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Gaithersburg considers code changes

Gaithersburg logoMembers of the Gaithersburg Planning Commission joined Mayor Jud Ashman and the City Council at Monday night’s meeting to discuss a proposed amendment to the city code to clarify the types of businesses allowed to operate in the city’s Central Business District (CBD). The CBD includes all of Olde Towne, a historic neighborhood on Gaithersburg’s east side. The economic revitalization of Olde Towne has long been cited as a priority by city officials. 

Tom Lonergan, Gaithersburg’s economic development director, and Laura Howell of the city’s Planning and Code Administration discussed the proposed change to Chapter 24 of the Code.

“Currently, the CBD zone prohibits all types of automotive services and self-storage facilities,” Howell said. “Despite this, there are currently 18 auto-service facilities operating in the CBD, and one self-storage facility operating over here as well. All of these auto businesses are currently labeled as non-complying, and they date to when the parcels were previously zoned for industrial uses.”

The proposed amendment would allow auto-service businesses to operate as special exceptions inside the CBD, while continuing to prohibit them inside of Olde Towne. Self-storage facilities would continue to be prohibited under the amendment. 

“Auto-repair services provide an essential function,” Lonergan said. “This use is compatible with the characteristics of the buildings and sites outside of the Olde Towne district.  They are small parcels, they are alongside the railroad tracks, and they are very unlikely to develop to mixed uses anytime soon, or anytime at all.”

Allowing these businesses as special exceptions does encourage capital investment in small and large industrial buildings, Lonergan said. He added that granting auto businesses special exceptions would allow the city to regulate air emissions and other related environmental concerns.

“Self-storage facilities, on the other hand, do not complement retail businesses, nor do they promote pedestrian activity,” Lonergan said. “The city has made significant capital investment and public improvements within Olde Towne to encourage revitalization, but we don’t think this is a use that supports that.”

Jose Blanco, owner of Blanco Services, a body shop on East Diamond Avenue, addressed the Council and Planning Commission during the public comment period and argued in favor of the amendment.

“This amendment would affect me in a way that I have been wanting,” Blanco said. “I’ve had to outsource all my painting and mechanical work, which prevents me from growth. I started at 427 East Diamond Avenue and moved to 429 because I wanted to grow my business, but not having this amendment, not being able to move, that’s what prevents these small businesses from growing and expanding. It would allow parking and unloading on the main road, and that will help, because these small business owners don’t want to leave. They’ve established themselves on East Diamond Avenue, and they don’t want to leave what they’ve worked for there. If forced to leave the area, they’ll run into other hurdles, such as higher prices.”

The Planning Commission unanimously voted to leave the public record on the amendment open until 5 p.m. on July 25, with a recommendation expected on Aug. 1. The City Council unanimously voted to leave its public record open until 5 p.m. on Aug. 13, with policy discussion anticipated on September 4.

The Council also issued a proclamation designating July 2018 Parks and Recreation Month in Gaithersburg. During the moment of reflection at the start of the meeting, Ashman asked for thoughts for the victims of the shooting at the offices of the Capital Gazette newspaper in Annapolis on June 28.

@petersrouleau 

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