ROCKVILLE, Md., May 4, 2010—The Montgomery County Council today voted unanimously to approve the “Great Seneca Science Corridor” Master Plan. The long-term plan—formerly known as the Gaithersburg West Master Plan—will allow the area near Shady Grove Road and Darnestown Road to develop into one of the nation’s premier areas for scientific research and development.
The Council has studied the proposal intently since last fall. A major portion of the plan involves the former Belward Farm that was purchased by Johns Hopkins University. The university has sought to incorporate that land as part of the area’s development.
On April 13, the Council reached key agreements on the plan, including reduction of the maximum allowable existing and proposed commercial space in the plan from the proposed 20 million square feet to 17.5 million square feet. An amendment was added to require the County’s Planning Board to work with existing neighborhoods to monitor evolving transportation issues of the plan.
According to the approved plan, the Great Seneca Science Corridor would allow a maximum of 9,000 dwelling units and approximately 52,500 jobs. Most of the new development cannot proceed until funding is obtained for the Corridor Cities Transitway (CCT). The CCT would be either a light rail or bus rapid transitway transportation system extending from the Shady Grove Metro Station to Clarksburg.
“We have worked carefully to establish a plan that will guide Montgomery County’s future for decades as one of the world’s most prominent areas for science,” said Council President Floreen. “In working toward this goal, we have also listened to the concerns of residents and nearby local jurisdictions. We came out with a plan that would work for those who already live in this area and for the future residents and employees who will be attracted to the Great Seneca Corridor. The decisions we made will benefit all of Montgomery County.”
“With this plan, Montgomery County is reinvigorating itself as a national leader in the life sciences,” said Mike Knapp, Chairman of the Council’s Planning, Housing, and Economic Development Committee. “We’re clearly stating the direction in which we want to head and, just as important, the policy leaders of the county stand squarely behind it. Working together, we’re maximizing the potential for life sciences in our region.”
Included in the Great Seneca Science Corridor plan is the proposed creation of a 21st Century Life Sciences Center. The area will include housing and retail uses with the hope that many of those who work in the Life Sciences Center Zone will elect to live nearby and reduce regular use of automobiles.
The plan calls for creation of a Muddy Branch Park that would be a minimum of 12 acres, with a minimum width along Muddy Branch Road of 100 feet. Mission Hills Preserve will create a 200-foot wide buffer between the rear property line of the nearest Mission Hills homes and any buildings on the northern side of Belward. Darnestown Promenade will include a three-acre landscaped buffer (60 feet wide) along Darnestown Road that maintains vistas to the historic farmstead, includes the landmark sign and creates a tree-lined pedestrian path that connects to the on-site path system and the Life Sciences Center Loop. Approximately 44 to 46 percent of the Belward Farm will be maintained as open space.
“The County Council’s many improvements to the Planning Board’s draft plan will enable both substantial growth in life sciences and health care jobs while protecting surrounding communities in Gaithersburg, North Potomac, and Rockville against unacceptable traffic congestion through strict transportation staging requirements and comprehensive, timely review of the plan’s implementation,” said Councilmember Phil Andrews, whose district includes the Great Seneca Science Corridor Master Plan and who worked closely with nearby communities to revise the draft plan.
Development in the corridor, according to the plan, will “be compact and feature a diversity of land uses, making more efficient use of land, energy and building materials, enabling people to live, work and shop in one area. The Corridor Cities Transitway, trails and attractively designed sidewalks will connect the districts and adjacent neighborhoods, encouraging walking instead of driving.”
The Council action significantly strengthens the plan’s section on sustainability and protection of environmental features on specific properties. The plan also recommends reinforcing and expanding the use of green buildings with development seeking to maximize energy conservation and increase renewable energy such as solar, wind and geothermal.
The new community would be chiefly served by I-270 and the proposed Corridor Cities Transitway (CCT), which would be either a light rail or Bus Rapid Transit extension from the Shady Grove Metrorail Station. The plan calls for the Urban Square at the CCT station to be “a hub of daily activity with space for special events and gatherings, as well as some community retail for the convenience of CCT riders, workers and area residents.”
"With the Great Seneca Science Corridor Master Plan, Montgomery County is poised to move into a bright future of technological innovation, economic growth, and environmental sustainability," said Councilmember Duchy Trachtenberg. "I believe that this is a plan that balances the growth we need with the quality of life we want; a plan that provides for important community amenities such as parks, walking trails, bikeways, athletic fields, and green spaces; and a plan that protects the environment, preserves our cultural and historic resources, and which, importantly, protects community health. The Great Seneca Science Corridor will help maintain our County’s regional economic and technological leadership.”
“The Great Seneca Science Corridor will open the door to the high-wage, high-tech, science-based, future-oriented economy that we know Montgomery County needs” said Councilmember George Leventhal. “The reality is that where we have population growth, in new growth areas like Germantown and Clarksburg, people are driving much too far to get to jobs because we aren’t generating enough new jobs in Montgomery County at the rate we should be. The Council will soon shift its attention to areas on the East side of the County such as Wheaton and Burtonsville and we will have the same focus on creating a high quality of life and frontiers of opportunity in these locations just as we did with Great Seneca. This vote will help ensure that Montgomery County remains economically strong and vibrant for years to come.”