GAITHERSBURG— Gaithersburg Mayor Jud Ashman and the Gaithersburg City Council voted 5-0 on Aug. 19 to approve a resolution that would allow negotiations between the city and the new owners of the Lakeforest Mall.
WRS Inc., the development company that has purchased the core shops inside the Lakeforest Mall, requested that the city negotiate with WRS Inc. to create a development plan as opposed to moving forward with a special study of the area and a moratorium.
According to the city, the special study of the Lakeforest Mall would take up to 18 months and creates a moratorium, or a temporary stop, to development. The study would help the city further pinpoint what kind of development it would like to see built on the site.
The unanimous vote by the mayor and council will allow City Manager Tony Tomasello to negotiate with WRS.
“Due to the importance of the redevelopment of the Lakeforest Mall property, the city has been considering the adoption of a moratorium to defer the review and approval of any new development applications, requests and petitions for new subdivision, or a change of zoning related to the property so that the city can conduct a special study,” the city wrote in their overview of the issue. “Adoption of a moratorium was scheduled for consideration on Aug. 5, 2019.”
The city went on to explain that before the mayor and city council could discuss the moratorium that would implement a special study of the mall and its shops, WRS Inc., bought the core shops, not the anchor stores, within the mall.
Lakeforest Mall has suffered alongside countless other brick-and-mortar stores that have struggled to keep up with growing online retail. The mall is nearly 1-million-square-feet in size, according to the Simon Property Group. Their current anchor stores include Macy’s, J. C. Penney and Lord & Taylor, all of which own their spaces within the mall.
Development negotiations would need to include discussions with the anchor stores, since they own their spaces, but WRS could make development changes to the “core” portion of the mall that they purchased back in late-July.
WRS requested that the city defer consideration of the moratorium and allow the development company to work with the city and create a redevelopment plan for the property.
“This is really an agreement that allows us to negotiate, and, if successful, would lead to another agreement called a development agreement,” Tomasello said. “I applaud WRS for taking this on; at this point, there are still five separate owners of the mall property, and the sixth party in this agreement would be us (the city of Gaithersburg).”
Tomasello explained that this type of negotiation could prove to be difficult to navigate, given that there are multiple parties involved.
“This is a tall order in five months, but they seem ready to take it on. This only gives me the authority to negotiate the first agreement, which would set the parameters of developing the next agreement,” he said.
Councilmember Michael Sesma noted during discussion that this issue has taken a great deal of patience and will continue to demand patience as it is worked out.
“We’ve been very patient, and I think we’re still in a situation that requires patience until we get some really specific ideas of what is going to happen and what the options are,” Sesma said.
In the resolution, the city noted that working with WRS would be in the best interest of the city.
“The mayor and city council have determined that it may be in the city’s best interests to develop agreements between the city of Gaithersburg and the parcel owner of the Lakeforest Mall in order to facilitate redevelopment of the property that is consistent with the city’s vision for the property,” the city wrote.
The council is expected to discuss the resolution and the stance of the Lakeforest Mall on Sept. 3, according to Tomasello. He noted, however, that although discussion is scheduled for early-September, the mayor and council may decide to take more time if they see fit.
The Sentinel reached out to WRS Inc. repeatedly for comment, but they could not be reached.