The beleaguered Lakeforest Mall took one step closer in its transformation into a mixed-use property when the Gaithersburg planning commission unanimously adopted its zoning map amendment application Wednesday evening. The board conditionally approved the sketch plan.
The Gaithersburg sketch plan divides the site into 16 blocks, and includes a community park, commercial purposes, the relocated Lakeforest Transit Center, and a mix of townhouses, GAP housing and multi-family condominium and rental units.
The plan calls for around 1.2 million square feet of the site to be designated for commercial use and for up to 1,600 residential units be built across 102 acres, according to Rob Robinson, Gaithersburg’s long-range planning manager.
Robinson said during the meeting that “the applicant is open to listen and wants to work with the community.”
Public comments posted on the Gaithersburg planning website showed mixed reactions on the new project.
A comment from Judy Grimley from Courtyard Homes Asbury wrote that while the northern part of the site is “well thought out,” more focus should be placed on beautifying the southern end near Odenhal Avenue.
Robert L. Rodgers from Gaithersburg asked that the developers “retain the remnant forest bordering Montgomery Village Avenue and Lost Knife Road” for more usable green space.
Raymond Podlasek, another Gaithersburg resident, wrote: “The intent to redevelop this property into a mixed-use development is essential. The proposed sketch plan offers the opportunity to include a variety of uses, other than retail, and residential needed to create new jobs and continue economic growth in our community.”
In a statement to MoCo360, Deborah Sarabia, an environmental scientist and Gaithersburg resident, said she felt shortshrifted by the sketch plan’s green spaces proposal.
“[For] a regular development, they would have 40% [green space] for residential area, but in this case, they’re only doing 35%, because they’re doing a combined residential commercial development,” Sarabia said. “I don’t know how that justifies doing less green space, but it’s pretty much taken up by the stormwater ponds that they can’t build on anyway.”
She said Gaithersburg needs to invest in the east side with more equity, and stated that she and many of her fellow residents felt that many of their concerns were disregarded by planners during the development process.
Up to 10% of the residential units will be townhomes, at least 25% GAP housing (2 over 2s, triplex homes etc.), and 40%-65% will be multifamily units—both rental and owned.
The plan includes 750,000 square feet set aside for employment use, which can include offices, banks, medical facilities, research and development facilities etc.; 250,000 for retail use; and 220,000 for commercial and entertainment/amusement purposes. The plan would also relocate and enhance the Lakeforest Transit Center to improve future operations of the Bus Rapid Transit system along Frederick Avenue.
Redevelopment plans for the mall as part of a larger Lakeforest Master Plan were unanimously adopted by Gaithersburg Mayor Jud Ashman and the City Council in August 2021. Lakeforest Mall developer WRS Inc. previously stated it expected the mall to be demolished by the end of 2024.
In recent years, the mall has been affected by a spate of crime. Last February, a 23-year-old T-Mobile employee was fatally stabbed near the food court. In November 2021, a man was fatally shot in the mall parking lot.
The Lakeforest site, which includes Lakeforest Mall, encompasses around 1,049,000 square feet and has approximately 7,000 surface parking spaces and three stormwater management ponds. It contains eight land parcels, and is bounded by Odendhal Avenue on the south, Lost Knife Road on the east, Russell Avenue on the west, and Montgomery Village Avenue on the north, according to Gaithersburg Staff Analysis documents.