Last month, the Gaithersburg City Council took the first steps toward annexing the 28-acre Great Indoors site on Shady Grove Road into their city.
On Monday, the Rockville City Council took its first steps to prevent what it sees as encroachment into what is says is an unspoken boundary between the municipalities.
The moves by the two councils could have far-reaching consequences for the future of each city, officials say.
In a 4-0 vote at the end of Monday’s meeting, the Rockville Council directed city staff to start the process for annexing Shady Grove Road with the aim of establishing the city’s northern boundary with Gaithersburg. Councilman Mark Pierzchala was absent from Monday’s meeting.
The annexation “would set a firm boundary between the two cities—a boundary we thought had been well understood by both cities, but apparently was not,” Rockville City Councilman Tom Moore said in a text message to Rockville Patch.
The city would, in effect, take “the black top,” Moore said of the lines drawn by the annexation plan. The proposal includes only Shady Grove Road—but none of the adjacent properties—from midway between Frederick and Gaither roads northeast to the Intercounty Connector interchange. [The orange line in the map above.]
The line follows the city’s “maximum expansion limits” as set out in the 2010 master plan revision.
“I’m hopeful this will bring the parties back to the table to talk a little,” Rockville Mayor Phyllis Marcuccio said.
That won’t likely happen before July 5. Gaithersburg elected officials are barred from commenting, Mayor Sidney Katz said. He referred questions to Trudy Schwarz, Gaithersburg’s community planning director.
The Gaithersburg Council would likely take action on its annexation plan within a few weeks of the close of the public record. Rockville's process would take a few months—including a 30-day public comment period.
“I don’t think the Sears company had any idea that this would stir up a little brushfire among us,” Marcuccio said.
The Rockville City Council, in , voiced Rockville’s concerns about Gaithersburg’s plans to annex the Sears, Roebuck and Co.-owned property where the Great Indoors home goods store is soon-to-close.
The Rockville City Council is proposing a working group to resolve the issues. The group would include representatives of the two cities and, at times, include county representatives. It would focus on a 1992 memorandum of understanding between the cities that provided guidance for annexations.
Sears approached Gaithersburg in January about annexing the property, Schwarz said.
The annexation proposal is in accordance with Gaithersburg’s municipal growth element of Gaithersburg’s master plan, she said. The municipal growth element was adopted in April 2009.
“The Rockville growth element came afterwards [in December 2010] and also incorporates some of the same areas,” she said. “There’s some overlap.”
Sears announced in February that it planned to close all nine Great Indoors stores nationwide.
Sears officials hope a municipality will annex the property and change its zoning. The property is part of the county and is zoned industrial. Sears was allowed to open a Great Indoors store there under the “building supplies” zoning definition, Schwarz said.
The property was rezoned to “research and development” in 2006 under the county’s Shady Grove Sector Plan, she said. Retail use is prohibited under the R&D zone.
Sears approached the county Planning Board about rezoning the land as retail. The county refused.
“So Sears is basically saying ‘we don’t want to get this thing sitting forever, so we want to see if we can get it rezoned in a municipality,’” Moore said. “If it gets rezoned, it’s worth a lot more if they do want to sell it.”
Rockville could pursue one of two options, Moore said. Rockville could ask county planners to reconsider Sears’s rezoning request and allow the land to continue to be used for retail purposes. Or, the city could ask Sears to annex the site into Rockville.
“We’re considering a large list,” Moore said. “We’re not going to pursue all of them.”
Still, Moore did not back down from an opinion shared by his Council colleagues that Gaithersburg is “reaching too far,” he said.
The option put in play on Monday—annexing the roadway—would ensure Rockville’s access to properties along Shady Grove Road—and along Rockville’s current borders, Marcuccio said.
That includes the U.S. Postal Distribution Center and , which is being considered for closure. Just beyond the Post Office site is land that is the focus of the county’s Shady Grove Sector Plan for redevelopment, including .
Officials for Rockville and Gaithersburg said they have not formally discussed the arena or its potential impact on their cities.
Gaithersburg’s annexation plan is “not natural,” Marcuccio said. In order to take the Great Indoors site, Gaithersburg’s municipal boundary would have to cross Interstate 270 and Shady Grove Road. The land annexed just to make the site contiguous with the rest of Gaithersburg is larger than the site itself, she said, calling the proposal “gerrymandering.”
Gaithersburg’s 2009 inclusion of the property in the growth plan revision of its master plan “was a surprise to Rockville altogether,” Marcuccio said. “But we didn’t make an issue of it because the assumption was that [Shady Grove Road] was a natural barrier.”
Rockville City Councilman John Hall appeared to be hopeful for a friendly resolution to the matter.
“I’m happy to join my colleagues in this, but I’m more eager for a greater dialogue with our sister government agencies that might be affected by this and with those [with] whom I think we’re striving to maintain productive and familial working relationships,” Hall said after Monday’s vote.
Councilwoman Bridget Donnell Newton said she agreed.
“I’m very hopeful that we can have a good resolution for both municipalities on this,” she said.