2022 | Development

Lakeforest Transit Center could relocate as part of Gaithersburg mall redevelopment

Developer speaking about plans with city and county

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The Lakeforest Transit Center could relocate as part of the redevelopment of Lakeforest Mall.

Photo by Dan Schere

The Lakeforest Transit Center could move from its location by Lost Knife Road and Odendhal Avenue as part of the planned redevelopment of the adjacent Lakeforest Mall in Gaithersburg, according to Gaithersburg and Montgomery County officials.

The transit center serves seven Ride On bus routes, according to the Montgomery County website. Additionally, the county’s planned FLASH bus rapid transit (BRT) line that will run along MD Route 355 between Bethesda and Clarksburg might serve the transit center in the future, city and county officials have said.

The decision on whether to relocate the Gaithersburg bus depot will be part of the mall redevelopment process, which is still in the initial stages. South Carolina developer WRS bought the core of the mall almost three years ago, but only acquired the four anchor properties in March – a procedural step that had to be completed before any further development work could occur.

WRS plans to develop a mixed-use property with a combination of residential, retail and green space. It must conform to a master plan the City Council passed in August 2021, which includes guidelines and  restrictions concerning how much of each type of development may be built.

WRS Executive Vice President Kevin Rogers, speaking Monday to residents of the nearby Asbury Methodist Village retirement community, said he talked with city staff members for four hours Monday and they planned to meet again Tuesday. WRS must first submit a rezoning application and a sketch plan for review by the city’s planning commission, which will make a recommendation, Rogers said. The City Council will then vote on the commission’s recommendation.

Rogers said on Monday that county officials have expressed interest in relocating the bus depot, but any details would be worked out later in the process.

John Schlichting, the city’s director of planning and code administration, told Bethesda Beat on Monday that the recent meetings with WRS have been “our first opportunity to advance the ball” on Lakeforest.

“We’ve got all the right people in the room and it’s very productive so far,” he said.

Schlichting said the city is working with the Montgomery County Department of Transportation to look at various possibilities for the Lakeforest Transit Center, noting that the county prefers that it be moved.

“[The county] would like to relocate the transit center to a location that more services the BRT on 355,” he said. “And they want a larger piece of ground. They want more bays. And they would like to do it in a mixed-use project with structured parking. Maybe even mixed-use retail or some other uses on that same parcel of land, with the transit center on the ground floor.”

Schlichting said one possibility would be to locate the transit center to a 3-acre site near the intersection of Russell Avenue and Lakeforest Boulevard – on the other side of the mall from where the current depot is.

“It would be the Lakeforest station for the BRT, plus all the lines that are currently served by the existing transit center,” he said.

Schlichting said the sketch plan for the Lakeforest redevelopment would need to state whether the depot would be relocated, although the details wouldn’t need to be worked out until later in the process.

Chris Conklin, the county’s transportation director, told Bethesda Beat on Tuesday that the current transit center has space for four to six buses at one time.

“That serves our needs right now to some extent, although it’s even a little undersized for what we currently have operating there,” he said. “And as we’re advancing bus rapid transit on MD 355, it’s pretty far from that corridor. So we would be interested in having a larger, more modern facility and also finding a way to better integrate it into the proposed redevelopment at Lakeforest.”

Lakeforest Mall. Photo by Dan Schere.

Conklin said if a new transit center were incorporated into the proposed mixed-use development at Lakeforest, a larger station with an indoor waiting room and restrooms might be possible.

Conklin said the county has held preliminary conversations with WRS and the city about Lakeforest. Any plan for relocating the current depot, he said, would likely need to be agreed upon by the county, city and WRS.

“That’s probably the way it will work,” he said. “Obviously the owner of the land is working on a development plan, so where they want different things to be on their site would influence where a transit center might work. The city is the land use authority, so if they were to approve any plan that the developer wants to build, we would hope that it reflects the need for the transit center.”

Residents ask questions about redevelopment

Asbury, a community of about 1,300 residents, sites just across Odendhal Avenue from Lakeforest Mall.

Rogers told residents gathered in the community’s auditorium Monday that he anticipates the sketch plan process to take between four and six months. That process will be followed by the submission of a more detailed site plan to the city, and its review could take up to a year. Demolition of the current mall would ideally begin 18 months from now, he said.

When asked about the plans for parking at the future mixed-use site, Rogers said he envisions creating about 1,000 surface parking spaces, in addition to a parking garage or two. There are no plans to charge for parking, he said, although it’s possible a gate will be built to separate residential from retail parking.

Another resident asked whether a movie theater would be included in the new development. Rogers replied that movie theater companies have called to express interest. Though no decisions have been made, any theater that is built would likely be of the more modern variety that offers full meals for purchase, he said.

Another resident asked whether there is currently asbestos at the current Lakeforest Mall site. Rogers said he didn’t know, but that it was possible.

“My presumption is that you’re probably correct and that, for instance, some of the floor tile, some of the pipes that run through the mall contains asbestos. I don’t know that for sure yet,” he said. “If that is what we find, the state, the city and the county [have] very detailed guidelines as to how the removal of such materials has to be handled.”

Dan Schere can be reached at daniel.schere@bethesdamagazine.com