No community consensus in sight for Ashton development
June meetings by developer and resident group bring mixed responses

No community consensus in sight for Ashton development

June meetings by developer and resident group bring mixed responses

Wednesday, June 28, 2006


Residents from Ashton and neighboring communities had a chance to see an alternative plan to the proposed Ashton Meeting Place development at a community meeting last week.

The mixed-use project proposed for the southeast corner of routes 108 and 650 has 97,000 square feet of retail, office and residential space.

‘‘We support all those uses that are proposed by the developer on this site,” said Brooke Farquhar, a member of the Sandy Spring Ashton Rural Preserve Consortium, which played host to the meeting.

The group just wants the scale and the way it sits on the parcel of land to reflect a rural village, she said.

Town planning expert Stuart Sirota presented the group’s vision for a rural village.

In the proposed Ashton Meeting Place plan, the grocery store is located on the northern part of the property with a back wall facing Route 108. The consortium layout repositioned it to the southern part of the property to allow stores with active fronts along Route 108.

A larger public green space with a fountain and bench seating was set near the corner of the intersection.

‘‘The gem of the plan is this outdoor public meeting space [is] easily accessible from all four quadrants of the village center,” Farquhar said. ‘‘It’s a true meeting place.”

The several smaller buildings on the site would have a traditional town design more compatible with the existing pattern in Ashton, Farquhar said.

Sirota resisted affixing building height measurements or square footage to the concept plan, he said.

‘‘I didn’t want people to get focused or hung up on that,” he said. ‘‘The idea was to show a difference in concept even though the uses are similar.”

The most attention-grabbing feature was the plan to slow traffic through the intersection by adding parking spaces along routes 650 and 108.

‘‘Our concept is about holding the line on traffic and not allowing the vicious cycle of widening roads, which leads to more traffic, which leads to more road widening,” Sirota said.

The design applies a concept-sensitive solution and tradeoff, Sirota said. Accept a higher level of congestion during rush hour in exchange for creating a wonderful place, he said.

Bim Schauffler of Sandy Spring said he liked the idea of slowing traffic through the intersection.

‘‘Let’s start thinking out of the box,” he said.

But others were concerned about safety.

‘‘I just don’t understand how they intend to keep the traffic slowed down by the parking strategy that they’re using,” Joanne O’Flynn of Sandy Spring said. ‘‘It doesn’t seem safe to me.”

‘‘The plan to do parking along [routes] 650 and 108, it would be a disaster,” said Tedd Conner, an Ashton resident who works on the Ashton Meeting Place project. ‘‘That really shocked me.”

Others emphasized that the concept is flexible.

‘‘The traffic elements can certainly be worked out,” consortium member Michelle Layton of Ashton said. ‘‘It is not the plan,” she said.

Outside of that rush-hour period, traffic moves smoothly through that intersection, Layton said. Making huge intersection changes for a few hours of traffic congestion ‘‘just doesn’t make sense,” she added.

Overall, the plan captured the lifestyle that many people move to Ashton for, Layton said.

Ashton Meeting Place developer Fred Nichols did not attend the meeting, but received feedback from people in the community who did.

‘‘I’ve heard that there’s been major changes to their concept,” Nichols said. ‘‘Traffic congestion has brought concern to a lot of people who may have been undecided.”

The missing measurements left the size and scale of the consortium plan up to interpretation.

‘‘The project looked to be the same size [as Ashton Meeting Place],” Conner said. ‘‘All they did was take the puzzle and move the pieces around.”

He highlighted that the consortium group has been ‘‘focusing on the numbers the whole time when it suits them.”

But Farquhar disagreed.

‘‘We’re not focusing so much on exact sizes because there are lots of ways this can be done,” Farquhar said.

Amy Presley, co-founder of the Clarksburg Town Center Advisory Committee, attended the meeting and said it brought back memories of when her group had to educate its community about development issues and building violations.

At the onset of issues in Clarksburg, there was division in the community, Presley said. But when a final solution was reached, about 98 percent of the community was supportive and pleased, she said.

It’s normal for the community to be initially confused about the links between what’s expected in the master plan and what’s being presented by a developer or builder, Presley said.

‘‘People are unaware that they have a right and a responsibility to participate through to the final implementation,” Presley said. ‘‘Presenting a viable option to the developer is a great idea.”

Development open houses also draws large crowd

More than 200 people attended the two open houses for Ashton Meeting Place held earlier this month, according to the development team.

About 250 residents and some businesses have signed support petitions for the development over the past few weeks.

‘‘This is rural with a twist,” Toni Stifano of Ashton said while looking at display boards of the development at the June 14 open house. ‘‘It would be nice to have a supermarket close by,” she said.

Chuck Kight of Sandy Spring agreed.

‘‘It would be really neat to have a shorter distance to go to the grocery store,” Kight said. ‘‘People today want choices ... and you need size to do that.”

Others were concerned about what would happen on that corner if Ashton Meeting Place was not built.

If people think the corner will stay untouched for another 10 or 15 years, it isn’t going to happen, said Jody Pearle of the neighboring Brinklow community.

‘‘We need to go with something that’s really nice,” she said.

Ladelia Becraft of Sandy Spring had a suggestion for consortium members.

‘‘If you want it to stay rural, then buy the property up,” she said

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