A plan to build a shopping center for Leisure World residents on Georgia Avenue was criticized by Montgomery County planners last week as being "divorced" from the community -- but residents say they want it that way.
The proposed shopping center, which is required under Leisure World's planned retirement community zone, would be located outside the fenced-in neighborhood, meaning residents would have to leave the compound in order to enter its parking lot.
"We favor this plan because our biggest concern is security," said Frederic H. Glade, chairman of the retirement community's resident council. "Many people fear that a shopping center within the gates of the community would breach that security because outsiders will come in to use it."
However, county planners say the intent of the retirement community zone was to have a shopping center within the community, easily accessible to the residents.
"The application would result in a strip commercial center, divorced from the PRC community, and orientated primarily to the general neighborhood," the planning staff stated in a written report to the county planning board. "No connection to the retirement community, either vehicular or pedestrian, is made in the plan."
After a lengthy debate at a planning board meeting last week, the county board members, in the best King Solomon tradition, requested that developers return with a compromise plan -- a shopping center with one entrance on Georgia Avenue and one entrance on Rossmoor Boulevard, within the community.
"This is probably a solution we can all live with," said Norman M. Dreyfuss, executive director of Rossmoor-IDI Associates, developers of Leisure World.
"This is the first time, though, I've seen a developer and a community come in with an agreement on a project together and have the planners dissent," he said. "Usually it's developer and the community at odds with one another."
Leisure World, started in 1974 and containing approximately 5,000 residents, is the only planned retirement community in the county, planners say.
Approximately 600 acres of homes have an age restriction clause that permits only people 50 years old or older to live there. Another 300 acres of the community is being developed for homes that have no age restrictions. The two portions of the community are separated, with a security fence surrounding the homes of the older residents, Dreyfuss said.
He said an approved master plan calls for placing the shopping center on a 13-acre site between the community and Georgia Avenue.
"The community wants a real food store, not an internal little cutesy shopping center with a 7-Eleven that will not meet the full range of their needs," said Dreyfuss, who also said it would be economically unfeasible for Rossmoor to build a shopping center on that scale. The proposed center has 140,000 square feet of commercial space and will be anchored by a Giant Food store.
"The question then becomes, does the center face toward the community or away from it," he said. "The residents made it clear they would rather leave the gate of Leisure World's security fence to get to the center than have outsiders enter the gate to get to the center."
Dreyfuss said he could not estimate the ratio of Leisure World residents to nonresidents who would use the shopping center.
Charles Loehr, from the county planning office, said the wording of the retirement community zone is not clear, but that the intent seems to be that the required shopping center be geared toward servicing the retirement community.
He said that according to the planning staff's interpretation, the Rossmoor proposal fails to conform to the purpose of the zone.
The developers will return before the board next month with its modified plan, he said.
This plan is not popular with the residents, according to Glade, who said there are already traffic backups on Rossmoor during rush hour when Leisure World residents line up to turn left on Georgia Avenue. He said residents also are concerned that outsiders could enter their community via the shopping center parking lot.