The city of Gaithersburg got a little bigger with the Aug. 7 signing of an annexation agreement incorporating two properties with a total 28 acres into the city’s corporate limits.
The annexation will become official after a 45-day referendum period during which the property owner has the opportunity to object to the agreement. Since the property owner came to the city to request the annexation, an objection is unlikely.
The signing came a day after the Gaithersburg Mayor and Council voted unanimously to approve the agreement, despite vigorous objection from Rockville city officials.
The adjoining parcels are 16331 and 16401 Shady Grove Rd. near the intersection of Md. Route 355 and Shady Grove Road. This includes the site of the now-closed Great Indoors store owned by Sears, Roebuck and Co. Prior to being annexed into the city, the area was an unincorporated area of Montgomery County with a Gaithersburg zip code.
The site was zoned by the county for research and development and industrial use (the Great Indoors retail warehouse had been grandfathered in); changing that zoning in the county would have been a burdensome and protracted process. Thus, Sears submitted an annexation petition to the city of Gaithersburg in January.
The Gaithersburg Planning Commission recommended approval in mid-April, and the city held a public hearing May 21, holding the record open for public comment for six weeks. The annexation proposal has been more contested than most, however, with Rockville also moving, unsuccessfully, to annex the property — or at least to get county leaders to oppose the Gaithersburg annexation.
A letter to County Council President Roger Berliner from Rockville officials dated June 5 stated, “Shady Grove Road is the logical long-term boundary between Rockville and Gaithersburg; accordingly Rockville opposes any proposed annexation by another municipality of the Rockville side of Shady Grove Road.”
According to state law, no municipality annexing land can change the zoning classification to permit a substantially different use for five years following annexation without the express consent of the County Council.
On July 31, the Montgomery County Council voted unanimously to waive any county restrictions on the property’s rezoning from I-3, which permitted research and development, industrial and warehouse uses, to the city of Gaithersburg’s MXD zone, which permits retail and residential uses.
Gaithersburg Planning and Code Director John Schlichting said, without that approval, the warehouse would probably have remained vacant and non-revenue-producing with the potential for blight for the next five years.
“Gaithersburg’s purpose in agreeing to annex this property is to maintain the economic vitality of this parcel,” Gaithersburg City Council member Cathy Dryzgula stated at the Aug. 6 meeting.
Despite Rockville’s objections, Gaithersburg did have the right to annex the property. Maryland state law permits land to be annexed into a city’s corporate limits providing it is contiguous and adjoining to the city and does not create an unincorporated area bounded on all sides by the city.
The site is not contiguous and adjoining to the city of Rockville.
“Rockville would need to annex multiple other properties just to get close enough to be contiguous before this property would even be eligible for annexation into Rockville,” Gaithersburg City Council member Ryan Spiegel said.
City leaders in both Gaithersburg and Rockville held meetings the night of Aug. 6, and Gaithersburg City Council members acknowledged Rockville’s objections. Spiegel provided a carefully detailed timeline of the annexation process, addressing Rockville’s concerns and emphasizing that he “respectfully” disagrees with the Rockville position.
When informed of the Gaithersburg vote to annex the property, Rockville Mayor Phyllis Marcuccio effectively tabled that city’s annexation petition for the same property.
However, “now that Gaithersburg has jumped Shady Grove Road,” said Rockville City Council member Tom Moore, the Rockville City Council did discuss annexing other properties, perhaps even “grabbing every property around [the Sears parcel].”
“Gaithersburg would like to maintain a good relationship with Rockville,” said Dryzgula in her remarks at the Gaithersburg Mayor and Council meeting. “We need to be equals. There will be times when we disagree, and we need to listen and, if necessary, move on respectfully.”