GAITHERSBURG – When a Montgomery County Council committee meets Jan. 11, three council members will decide whether the Montgomery Village master plan is ready for a full vote by the council or needs more work.
The Planning, Housing and Economic Development Committee is chaired by County Council President Nancy Floreen (D) and also includes fellow at-large Council members George Leventhal (D) and Hans Reimer (D). They’re scheduled to meet at 2 p.m. that day to discuss the master plan.
Last week, Reimer offered several favorable comments about the proposed redevelopment of the area’s former golf course, which is at the center of the development’s controversy.
However, Chris Gillis, a senior legislative aide to Leventhal, said the former council president has not made a decision on the master plan yet.
What’s at stake is whether hundreds of houses will be built at the site of the former golf course, a 147-acre property Monument Realty bought during a bankruptcy auction.
The developer “received support from the Montgomery Village Board of Directors for a residential redevelopment concept plan with ample open space,” according to the draft version of the master plan.
“If the former golf course property redevelops, amenities could include a trail network, playgrounds, a dog park, community gardens and other open spaces. Environmentally sensitive areas will likely be placed into permanent conservation easements.”
However, the master plan also states it “recognizes that there is community support for, as well as opposition to, residential redevelopment of the former golf course. Some residents, particularly those with homes adjacent to the former golf course, would like for the site to remain open space.”
That description, the former golf course as open space, runs contrary to the description of the property offered by Montgomery Village Foundation board of directors President John Driscoll.
Driscoll and Monument Realty president Russ Hines are two of the leading proponents of the redevelopment plan put forth by Monument Realty.
“First of all, it’s private property, it’s not public property, so it’s not included in the green space and never has been,” said Driscoll.
“Putting aside that, it’s in the center of Montgomery Village. It’s never been a part of Montgomery Village, and it’s owned by Monument Realty, so it’s private property… And I believe that with all due respect, Dave’s incorrect on that.”
He referred to Dave Lechner, a community activist who has helped lead the opposition to the redevelopment plan.
One issue cited by Lechner is an Oct. 27, 1980, real estate sale agreement that states the seller’s “desire” is to “transfer the ownership of the Montgomery Village Golf Club to a responsible and knowledgeable purchaser who will maintain the facility in the same fashion or better and with the same attention or better as (the seller) has shown to the needs of both homeowners adjacent to the Golf Club and the club membership.”
Despite their disagreement, Driscoll called Lechner a “very good guy” and noted both of them opposed a proposal 10 years ago by residential developer IDI Group Cos. to build condominiums and a senior center on the golf course.
Even Driscoll has some problems with the proposed development.
He referred to homeowners who bought property along the perimeter of the golf course with the understanding they would be next to a golf course.
“Obviously, promises were made to them that were not kept,” said Driscoll.
He also recalled meeting with “a few hundred people” who lived along the property in early 2014, “and they were all upset,” said Driscoll.
“And it was a pretty difficult meeting. If I lived by the golf course, I would rather have development and closure rather than undeveloped rough ground behind me,” he said.
The late Clarence Kettler, whose company Kettle Brothers developed Montgomery Village in the 1960s, wrote in an Oct. 29, 1980, letter supplied by Lechner that “prime location, overlooking the well-kept golf course grounds, was an important factor” in homeowners’ decisions to purchase their property.
“Kettler Brothers is aware how vital the maintenance of the Club and its facilities is to you, and we have gone to great lengths, both in reviewing Mr. (Jack) Doser’s qualifications and in writing the protective covenants of the purchase contract, to allay your concerns,” states the letter, referring to the then-buyer of the golf club.
However, Driscoll and Hines insist the 1980 contract is not the same thing as a recorded covenant.