Ashton Meeting Place gets go-ahead
After years of contentious debate, mixed-use community is approved by Planning Board

by Contessa Crisostomo | Staff Writer

The county Planning Board on Thursday unanimously approved plans for Ashton Meeting Place, the proposed mixed-use center in Ashton, calling it a ‘‘model” for future development in the community.

The proposed 74,000-square-foot center is planned for the southeast corner of Olney-Sandy Spring Road (Route 108) and New Hampshire Avenue (Route 650). The plans include an 18,000-square-foot grocery store, a 9,800-square-foot restaurant, office and retail space, and seven single-family homes.

The plans are approved after three years of contention and revisions as developer Fred Nichols worked with community members to comply with the criteria of a ‘‘rural village center” as spelled out in the Sandy Spring⁄Ashton Master Plan.

Since the plans were first drafted, the size of the center has been scaled down by almost 25 percent from nearly 100,000 square feet.

After some community members opposed the size, scale and design of the project, mostly coming from the community advocacy group Sandy Spring-Ashton Rural Preservation Consortium (SSARPC), Nichols met with members of the community to revise the plans.

Planning commissioners called the plans ‘‘much improved” over the plans they rejected last June and commended both the developer and the community for working together on the project’s design.

‘‘This is a much better project than the one I supported at first,” Planning Commissioner Allison Bryant said to members of SSARPC. ‘‘I commend you for sticking to your guns ... and I comment the applicant for listening to you and being willing to work with you to come up with this project.”

Bryant added that the rural design of the center could be a model for future development in that area, which pleased Nichols.

‘‘I don’t think it gets better than that,” Nichols said after the vote.

Nichols said he was pleased with the board’s ‘‘long-awaited” vote of approval.

‘‘I hope everyone really can enjoy it and use it actively,” Nichols said of the center.

Six people testified during the public hearing. SSARPC supports the plan, according to its co-chairwoman, Michelle Layton, who spoke on behalf of the group.

‘‘Obviously, we are pleased with all of the compromises made between the developer and our group and feel that the design definitely meets the master plan way more than it did the first time around,” Layton said Monday.

The other five speakers are members of SSARPC, but spoke about their individual concerns, including pedestrian safety, signage and lighting related to the project.

SSARPC’s other co-chairwoman, Donna Seldon, expressed her support for the center’s plans and urged the planning commissioners to think of the entire four corners of the intersection as a whole village center.

‘‘This is the first major project in the rural historic Ashton⁄Sandy Spring corridor in many years and I believe it should set the standard for those to follow,” Seldon said.

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