GERMANTOWN — Members of the Land Use Committee gathered to discuss ideas on what makes a commercial hub successful.
The Land Use Committee is a part of the Upcounty Citizens Advisory Board (UCAB) and has nine members.
The UCAB represents a large swath of the county. Its members shed light on the concerns of nearly 18 upcounty towns, such as Boyds, Clarksburg and Damascus, among others.
To join the UCAB, residents must be appointed by the county executive and then confirmed by the county council.
UCAB is meant to advise local officials, including the County Executive, on issues affecting their communities. Members serve three-year terms.
At their June 3 meeting, the Land Use Committee primarily discussed the Germantown Center and the ways they could liven the area up.
“This town center is different than Pike and Rose or Rockville Town Center,” said Catherine Matthews, director of UCAB. “Germantown Center has several property owners, and there was no plan to design the area, so when a property owner was ready, they just built.”
She explained that the town center looks rather disjointed and not cohesive, which other areas, such as Bethesda and Silver Spring avoided because they followed a plan for the whole area.
Matthews also noted that Germantown’s master plan for development was modeled after Columbia, Maryland. Columbia is designed around a town center with little villages containing residences, schools and restaurants.
“The villages do well, but the town center was the last piece and it didn’t come together. There’s just not much to generate business from the morning to night and on the weekends,” she said.
Matthews explained because the villagers have just about everything, they feel they don’t need to travel to the town center, so the businesses there languish.
Robert Bartlett, a member of UCAB, noted that the problem with the Germantown Center is that it is not multi-use.
“There’s just not really a reason for people to be around the area at night,” Bartlett said.
Matthews emphasized that Germantown is really a family-oriented area, one that young people are not necessarily drawn to.
“That’s another problem; people who want nightlife are going to other jurisdictions and leaving their money there,” she said.
The committee agreed that family fun activities like a trampoline park or an escape room could help the town center, along with small business local to the area. As it is now, Germantown Center has a lot of chain and fast food restaurants because they are the ones with the revenues to keep up with the rent.
“A lot of it also comes down to property owners,” Bartlett said. “The rent they’re charging just (is) not conducive to mom-and-pop places. The cost of commercial rent is a drag on small business.”
The committee members seemed excited that Topgolf will soon be opening its doors in Germantown. Although the almost-stadium-style facility is not a mom-and-pop place, it is bound to bring in a lot of revenue for the area.
Topgolf is a driving range and restaurant in one. Patrons can bring a group of friends to drive golf balls at a target set up in a field. Topgolf plays music, the restaurants are typically open late, and the next closest Topgolf franchise is in Virginia. The committee’s expectation is that the franchise will bring people from all over the upcounty to play because it is more conveniently located.
The TopGolf in Germantown is currently under construction, and the committee estimates that it will be open for business in November of this year.
Board member Wayne Jacas noted that once Topgolf is established, other places that feature family activities could pop up too, like indoor skydiving facilities, which could make Germantown a hub for things to do on a Saturday afternoon.
The committee agreed that Germantown could be more vibrant if only members of the community were more engaged in where they live.
“People need to take ownership of their community,” Bartlett said.
Matthews noted that governments cannot come in and build a sense of community for residents. Instead, that sense needs to come from community members taking pride in where they live.
Ultimately, the committee outlined three keys they felt would help their town center: a concentration of people living nearby, convenient transit options and entertainment or another afterhours draw.
The committee agreed that they would outline these factors for the full board and recommend a meeting with the Germantown Alliance. They would then invite property owners to work on further development in the area.