Two developers, over the objections of Montgomery County planners, are petitioning the city of Gaithersburg to annex their property, in a move that planners say would free them of new curbs on growth enacted last month by the County Council.
The annexation requests involve two tracts of land, totaling 106 acres, located on the outskirts of the city in a traffic-clogged section of what is one of the fastest growing counties in the Washington area.
The properties abut the right-of-way of a planned superhighway that would link I-270 with the new Shady Grove Metro station; both developers are seeking rezoning from the city to permit construction of office buildings for high-tech industries.
Last week, however, the Montgomery County Planning Board voted to oppose the annexation of one tract until the owners agree to a range of conditions that would impose restrictions similar to those that currently exist on the property.
The action sets the stage for a major confrontation between the developer and the planning board when the issue goes before the Montgomery County Council later in the year.
"They think there is something they're going to get from . . . Gaithersburg, they can't get from us," said planning board Chairman Norman Christeller. "The council should be careful not to undermine what little control we do have over traffic" in the area.
"There is no basis to deny the annexation at all," countered attorney Roger Bain, who represents the property's contract purchaser, Saratoga Development Corp.
Development on the 73-acre tract, located north of Gaither Road and west of Industrial Drive, is currently controlled by a newly revised county master plan that ties future growth to the construction of new highways.
The plan, adopted by the council last month, calls for the development by the end of the century of a "corridor city" of housing and high-tech industry in the wedge of land between Rockville and Gaithersburg.
Under the plan, development on the Saratoga property would be limited to light industry and warehouses. Office buildings, which generate more traffic, would be allowed only by special exception, Christeller said.
The second developer, known as the Leadership Group, is petitioning the city to annex a 33-acre tract west of the intersection of Shady Grove Road and Rte. 355, according to planning records.
That property is currently zoned for town houses and detached homes, but under the annexation request, the owners are asking for rezoning to allow commercial and industrial development.
In a hearing last week before the Gaithersburg planning commission, dozens of nearby residents turned out to oppose the proposed construction of office buildings on the site.
"The reason for them going into the city is to circumvent the county's planning process," said Albert Parr, a citizen who testified against the annexation. A 10-story office building near single-family homes is a bit unseemly."
The city planning commission has not acted on the Leadership Group request, but it approved the annexation of the Saratoga petition last month, subject to an 800,000-square-foot cap on development, said Trudy Walton, an assistant city planner.
Construction on the property also would be staged to coincide with the construction of several road improvements, including the completion of I-370, the new superhighway linking I-270 to the Metro station, Walton said.
Although the property falls outside the new master plan, Christeller said the planning board probably also will opposed the annexation request when it comes up for review in March.
Under state law, property annexed by a municipality can not undergo a zoning change for five years, unless the change is approved by the county government. State law, however, does not require the city to adopt the county's staging plan.
"We have no particular problem with annexations , if the annexation agreement contains the safeguards that we've asked for," Christeller said.