Debate over possible Amazon property continues in Gaithersburg

Debate over possible Amazon property continues in Gaithersburg

Developer presses city to take action

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Amazon hopes to create a "last mile" distribution center on the site of the former Leidos campus at 700 N. Frederick Ave., in Gaithersburg.

File photo

The debate in Gaithersburg over the possible use of a site by Amazon continued Monday night during a meeting of the Gaithersburg City Council and the city’s planning commission.

Frederick-based Matan Companies bought the 44-acre former Leidos campus in January 2019, with the original goal of developing the site into a mixed-use property. But Amazon later approached Matan with the idea of building a $92 million “last mile” distribution center on the site, which would create up to 850 jobs.

After months of secrecy about the project, Amazon representatives revealed at Monday’s meeting that they are a prospective tenant for the site.

In August 2019, Matan submitted a sketch plan, the first step in the development process, specifying that the property would contain multiple buildings for multiple uses. Earlier this year, Matan submitted a revised sketch plan stating that “the redevelopment of the property may contain one or more uses.”

Matan representatives have said that they intend a single building on the property with a single use.

The city must approve the sketch plan, before it can move to the next phase of the development process. The next phase is the schematic development plan, which is a preliminary site plan.

The third step would be the final site plan stage.

Gaithersburg officials said Monday that they’re not questioning the prospect of an Amazon facility in the city, but they wonder whether having a single user on the site is a good idea.

Council Member Mike Sesma said he wonders whether Matan’s sketch plan is consistent with the goals of the master plan for Gaithersburg when it comes to increasing economic development.

“With all the eggs in one basket, this creates some opportunity, but also creates some significant risk that we’ve seen recently,” he said.

Council Member Neil Harris also questioned if it might be better to have multiple uses at the site.

“Looking for the highest best use, I expected to see something with greater density,” he said.

Harris, Sesma and Council Member Laurie-Anne Sayles said the original sketch plan submitted in 2019 with multiple buildings and multiple uses was a better approach for developing the property.

“This doesn’t seem like the highest and best use project, and I would say it’s drastically different from the plans we reviewed in 2019,” Sayles said on Monday.

During the public comment portion of the meeting, resident Joe Paiva said he worries that developing the property with a single building and single use is economically risky, particularly in the current uncertain economic downturn.

“As someone who’s been doing economic development all over the United States and internationally for the last 10 years, I do have substantial concerns with a single building, single use development. And those concerns have grown even more over the last six months,” he said.

Paiva said that with just one company operating on a property, if something goes wrong with that industry or that company, “you lose everything.”

Matan Managing Partner Mark Matan expressed frustration during Monday’s meeting at being told by city officials that they were more interested in the old sketch plan with multiple buildings and multiple uses.

“I’m not an adversary. I’m a true believer in Gaithersburg. But I will tell you, if I started this meeting with a box this big for this property, and what I can do with it over time, because that’s what a sketch plan is supposed to do, I feel like the box is this big,” he said, while illustrating the decreasing size of an object with his hands.

Matan said he is eager for Amazon to come to Gaithersburg, and wants to avoid further delays in the development process.

“I don’t want to it be adversarial. I really want to work with you. And I want to get this thing populated and people working. And it’s that simple,” he said.

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

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