Just as Montgomery County leaders envisioned when they drew up the plans nearly three decades ago, the 200-acre area surrounding the Shady Grove Metro station is a hub for transportation and industry.
The site, at the northwestern end of Metro's Red Line, includes a sprawling transportation complex with more than 5,000 parking spaces and stops for two dozen bus lines. It also features a cluster of warehouses and nondescript government offices and is home to enough vacant lots to attract builders who find few opportunities like it elsewhere in the county. Nearby is old Derwood, where both aging and remodeled houses sit next to a vehicle emissions station.
Now, the County Council wants to change that vision dramatically. The council is scheduled to vote next month on a master plan to turn the area into an urban village, with housing, office buildings and shops amid tree-lined streets and parks. "It's like total change," said Pat Labuda, who lives a mile from the Metro station. "It's hard to envision it all."
If approved, the Shady Grove plan would convert the mostly industrial area -- part of a broader 2,000-acre community -- into a housing center that could draw as many as 12,000 new residents.
Officials predict that many would use Metrorail instead of cars, but the sheer size of the proposed development worries some neighbors. The council's deliberations come as the county's planning department is under fire for its lax oversight of Clarksburg Town Center, a planned community in northwestern Montgomery.
"What's happened in Clarksburg clearly illustrates the safeguards that need to be put in place," Labuda said. "Whatever it is that they decide on these issues, they need to have some follow-through and make sure what's supposed to happen, happens."
Council President Tom Perez (D-Silver Spring) acknowledges that building as many as 6,340 residences near the Shady Grove Metro is "a lot of housing."
"The challenge is: Can we give assurances that we have the systems in place to carry out that plan?" Perez said. "Can we ensure the infrastructure is in place? Can we ensure the oversight will be there?"
Other questions, including concerns about traffic, surround what would be the most significant reshaping of a Metro station community in Montgomery in more than a decade. For example, it's unclear which industrial facilities would remain and which would be moved.
Council members and planners say it is the perfect chance to apply the principles of "smart growth," a land-use strategy that encourages dense building around Metro and bus stations. The county wants to require developers to set aside 25 percent of the residences for families that can't afford the county's median price of $666,540 for a new single-family detached home.
Ten percent of that housing would be designated for middle-class families, aimed at helping Montgomery teachers, police officers and firefighters afford to live in the county.
"This is the most transformational plan that has been considered in the last 15 years," Perez said.
In the past, the council has concentrated more on redeveloping areas closer to the District, such as Bethesda and Silver Spring. Now its focus has shifted to the Interstate 270 corridor, where new houses have not caught up with the boom in office construction, said Karen Kumm, the county's lead planner on the Shady Grove project.
"If we had more housing, we'd have people closer to their jobs," Kumm said. "We've been doing concentrated growth inside the [Capital] Beltway. . . . But the 270 corridor outside the Beltway is the next frontier."
The master plan has been four years in the making. Council members said they have delayed a vote until November because they are waiting for the county's Office of Legislative Oversight to report on what went wrong in Clarksburg.
"I think council members, and I'm one of them, are interested to know what the OLO's assessment is on why Clarksburg happened and what implications it will have on this type of development, which is at least as complicated or even more so," said council member Phil Andrews (D-Gaithersburg-Rockville).
An earlier version of the Shady Grove master plan called for an additional 4,800 homes, but planners thought there was room for more. Under the revised plan, apartments and condominiums would be built around the Metro station. Neighborhoods farther from the station would have a combination of apartments, condominiums, townhouses and houses.
Current residents in the area said they are open to more housing, but they want the plan to include additional parks and a community center. Putting so many homes in a compact area would clog roads and crowd schools, said Kay Guinane, co-president of the Greater Shady Grove Civic Alliance, a neighborhood group.
"You're supposed to create a sense of place and community," she said. "What they have done is create human warehouses."
Kumm said the proposal allows for the council to decide later if a community center should be built. It also includes a school, three parks, three ballfields, and five acres of fountains and sidewalks around the Metro station. Twenty percent of each development would be set aside for public use, such as gardens, she said.
Some council members said they worry that the Clarksburg controversy will be used as an excuse to delay efforts such as the Shady Grove master plan.
"This has nothing to do with Clarksburg," said council member Steven A. Silverman (D-At Large). "Clarksburg is about the failure to properly implement a master plan. It is not about smart planning."
Council members are talking about requiring Shady Grove builders to reduce by 50 percent the number of car trips that would otherwise be generated by their residential developments. One approach would be to run free shuttle buses to and from the Metro station.
The council also wants to set a strict schedule for when builders would have to complete certain requirements. If a company did not meet the deadlines, it would not be allowed to advance to the next stage, council members said.
"The Shady Grove plan is a new way of doing planning business in the county," said council member Nancy Floreen (D-At Large). "There are different rules for how a community can evolve."
There is at least one skeptic on the council. Andrews said he does not believe the community can handle the additional density and traffic.
"I think the [planning department] has gotten carried away with the desire to put housing around the Metro and given inadequate consideration to what is already there," Andrews said. "It's too much for a community that's already developed."
Labuda is also concerned. She has owned her house on Briardale Road off Shady Grove Road since 1972. She raised six children in the four-bedroom house with her husband. Back then, her road was unpaved, and the community was rural. Now Shady Grove Road has become one of the noisiest in the county, with trucks regularly driving to the nearby waste-transfer station.
She and some of her neighbors hope that they can persuade the council to make concessions. They want fewer houses and more amenities. "This is our final window of opportunity," she said.