A South Carolina developer has released initial plans for a mixed-use development on the site of Lakeforest Mall in Gaithersburg, including townhomes, condominiums and apartments, plus a grocery store, restaurants and more.
Mount Pleasant, S.C.-based WRS Inc. bought the core of Lakeforest Mall last year, with the exception of the anchor stores. All but one of the anchor stores have since closed.
The conceptual plan, according to documents from WRS obtained by Bethesda Beat, calls for:
- Between 500 and 600 townhomes
- 120 to 150 condominiums
- 175 to 250 multifamily apartment units
- Between 400,000 and 500,000 square feet of retail space
- 1,000 surface parking lot spaces
The conceptual plan also designates areas where there would be a grocery store, home improvement store, “wholesale club” retailer and other restaurants at the edge of the property.
The 102-acre mall property currently contains 1.1 million square feet of retail space and 7,000 parking spaces, the conceptual plan states.
WRS Executive Vice President for Development Kevin Rogers told Bethesda Beat on Friday that the company put up a sign inside the mall a couple of weeks ago with the conceptual plan to get feedback from the public.
“If you walk in and out of the mall, we’ve left comment cards there and encourage people to share their comment,” he said.
WRS also lists a phone number, an email address and a Twitter handle on the plan for people to give feedback. Rogers emphasized that the conceptual plan is a way to “spark conversation” about the future of the mall.
“To be very clear, it’s a conceptual drawing generally of what we have in mind that we know the market will support,” he said.
WRS purchased the mall in the summer of 2019, but not the four anchor properties: Lord & Taylor, J.C. Penney, Sears and Macy’s. Since then, each store except Macy’s has closed. But the parent companies still own the parcels.
Despite opposition from WRS, the city imposed a 12-month moratorium in August that will give the city time to determine the best use of the property. WRS has consistently opposed the moratorium, arguing that a delay would potentially drive away investors and lenders.
The city agreed on Sept. 20, 2019, to delay the moratorium to give the developer time to acquire the four anchor properties.
When WRS failed to acquire the anchors by the deadline, the council granted a 90-day extension in February, and another 90-day extension in May. Before granting the third extension, council members expressed skepticism that the developer could acquire the anchors during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Gaithersburg Mayor Jud Ashman wrote in an email to Bethesda Beat on Friday that the city, in addition to holding the online forums, is asking people to fill out a survey and is conducting focus groups.
“We’ll be discussing all of the feedback at an upcoming meeting. Ultimately, we’ll use the direction that comes out of this public process as the basis for amending the section of our land use Master Plan that governs Lakeforest,” he wrote.
Ashman wrote that WRS has not submitted its conceptual plan to the city, and the process of amending the city’s master plan extends through August 2021.
“WRS has apparently made public a conceptual plan that they’ve been working on internally, entirely independently of the City and our process,” he wrote.
Ashman added that WRS also has another logistical hurdle to clear before development can move forward.
“Until WRS has full ownership — or the full cooperation of the other [anchor] property owners on a joint application — they won’t be able to come to the table with this, or any, concept plan,” he wrote.
“I know the WRS team is working hard to get financing together so they can acquire all of the pieces of the Lakeforest property. We wish them luck in that endeavor.
“It is our hope that, by the time WRS gets their financing, we will have completed our Master Plan update and we’ll all be able to proceed efficiently through an application process, and a wonderful redevelopment at Lakeforest.”
The city is holding a series of virtual forums to hear feedback from the public on the future of Lakeforest. Three were held on Thursday. There are also three scheduled for Nov. 5 at 10 a.m., 2 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.
Rogers said council members and city staff members have seen the conceptual plan and WRS has started to get feedback from the public.
“It does not mean that once it goes through the appropriate, proper vetting channels that it won’t come out the other end looking different, but it’s a place to start the conversation,” he said.
Dan Schere can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org