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by Judith Hruz
The intersection of two major state roads, Olney-Sandy Spring Road (Route 108) and New Hampshire Avenue (Route 650), will become the focal point of what county officials hope is a vibrant village center after planners finish work on the Ashton Village Sector Plan.
Local development company Nichols Contracting Inc. wants to build a mixed-use community on the southeast corner of the crossroads, which will fall under the parameters of the sector plan.
The Ashton Village Sector Plan makes recommendations for 127 acres surrounding the intersection of routes 108 and 650. It evaluates land use, zoning, transportation, environment, design and other relevant issues in Ashton.
Nichols Contracting officials were planning to show their concept design for the Ashton Village Center, the name of its proposed community, to members of the Sandy Spring Civic Association at the association’s April 12 meeting, according to Fred Nichols, president and founder of the company. The meeting was held after press time.
Some members of the civic association and the community have been fighting some elements of the sector plan, as well as Nichols’ development plan.
Nichols, however, 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, so traffic will be lighter than that plan.
“I am so proud to be a part of this team,” Nichols said of developers, designers, architects and others who have been working on the plan.
Council committee holds first worksession; next set for April 19
Discussion of the Ashton Village Sector Plan has gone on for approximately two years.
The study has included meetings with the community, site visits, bus trips to other developments in the county that might be similar to what could be developed in Ashton, in addition to the requisite county Planning Board and County Council workshops and public hearings.
The council’s Planning, Housing and Economic Development Committee held a worksession on the Ashton Village Sector Plan on April 5 and will hold a second worksession on April 19 before passing it on to the full County Council.
After the Planning Board staff report was posted, planners received a petition signed by over 600 people and five civic groups in the Ashton area who voiced concerns about overdevelopment in the community, as well as the height, density and other issues, Pamela Dunn, senior legislative analyst, said during the PHED Committee worksession on April 5.
Sandy Spring Civic Association officers had urged the community to weigh in on what it would like to see — or not see — in the Ashton Village Sector Plan.
Councilman Hans Riemer (D-At large), chair of the PHED Committee, said the Ashton Village Sector Plan is intended to facilitate change in one specific area of Ashton.
“We don’t anticipate a lot of change in all of Ashton,” he said, adding Ashton will continue to feel like a small town under the sector plan.
Riemer said he has met with the community on several occasions and a lot of what members of the community are seeking in the new development on the southeast quadrant is able to be achieved by design of that development.
“Ultimately, I think what can come out of this is a win-win,” he said.
Casey Anderson, chair of the county Planning Board, said some residents are apprehensive about too much growth too fast, but that the proposed development can serve as a “real center of activity and community.”
He said in looking for the appropriate development combination, residents too often fall back on density and height, which are important, but planners and developers need to go beyond those issues.
He said county planners have not accommodated everything the developer wants in terms of height, length of buildings and other issues, but “there has to be some critical mass to make these projects viable.”
Riemer added: “We have the ability to deliver a project the community will like.”
The Sandy Spring Civic Association sent a letter to the County Council saying four aspects of the proposed sector plan need to be revised before approved to permit reasonable development, consistent with the rural character of our neighborhood, and preserve the rural character of Ashton.”
Signed by civic association President Daryl Thorne, Vice President Douglas Farquhar and Treasurer Christine Hill Wilson, the letter says those four aspects include maximum height of building on the southeast corner be reduced by 5 feet o 40 feet; density of buildings on about half of the southeast corner be reduced to a floor area ration (FAR) of .25 from .50; ensure that the community-based Implementation Advisory Committee be granted effective ability to review, comment on and make recommendations about proposed development plans before changes in the plan are unlikely to occur; and that design guidelines in the sector plan be changed to design requirements.
Other residents echoed the same requests, as well as voicing concerns over traffic.
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