Clarksburg at center of fight to build Montgomery County’s next shopping destination

The quiet community of Clarksburg has become ground zero in a battle to build Montgomery County’s next major shopping destination.

County officials say a team comprised of Streetscape Partners and New England Development are nearing a deal to buy a 40-acre site in Clarksburg owned by Adventist HealthCare. Adventist had planned to use the land for a hospital and medical campus before failing to win the needed approval.

The developers envision a retail complex operated by Simon Property Group, the country’s largest operator of malls.

The companies did not return requests for comment, but Montgomery County Council member Craig Rice (D), said he met with the developers Jan. 18. He said they told him they had signed a letter of intent to purchase the property and had begun formulating their plans.

Adventist declined to name the buyers. “We are in negotiations regarding this portion of our property and cannot comment further,” spokesman Thomas Grant said.

Should the Simon deal stick, it would set up a direct competition with Fairfax-based Peterson Cos., which is planning a 100-acre project along nearby Ten Mile Creek.

Neither developer has revealed their plans. Simon owns and operates Arundel Mills in Hanover and Potomac Mills in Woodbridge, and it could try something similar in Clarksburg. The Peterson Cos. has a relationship with Tanger Outlets, which is bringing 80-plus stores to National Harbor, Peterson’s waterfront project in Oxon Hill. Taylor Chess, Peterson vice president for retail, declined to discuss the company’s plans.

The Adventist property may face fewer hurdles to development than the Peterson parcel. Though the Peterson Cos. have already begun participating in the county’s master planning process for development in the area, residents have concerns about whether a large complex near Ten Mile Creek would damage the watershed.

Chess said the Ten Mile Creek property, known as the Miles-Coppola land for its original owners, had better access to the highway, and was closer to the Clarksburg town center project.

He added that the company had hired environmental consultants to ensure its current project met storm water standards.

“We understand the sensitivity and we are going to build something that Montgomery County will be proud of as long as it isn’t derailed by another development,” he said.

Peterson also bid for the Adventist site, with the prospect of controlling both and blocking a competitor like Simon or Macerich, which has been scouting locations in Montgomery County.

“We would be very excited to move forward with the Adventist site as well,” Chess said. “That would create an opportunity to connect the two projects in a way that would make both of them better.”

Simon and Peterson are familiar foes, having battled for shoppers in Gaithersburg, where the Peterson Cos. own Washingtonian Center and Simon operated and co-owned Lakeforest Mall a few miles away. That ended badly for Simon when it and its partners defaulted on a loan and Five Mile Capital Partners acquired the mall for $102.5 million last year.

Steve Silverman, Montgomery’s economic development director, said County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) had not taken a position on the two projects.

Rice said both projects have their relative merits and was glad to have development teams who know the area and its culture. Streetscape Partners, based in McLean, developed the town home project Symphony Park at Strathmore.

“We have two developers who I think would come up with great projects,” Rice said. “Either way, my Clarksburg residents are going to end up with a quality retail development in their community, and that’s huge. It’s not only going to be a local spotlight, it’s going to be a regional spotlight.”

Jonathan O'Connell has covered land use and development in the Washington area for more than five years.
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