I submitted my consolidated testimony regarding the Lakeforest Master Plan to the City Council this past Friday (5/21/21). It's 8 pages long so instead of making you read it all I'll summarize it here.
If you want to read the text of the testimony I sent to the City Council, you can download it via this link.
Otherwise, continue reading for a summary with many exerpts of my testimony.
Dear Mayor, City Council, and Board of Planners,
As I wrote recently on my blog: “The reimagining of the Lakeforest Mall property represents Gaithersburg’s most significant opportunity to affect the feeling and direction of our city for the next several decades.” ..... The redevelopment of the Lakeforest Mall site offers Gaithersburg a rare chance to create a true center of housing and employment and raise its residents up by doing so. .... I would like to add a few thoughts though, for the council to consider when working towards finalizing the master plan. ....
The plan should drive walkability
I suggest that the plan asks the developers to design for a walk score of 70 or better . A walk score of 70 is the minimum threshold that is required to be considered a “very walkable” location. The “very walkable” score indicates that most errands can be accomplished on foot.
The plan should encourage density
Building height restrictions should be removed and minimum height restrictions imposed
Page 60 of the master plan does indicate a preference for multifamily buildings that are 8-10 stories tall. I believe that a singe reference to this desire does not fully indicate its importance though. Further, I suggest that this desire should be indicated for all buildings and not just residences. Finally, as it is important to provide the developers with flexibility so that they are able to make development decisions that are economically appealing to them I suggest that the council consider including target %’s for building height.
Reduce parkable surface space as much as feasible
The master plan discusses parking in numerous places and generally makes the important point that land used for parking is land that can not be used for living or economic activity. I ask the council though to consider pushing a little farther in this direction, specifically in regard to residential parking.
Public and multi-modal transportation should be encouraged
The transit center should be made a central feature
It is important for a developer to build the transit center in as a key part of the plan infrastructure.
Fast transit to the metro should be included
Including, either through the transit center, or through another mechanism, a non-stop public transit system from the Lakeforest Mall site to the metro would significantly increase the usage of public transit for people living and working at this site.
Consider on-site circuit transit
Many walkable sites have benefited from the inclusion of a public transit system that makes a circuit around and through the site.
The plan must be economically viable for the site developer(s)
The longer it takes for a developer to build the site, the longer it is until Gaithersburg benefits from the site and Gaithersburg can not wait a decade for those benefits.
Allow big box stores
I believe that feared issues can be overcome by allowing big box stores to be built while requiring that all such stores by part of a building no less than 5 stories tall. There are many examples of such buildings in cities across the country such as where the Macy’s is located in Washington D.C. above Metro Center.
Streamline the permitting and plan review process
For a development project such as this time is money especially when you consider the loans accruing interest without the site generating income until it is built. I hope the council will consider and examine ways to alleviate some of the burdens of the permitting and review processes.
Consider the environment
Gaithersburg has an opportunity to push for creating a new environmentally friendly standard. I hope the council will consider requiring the inclusion of either green roofing or solar on all buildings over a certain footprint as well as the inclusion of solar on all garages that receive enough sunlight to justify.
The plan must not gentrify the surrounding areas
Build for inclusion of the surrounding economics
I believe that It is important for the residents in the areas around Lakeforest Mall to see the new development as an area they could live in instead of as a walled city excluding them due to economics. Some may argue that market rate housing is enough to balance the needs of providing housing to diverse economic profiles. I suggest though that, especially in today’s market with the significant housing shortage, that marking rate housing will price too many East side residents out of the market.
Allow as many units as possible
The existing master plan calls for a 1600-unit cap on new residential units. Any artificial cap will have a negative impact on both the economics of developing the space as well as the economics effecting the market rate prices for the units. I hope the council will consider allowing the developer to decide what number of units provides the most economic benefits to the development.
Thank you for the opportunity to voice my thoughts on this important issue. I know how hard city staff has worked on outreach and forming the master plan and I truly appreciate their efforts. I know that a letter such as this may feel as a repudiation of all the work and thought that has gone into the master plan already. So, I want to be very clear – The master plan, as currently written, has been well thought and well worked. This testimony consists of my suggestions and ideas to help improve what is already a very good effort.
I firmly believe that we can work with the developers of this site to create an economically viable solution that helps build our city and residents up for decades to come.
Thank you again,
Campaigns are expensive and time consuming please volunteer and donate
Click here to volunteer or