The Gaithersburg City Council unanimously approved the rezoning of eight properties on the site and Lakeforest Mall Sketch Plan application 5-0 Monday evening.
The approval was the next step for the 102-acre site that includes the recently shuttered mall and will become a mixed-use property. The plan has drawn reactions from residents who have voiced concerns, particularly about environmental impacts.
“There’s a lot of interest in this project, we got a lot of testimony in our public hearing, we’ve received a lot of written testimony and we appreciate it,” Gaithersburg Mayor Jud Ashman said. “I feel like from the beginning of the master plan process, the community has approached the future of the Lakeforest property very constructively and contributed meaningfully.”
Redevelopment plans for the mall as part of a larger Lakeforest Master Plan were unanimously adopted by Ashman and the City Council in August 2021. The mall shut its doors at the end of March, not long after it’s last anchor store, Macy’s, closed.
The Gaithersburg planning commission unanimously adopted the mall’s zoning map amendment application in March, while conditionally approving the sketch. The four conditions included receiving approval from the Maryland State Highway Administration to the mall site; to receive Maryland Department of the Environment Category A joint permit application (JPA) approval for the relocation of the 84” storm pipe and filling of Pond 3; submit a revised Strategic Market Analysis; and submit a revised Fiscal Impact Analysis.
The sketch plan divides the 102-acre site into multiple blocks. Block A is a community park. Blocks C, B, D, and E will be for commercial use; Block F is the new location of the Lakeforest Transit Center; Block J is identified as a community green space and amenity location; and blocks G through O, will be a mix of townhouses, gap housing and multi-family condominium units.
As details of the project have emerged, members of the community raised various issues about the redevelopment including preserving trees, green area percentages and preserving the exiting forested areas. Rob Robinson, Long Range Planning Manager, addressed some of the community’s concerns on behalf of Lakeforest Development LLC.
One of the primary issues was the feasibility of daylighting (opening buried watercourse and restoring them to more natural condition) the existing storm drain system that runs beneath the mall.
“Daylighting the streams is cool, it’s awesome,” Robinson said. “It’s a great urban design but when pipe is 30 feet below grade, in order to do it and do it safely, it sort of renders the project economically infeasible.”
Another issue brought up was about the elimination of a third pond originally proposed, which was removed after it was realized to not serve regional stormwater management demands, according to Robinson.
Councilmember Robert Wu said the mixed-use development is materializing into something they can be proud of, but also emphasized the importance of mature trees and specimen trees and recognizing their value as tree cover that can’t be replaced by sapling.
He proposed an amendment to the four conditions placed on the site, adding condition number five stating, “Developers shall preserve and integrate specimen trees on the site to the extent of reasonably applicable.”
The amendment was not supported by another member of the council and the rezoning and Lakeforest Mall Sketch Plan application was approved without the amendment. Next, WRS will have to present a Schematic Development Plan with designs for the site.