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Gaithersburg Council Responds to Olde Towne Concerns

Gaithersburg logoGAITHERSBURG — At Monday night’s meeting at City Hall, Mayor Jud Ashman and the City Council responded to public concerns about the economic condition of Olde Towne. The revitalization of this neighborhood on Gaithersburg’s east side, which includes City Hall, has long been cited as a priority by the city’s elected officials and staff.

During the public comment period, Monica Lozada, a resident of the Deer Park neighborhood, addressed Ashman and the Council.

“I would like to know what is being done to revitalize Olde Towne,” Lozada said. “I have lived in the area for five years, and while I’ve seen change on the west side, it doesn’t seem like much is being done over here.  It seems that most of the effort is being focused on other areas, such as Crown, for example. I would like to know what is being done to draw more business in here.”

“This council has endeavored to do what it takes to facilitate the revitalization of Olde Towne for more than a decade and as long as I’ve been in office,” Ashman said.  Ashman encouraged Lozada to speak with Tom Lonergan, the city’s Economic Development Director, and to consider involving herself with the Olde Towne Advisory Committee, which is dedicated to the neighborhood’s revitalization.

“The big difference with Crown is that it was a single development that was built all at once by a single developer with a modern plan to attract desirable retail,” Ashman said. “Olde Towne is more of a challenge, because it’s already developed, so anything new would have to be built within the framework of what’s already there, and it makes it more difficult for retailers to get exactly what they want.”

“Since I’ve been on the Council, we’ve added two new residential areas with about 700 units and the community museum, and we have a new plaza coming in,” said Council member Michael A. Sesma. “We can’t legislate that retailers have to come into the area, but we can certainly try to create the proper environment for them to do so, and we’ve tried to support that as much as we can, and we’ve tried to retain as many businesses we could.”

Sesma also cited the Gaithersburg Book Festival, which Ashman founded and is held annually on the grounds of City Hall, as an event that brings thousands of people into Olde Towne.

“You’re hearing a united front from city officials and staff that Olde Towne is a priority,” said Council member Neil Harris. “Olde Towne 20 years ago was in a lot worse shape than it is today. There have been a lot of improvements, but there’s still a long way to go. We’ll continue to persevere until we get to where we want to be and you’re happier than you are now.”

“With Olde Towne, it’s not so much that there’s not incentives to come, but it’s dark and seedy, so no one wants to go over,” said Jennifer Jackson, another Deer Park resident. “I’m walking through my neighborhood, and I only want to drive through there, because there’s people walking in the streets or loitering going on, so I’d like to know what’s going on with enforcement. There are dark awnings, and so it’s hard for people to even know what businesses are there.”

Before the moment of reflection at the start of the meeting, Ashman paid tribute to former Rockville Mayor Phyllis Marcuccio, who passed away June 5. 

“She served the city with great loyalty and skill and a deep dedication, and we all enjoyed working with her,” Ashman said.

@petersrouleau

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