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Correction to This Article
A map with an Aug. 1 Washington Business article transposed the White Oak Shopping Center and the Hillandale Shopping Center.

Connecting With Future As Highway Takes Shape

Chris Jones owns a shopping center in Burtonsville.
Chris Jones owns a shopping center in Burtonsville. (By Tetona Dunlap -- The Washington Post)
By Dana Hedgpeth
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 1, 2005

His 13-acre car lot, an impressive expanse of flash, chrome and white Corvettes with red leather interior, has been a 30-year fixture at the corner of Route 29 and Briggs Chaney Road, and Robert Fogarty says he'll be there for years to come.

But as local and state officials push ahead with plans to build the intercounty connector, a major highway across central Montgomery County, developers are starting to look at nearby businesses such as Fogarty's and the Dutch Country Farmers Market in Burtonsville or the Sears store in the White Oak Shopping Center a little farther down the road, and saying that it's only a matter of time before the dominoes start to fall.

When highways expand, money follows. If this road is built, many of the businesses along its route could be bought up or crowded out by an explosion of much bigger development.

"At some point some of the kids hit that point where they'd rather look at the checkbook than run the business," said Stewart Greenebaum, a major developer in the area who said sweeping away the car lot would allow a mixed-use development. "The lure of being able to sell when the price is right, that's what makes the world go around."

Montgomery officials say the intercounty connector is not designed to prompt new development. They've promised a strict policy of not rezoning any land along the proposed highway, which would cut through an area where much of the land has already been built up, mostly with houses.

But a close look at one narrow strip in the eastern part of Montgomery, along Route 29, reveals the road's potential to greatly intensify development, planting the seeds along one suburban highway of what could over time become a new urban corridor.

Based on current zoning, 10 commercially zoned parcels could support nearly 10 million additional square feet of office, retail or housing, from Zimmerman's Hardware store in Burtonsville, which could only add a building the size of two tennis courts on its property, to the WesTech Business Park near the Prince George's County line, which could add an office building the size of eight football fields stacked on top of each other, according to zoning records, local developers, planners and land use lawyers.

That's about as much space as is added in Montgomery County in three years, according to real estate research firm Delta Associates.

The development would not follow all at once. But if history is a guide, analysts say, the road network planned in Montgomery would put much of that land under pressure to be developed to its most intense use -- just as early development in Silver Spring and the District forced businesses like Fogarty's out to the suburbs in the first place. Fogarty's father was one of the first car dealers in the area to move from downtown to the suburbs. His dealership is one of six in the Auto Sales Park at Route 29 and Briggs Chaney Road, across from a strip mall that includes a Safeway, a Ross store, a deli and a Chuck E. Cheese's restaurant.

"The ICC . . . will make what has been a suburban community into more of an environment that's desirable for office, residential and retail," said Jon Eisen, a Bethesda consultant to major developers in the area.

Based on the existing zoning, developers say the area could draw as much as $500 million of investment in coming years, as it diverts traffic from the Capital Beltway and makes it possible for people who live in Rockville or Baltimore to quickly zip to a job in White Oak -- instead of winding through narrow roads or braving the Beltway. It also could plant thousands of new workers along the six-mile strip from Burtonsville to White Oak along Route 29.

"The whole northern Route 29 area has been off the map because it's so hard to get to the main arteries, but with the ICC and major interchanges intersecting with it, you're going to make it a place for office development because many of these companies already have employees that are living in Columbia and Silver Spring," said Jack McShea, a senior managing director of a company that leases office space to companies.

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