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by Judith Hruz
The long-awaited Ashton Village Center Sector Plan earned a resounding thumbs-up from the County Council, paving the way for development on the southeast corner of the community’s major intersection, which has largely been undeveloped for decades, and setting specific guidelines for what can and cannot be included in the center of the community.
Sitting as the District Council, the County Council on May 4 unanimously approved the sector plan, which makes recommendations for 127 acres surrounding the intersection of Olney-Sandy Spring Avenue (Route 108) and New Hampshire Avenue (Route 650). It evaluates land use, zoning, transportation, environment, design and other relevant issues in Ashton.
In discussing the plan, the council stressed the desire to maintain the character of the community, and any development anywhere in the village center area would be required to adhere to such guidelines.
“I was pleased to hear that the County Council, along with the Planning Board and staff, through previous meetings, appeared to openly acknowledge the importance of maintaining the unique rural character of the area,” said Dr. Daryl Thorne, president of the Sandy Spring Civic Association. “However, I think the most significant outcomes of the meeting supported the following: the creation of an Implementation Advisory Committee to include members of the community, along with the Planning Department, as part of this development process, and the inclusion of the design guidelines within the Ashton Village Sector Plan itself. Community members in Ashton and those active in the Sandy Spring Civic Association have been visibly present in each phase of this project thus far. So, it is wonderful to see their hard work recognized, accepted and formalized in this way.”
Thorne applauded Council Vice President Gabe Albornoz (D-At large) and Councilman Hans Riemer (D-At large), whom she said advocated on behalf of the community “to ensure that our voices are still present when we cannot physically be in these crucial meetings. I am hopeful that once development begins, the approved plan guidelines will be adhered to.”
During the May 4 worksession, Riemer said there has been “very focused community participation.”
He said he believes the plan put forth by county planners met the “very specific concerns” presented by community advocates and is “responsive and forward thinking.”
Albornoz said the plan exemplified the “great work of the Planning Board staff.”
He said he had the opportunity to meet with the community and the developer to discuss the plan and the proposed development on the southeast corner.
He acknowledged the “authentic and deliberate effort by the developer to adhere to what makes that community so special.”
Local development company Nichols Contracting Inc. wants to build a mixed-use community on the southeast corner of the crossroads.
Fred Nichols, president and founder of the company, called the plan a “success for the planning staff.”
Nichols has wanted to develop the parcel of land for decades, and said, “We’ve learned from our past.”
Nichols said the plan is a culmination of what county planning staff has suggested would be appropriate for that corner and what would appeal to the community.
He said the development is designed to offer “missing middle” housing options.
Design elements will include wrap-around porches, second-floor balconies, bird walks and more.
The community will include public greenspace, with townhouses overlooking that area, and most parking will be behind buildings. The trees along Route 108 near Sandy Spring Bank will remain.
He said design elements will create a feeling that “it was organically built over time.”
Nichols also said the plan has much less commercial elements than a plan he had hoped to develop several years ago.
The designs he has shown the community are not the formal plan, Nichols said.
Gwen Wright, director of the county Planning Department, said there is enough specificity in the sector plan that any formal plan would have to adhere closely to the example of what the community would include.
“The team I assembled was phenomenal,” Nichols said of developers, designers, architects and others who have been working on the plan.
When the county takes the formal vote on the Ashton Village Center Sector Plan, Nichols said his team will begin working on the official plan that will be submitted to the county.
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