The Rockville City Council this week cleared the way for construction of a controversial multimillion-dollar complex of offices, houses and parkland on what is the last major tract of vacant land in Rockville along the fast-growing I-270 corridor.
With one member abstaining, the city council voted 3-to-1 this week to approve a comprehensive land-use plan and zoning amendment that will allow the developers, Westmont Associates, to build up to 2.1 million square feet of sprawling office campuses in south Rockville over 10 to 15 years.
Much of the development is expected to garner more than $1 million in net revenue for the city, Westmont officials said, and will bring thousands of jobs to Montgomery County and the kind of high-tech firms that officials would like to attract to the area.
"I think the development is in the best interest of the city and the county," council member Stephen N. Abrams said. "It's an appropriate land use, and it will provide employment in the future in Montgomery County."
Westmont plans to build up to 11 buildings on 200 acres of land that parallel I-270 from Montrose Road to New Mark Commons.
Westmont will be required to build about 100 housing units on about 19 acres at the north end of the site, which will help buffer the abutting residential neighborhoods of New Mark Commons and Hungerford-Stoneridge.
Also planned is a large lake surrounded by about 75 acres of parkland near the center of the property. Restricted industrial use will be permitted on about 8 acres at the tract's southern tip.
Westmont has agreed to help fund area road improvements, such as construction of a direct access ramp from I-270 at Montrose Road into the site, and extensions of nearby Monroe Street and Ritchie Parkway.
All of the office building construction is planned to coincide with the completion of key road improvements under a staging plan adopted by the council.
Westmont, a McLean firm that specializes in constructing office parks, bought an interest in the property in 1978 and formally proposed developing the tract last summer in meetings with Rockville planners and the city council.
During the nine-month planning process, the project was at the center of intense debate among state, county and local officials and nearby residents over how the land should be developed.
At the height of the controversy last fall, state and Montgomery County officials urged the city to rezone the land for commercial use, after the Dallas-based EDS Corp., a huge computer firm, expressed an interest in establishing a regional headquarters there.
But a number of residents from abutting subdivisions such as North Farm and New Mark Commons complained that the development would overburden area traffic and was incompatible with residential areas east of the site.
They urged Rockville officials to keep the tract residentially zoned, as the city master plan originally called for.
Rockville Mayor Viola D. Hovsepian, who voted against the plan, said she believed that "a wide range of new housing opportunities" is more essential to the city than commercial development.
"We already have a good economic base and a good corporate image. Enhancing that doesn't hurt, but part of that enhancing should include offering people places to live," Hovsepian said.
John T. Kenney, a Westmont executive, said that his company has attempted to address all citizen concerns, noting that it had reduced the company's original proposal of 2.5 million square feet of office space to 2.1 million.
The company also agreed to provide a landscaped buffer and to limit the height of office buildings to under 125 feet.
The reduction in office space will still enable EDS to use about 60 percent of that space for its headquarters.