Spurred by a new property owner that wants to redevelop the area now, the Montgomery County Planning Board has proposed starting its zoning review of Westbard in July and seems to have enough Council support to do it.
Equity One hopes to redevelop much of the area surrounding the Giant Food store at 5400 Westbard Ave., but that would require new zoning that would come in a rewrite of the area’s sector plan.
On Tuesday, the Planning Board presented its recommendation to move up the plan on its work schedule. Last done in 1982, the Westbard Sector Plan is the oldest in the county. Sector Plans are designed to set zoning and land use guidelines for 20-25 years.
At a public meeting on March 18, Equity One presented its idea for a a “signature” main street on Westbard Avenue with pedestrian crossings and upscale retailers to replace loading docks and driveways.
The shopping center owner bought Westwood Towers, Springhouse by Manor Care, Bowlmor Lanes and two Citgo stations last year and finalized the acquisition of Westwood Shopping Center and Westwood Center II early this year. It plans to tab developer EYA to design the residential component of the project.
The work schedule proposed by the Planning Board on Tuesday would move up the Westbard plan to early fiscal year 2015 from late fiscal year 2015. It would delay the Gaithersburg East Sector Plan for about five months.
“There weren’t plans to move forward and now we have somebody who is ready to move forward and somebody who has engaged the community,” Berliner said. “There is always the concern of, ‘Oh my goodness, will they do too much?’ It isn’t the developer’s notion that is important. It is what our professional planners decide is important, then ultimately, it is what we decide is important.”
But it’s clear the Planning Board only recommended moving up the plan because of the lobbying of Equity One. Last week, the company — through its Rockville-based public relations firm — sent an email asking residents to urge members of the County Council to move up the Westbard Sector Plan on the Planning Department’s work schedule.
The broad plans presented to the public so far have garnered a mixed reaction from residents.
Many have expressed reservations about additional density and traffic in the area. Still, many residents have said they hope for more restaurants, better retail and a fresh look in the shopping center that is home to the Giant and a very big parking lot.
“There’s general consensus that the acres of asphalt that we have there now, that we can do better,” Berliner said.
Councilmembers Hans Riemer, Craig Rice, Nancy Floreen and Marc Elrich all expressed support for accelerating the Westbard plan.
Planning Director Gwen Wright said Equity One has shared “some innovative ideas that could enhance and revitalize this area.”
Wright said Westbard “is not a transit stop, but it is a very important neighborhood destination.”
The acceleration of the plan will be discussed in upcoming Planning Committee worksessions.