybody."

"In communities that have more developers, they're much more successful," Dreyfuss said. "Competition creates traffic, creates enthusiasm and success. The more we can get into Clarksburg, the more we're going to have success."

David Stein, a Clarksburg Village resident, voiced support for the Peterson project as a more walkable development. He suggested (as Peterson executives contend) that the Cabin Branch plan should go through the far more extensive master plan amendment process, as opposed to a less intensive development plan amendment.

"This will allow the citizens of Clarksburg to properly evaluate and [give] input on the future of Clarksburg and its retail," Stein said. "The [Simon] outlets were pushed on us very quickly and very recently. Our community does want one of these projects."

© 2013 American City Business Journals, Inc.