Wednesday, August 20, 2008

b'ville town square: lessons learned from other towns

Part THREE in a series on the new Burtonsville Town Square development: what could have been, what we're getting, and what other communities are doing.

For four years, Burtonsville's been struggling to devise a way to revitalize its struggling downtown, and many saw a solution in the Town Square shopping center, set to start construction this fall. But what are other communities in the area doing? We wanted to find out.

Each of the following shopping centers in Montgomery, Howard and Prince George's counties met three criteria for comparison: it was similar in size to the Town Square; it was nearby, meaning it could be competition; or in the case of Damascus, the surrounding area has similar demographics to Burtonsville.


Location: Route 108 and Woodfield Road, Damascus (population: 12,086)
Program: 138,554 square feet of retail
Why we included it: Located in the northwestern corner of Montgomery County, Damascus has a rural heritage that's rapidly giving way to suburbanization, not unlike Burtonsville. It also has similar education levels and average household incomes.
Plan: Redevelop existing strip mall, some of whose tenants have been there for over twenty-five years. Meanwhile, add new shops along Main Street, in keeping with the 2006 Master Plan - which seeks to create a somewhat denser downtown for Damascus.
Tenants: The first phase includes professional offices (an attorney, an orthodonist, Long & Foster); neighborhood services (a florist, an equestrian shop); and a new "lifestyle" Safeway, but the next phase will have all new shops.
Lessons learned: A carefully-planned redevelopment can keep the mom-and-pops in town while accommodating new growth.

so much more AFTER THE JUMP . . .


Location: Route 108 and New Hampshire Avenue, Ashton (population: 1,761)
Program: approx. 41,000 square feet of retail, 32,000 square feet of office, seven homes
Why we included it: Ashton's barely fifteen minutes away from Burtonsville, meaning the new shopping center will be a competitor for anything here. While both communities have a rural history, Ashton's nearly three hundred years of existence mean new development gets extra scrutiny.
Plan: A mixed-use development meant to give Ashton residents a small-scale commercial center, with sidewalks, a parking garage (to reduce the project's footprint), and a "village green." Local activists helped create the final design, which convinced the developer to downscale an earlier, larger proposal.
Tenants: Sandy Spring Bank (which already has a building on the site), a small grocery store (~26,000 square feet), and others which haven't been decided.
What it teaches us: That a project once derided as the "Ashton Mall" can get built if the community chooses to work with a developer, not against them, and produce much better results.


Location: Maple Lawn Boulevard (near Route 29) and Route 216, Scaggsville (population: 24,079)
Program: 182,000 square feet of retail in development with 1.6 million square feet of offices and 1,500 homes
Why we included it: Its location five minutes north of Burtonsville and upscale tenants mean Maple Lawn Marketplace will be a huge competitor for any retail in East County.
Plan: A six-block "business district" with wide sidewalks, stores below offices and condominiums, and parking lots tucked in back. Grocery store Harris Teeter will face Route 216.
Tenants: A wine bar, a tapas bar, a lingerie store, and the aforementioned Harris Teeter.
What it teaches us: that you can still accommodate the car and the pedestrian, that density can produce a very attractive community, and that branding is very important. There's no mention of Scaggsville in Maple Lawn's marketing materials - you wouldn't be able to sell million-dollar houses with a name like that.


Location: Contee Road and Route 1, Laurel (population: 25,637)
Why we included it: With a similar layout and similar square footage, this could be the Town Square's twin - not to mention that it's right next door to Burtonsville.
Program: 136,961 square feet of retail
Plan: Conventional strip mall layout, with stores lined up parallel to Contee Road; restaurants occupy stand-alone buildings closer to the corner of Contee and Route 1.
Tenants: Three-fourths of the center's 28 stores are chains, including Applebee's, Chick-Fil-A, Starbucks and PetSmart, with Shoppers as an anchor. The City of Laurel police department has a substation here.
What it teaches us: Absoutely nothing. Design-wise, it's exactly like Burtonsville Town Square, though Chris Jones's promises of environmentally-friendly construction and high-quality fa├žades may change that.
For comparison, here's a profile of Burtonsville Town Square.


Location: Route 198 and Old Columbia Pike, Burtonsville (population: 11,470)
Program: 130,000 square feet of retail
Plan: A conventional strip mall - shops arranged around a large parking lot - on the former site of a forty-year-old shopping center.
Tenants: CVS/pharmacy and Giant. Plans show spaces for sit-down restaurants and up to two drive-through banks.

- All population counts are from the 2000 U.S. Census for the zip code each project is located in.

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