SHADY GROVE — After more than a decade of land swaps and relocations, County Executive Ike Leggett and developer EYA officially broke ground on Westside Tuesday.
The 45-acre development has been in the works since about 2004 when EYA first got involved in the process for the Shady Grove sector plan. The development will include 407 townhouses and more than 1,000 rental homes as well as office and retail space.
Leggett has pushed for the plan for years as part of his “smart growth” initiative that relocates industrial functions and replaces them with residential development to take advantage of the Metro station proximity.
“Now that sounds simple, but it was in fact difficult. But we were determined to do so and determined to move forward, and what we have here today, I think, reflects that,” Leggett said.
The county orchestrated a land swap with EYA for land across Shady Grove Road farther from the Metro, according to David Dise, director of the Department of General Services. The current land held multiple county functions, including the Department of Liquor Control warehouse, food services for Montgomery County Public Schools and multiple maintenance facilities.
So far, the county has only sold one set of townhouse lots to EYA for $16.6 million, but future transactions are to come. The county hopes to recover the costs of all the relocations not just through selling land to EYA but also through the increased tax base once the land is developed and getting long-term interest on the development sales, according to Dise.
“In the long run, the way we envision it, it will not cost the county anything. We get new facilities located at different locations, and we get better facilities, and we get property now that’s generating tax dollars because when it was county property, it generated no tax dollars,” Leggett said. “In the wash, when it’s all said and done, it shouldn’t cost the county anything.”
The relocations also involve buying a Webb Tract for the future public service training academy in Montgomery Village and fulfilling multiple sector plans in the county.
“Frankly, it’s brilliant in the overall strategy,” Dise said.
But the east side of the Shady Grove area planned for smart growth development is still experiencing some hiccups. Although the Department of General Services has already chosen NVR and LCOR to development the land, the county is having trouble finding a satisfactory solution – temporary or permanent – for moving the more than 400 buses, along with parking spaces for drives and training functions, elsewhere in the county.
The County Council has given itself until the end of 2015 to declare “no further need” on the property, in the hopes that it can have solutions in place by then for the 35-acre site. As a temporary solution, the council has considered placing buses at a number of sites throughout the county and is considering the current Blair Ewing Center on Avery Road as a permanent site.
“Well, there’s no perfect solution; that’s for sure. But we will have a solution, and we have to come up with one. This is simply unacceptable to have buses at this location,” Leggett said, because of the area master plan and its proximity to public transit.
MCPS has to vacate the site of the bus depot by 2017 and has been trying to find a location for the bus depot for about a decade.
The development where the bus depot is now will also include about four acres for a park and four for a school. Although MCPS’s standard acreage for a school exceeds four acres, Planning Board Chair Casey Anderson said he is optimistic they could look at the school design in new ways.
He said the difficulty in finding a bus depot site though is indicative of future planning problems for the county as less land becomes available.
“It’s only going to get more difficult over time as the county is built out to find places to put these, whether it’s a school or a park or a bus depot. These are all things that need to be accommodated. They can be accommodated but sometimes it requires some tradeoffs that we haven’t had to make in the past,” Anderson said.