GAITHERSBURG – A key member of the Montgomery County Council has put his support behind the concept of redeveloping the former Montgomery Village golf course, albeit with contingencies.
County Council member Craig Rice (D-2), who represents the area, said late last month he favors redeveloping 147 acres of land with housing units and open space.
However, the second-term council member said he has “tons of traffic concerns” he wants addressed before voting in favor of the master plan.
On Jan 11, the three members of the County Council’s Planning, Housing and Economic Development Committee are due to consider whether to send the new master plan to the full County Council.
“Well I think it’s indicative of what we see throughout Montgomery County,” said Rice. “The challenge with that is when you couple that with economic development, it’s very difficult to achieve new economic development opportunities when you don’t have change in the neighborhood.”
In this case, the change refers to the golf course bought by residential developer Monument Realty.
The bankrupt 147-acre golf course closed in November 2014.
Monument Realty will be authorized to build up to 600 new housing units on the property if the County Council approves of a new master plan for Montgomery Village.
“Everybody wants to see the town center get redeveloped,” said Rice, who hosted a hearing about the future of the property last year. “Unfortunately, that can only happen when you have some kind of catalyst to make that happen and the redevelopment of the golf course can be the catalyst to make that happen.”
According to Rice, new housing stock can drive future commercial investment into areas like the town center, which competes locally with other commercial developments in Germantown and Quince Orchard for shoppers.
Local resident Dave Lechner is among the lead opponents of the redevelopment.
“We (residents) are counting on the County Council to help preserve the visions of this planned community, not help the developer profit just because we do not have mansions overlooking our golf course, but instead have mostly modest townhouses, placed there at the request of the planning board in 1970,” said Lechner in an email.
Montgomery Village Foundation board of directors President John Driscoll supports the redevelopment but he pointed out homeowners who bought property along the perimeter of the golf course made their purchases with the understanding they would be next to a golf course.
“Obviously, promises were made to them that were not kept,” said Driscoll.
“Well quite frankly, that really wasn’t a promise for them to make at the time,” countered Rice. “The County charter is the only power that allows us to do zoning and land use. There are no covenants that supersede the charter.
So any developer can promise anybody anything in the world.”
Rice later added the reality of the situation “is the sole authority” that lies with the County Council and County charter.
“So it’s unfortunate that people were given this false promise that because somebody decided in their own minds that that’s what it’s always going to be,” said Rice.
“In reality, the sole authority relies with us and some of that means we’re going to have to redevelop as we’re doing in every single neighborhood throughout Montgomery County.”
Rice pointed out state law grants the County Council with planning and zoning authority, so “nothing can usurp that.”
He also homed in on a potential public benefit of the redevelopment in that it will allow more public accessibility on property that used to have more limited access.
“I think the thing that matters the most that I think a lot of people aren’t thinking about is you’ll be able to access this whether or not you’re a member of the golf course as open space,” said Rice.