By Kevin O’Rourke
The ride on Germantown Road between Dawson Farm Road and Wisteria Drive will be changing in the future after the Montgomery County Planning Board approved on January 29 a connection from Waters Road – currently a cul-de-sac with no outlet - to Germantown Road (Maryland Route 118). Waters Road is the site of a new development, the Village at Germantown West, that will have 304 multi-family dwellings, 166 one-family attached dwellings and 14,426 square feet of retail space. It’s under construction by Gaithersburg-based Buchanan Partners, on what is known as the Marten Property.
In 2013 the County approved the residential development on the condition that Waters Road be connected to Germantown Road. According the Planning Board Staff Report on the matter, “The required construction of realigned Waters Road to Germantown Road will be done as a business district road based on a cross section approved by MCDOT including four total lanes (48 feet of pavement), a seven foot wide sidewalk, and a four foot wide green panel with street trees across the property’s frontage.”
The intersection will be built as a full access intersection directly opposite Bowman Mill Drive. The proposed plan will have Waters Road curve slightly to line up with Bowman Mill Drive creating a fluid intersection that may have a traffic signal in the future.
According to Benjamin Berbert, a senior planner with the Montgomery County Planning Department, “Based on the signal warrant study submitted for review to State Highway, it shows the warrants for a traffic signal are projected to be met.”
Berbert said that the Master Plan envisions an intersection with a traffic light to provide safe pedestrian crossing from the north side of Germantown Road to the MARC station on the south side.
“The warrants will need to be re-tested after the intersection is open to traffic without a signal before State Highway will allow the signal to be installed. If the actual traffic is less than predicted and the warrants are not met for a signal, the intersection may remain unsignalized for a time. If unsignalized, the signal warrants will be re-tested when the other properties in the vicinity submit development applications and perform traffic studies, which may add additional pedestrian or vehicular traffic to the intersection,” said Berbert.
According to Mark Wildman, with Potomac-based M SQ, LLC, the development company that owns the land the new road will be constructed on it may be six months to a year before construction begins and a new traffic signal may not be erected for months after the road is open to traffic.
The complicating issue is that Waters Road is a County road and Germantown Road is controlled by the Maryland State Highway association. "The MSH wants to track the usage of the new interesection for a while prior to installing the traffic signal," said Wildman.
In terms of how much the new connection and intersection will effect travel on Germantown Road, Berbert said, “Based on the information provided in the signal warrant study, the morning delay along the MD 118 corridor would increase by an average of only five seconds, and the afternoon delay traveling along the corridor would actually decrease because the signal when coordinated with the surrounding signals can actually do a better job of metering traffic.”
He added that Montgomery County DOT would work to keep the possible Waters Road signal coordinated with the signals for Wisteria Drive and Dawson Farm Road to ensure traffic moves along Germantown Road as smoothly as possible.
According to the plans, the current cul-de-sac, a triangular patch controlled by M SQ, will be removed and replaced by a two-story commercial building that will have “up to 9,980 square feet of commercial space, a first floor drive-through with two drive-through lanes, parking, an internal connection to the Martens Property, a full movement access point to Waters Road realigned, and a right out only exit onto Waters Road realigned.”
Russ Gerstl, executive vice president with Buchanan Partners, told the Planning Board, “When I first came before the board three years and one month ago, I said we are trying to do three things in this area. One is a successful project that started an immediate transformation of this area, facilitate a connection for Waters Road to Route 118 to help with the connectivity of the area, and to trigger the redevelopment of this triangle area.”
Gerstl said, however, that Buchanan is not actually required to create the intersection. “The condition of our approval requires us to upgrade Waters Road and improve the cul-de-sac but does not require us to do anything else,” he said. “The connection of Waters Road to Route 118 is desirable to us and that is why we have committed three years working with M SQ and with your staff to realize that.”
Gerstl indicated that the first building in the Alta Liberty Mill complex, which is the five-story multi-family dwellings directly opposite the connection to Germantown Road, has begun leasing, and sales of townhouses are “doing well and will be a nice addition to the community.”
Although the Board approved the plan, there is a question about the letter-of-the-law legality of the proposal because the area is comprised of two parcels of land that are zoned with for two similar, but distinct, zoning areas.
In a complex issue which digs deep into the minutia of planning and zoning legalities, M SQ, is abandoning its claim on the 0.37 acres of land which is to be used as the new street to connect Waters Road to Route 118. Montgomery County has agreed to abandon its right-of-way on the 0.37 acres of property which is currently the cul-de-sac in which Waters Road ends, and turn it over to M SQ for development.
The legal question arose because the land that M SQ is giving up is zoned RMX-2C (Residential Mixed Use Development Zone Residential-Mixed Use Development, Specialty Center, Commercial Base), and the land that is currently a road would become zoned as RMX-2 (Residential-Mixed Use Development, Specialty Center). The zones are similar but not exact - the RMX-2C zone allows for heavier use.
The situation was muddied even further due to the County introducing a new zoning system in the three years since the original plans requiring the Waters Road connection as a condition to the Alta Liberty Mill complex were approved.
“The plans approved allow for up to 9,634 square feet of commercial/service uses on the lot,” said Berbert. “The plan does show currently a two story structure with a dual lane drive through. The traffic study submitted tested their traffic impacts under the assumption as a fast food restaurant and office space, however as conditioned the applicant may ultimately build any commercial or service use allowed in the old RMX-2C zone that does not exceed 9,634 square feet in size, meets the building and yard setback requirements of the zone, and generated equal to or fewer than the number of vehicle trips that were assumed in their submittal.”
Top: The Planning Board has approved Waters Road connection to Germantown Road to be aligned with Bowman Mill Drive.
Next: The triangle in red is will be changed. Waters Road will turn to meet Maryland Route 118 at Bowman Mill Drive.
Next: A two story commercial building (red), containing office space and possibly a fast foot restaurant with a drive-thru is planned for the plot of land which is currently the Waters Road cul-de-sac.
Next: The new outlet from Waters Road to Germantown Road would be build on the property occupied by this thicket of trees.
Next: The Planning Board debated how to zone the new area to be created after the cul-de-sac is removed and turned over to M SQ, LLC because of the two zones currently on the property.
Photos by Germantown Pulse. Charts are courtesey Montgomery County Planning Board.