Entry Point: Germantown planning for development on western gateway

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The city of Germantown is embarking on an effort to guide growth and development of the city’s western gateway corridor for the next 20 years.

The City of Germantown, which can’t expand its geographical boundaries, has been promoting higher-density, mixed-use development, particularly on its western border east of Saddle Creek. Germantown hired planning firm the Lawrence Group to craft the western gateway plan after Ray Gill bought the Kirby Farmhouse property.

(Daily News/Lance Murphey)

The planning area encompasses the Poplar Avenue corridor at the city’s western gateway, paying special attention to proposed development opportunities, improvements to Poplar Avenue and Kirby and a new set of regulations designed to guide development.

Last week, the Lawrence Group, a North Carolina-based town planning and architectural firm, presented proposed guidelines for the redevelopment of the suburban city’s western entrance. The new proposal will have to pass Germantown’s planning commission and then be presented to the Board of Mayor and Aldermen for approval.

The plan focuses on a 58-acre tract bounded by Poplar Avenue on the north, Poplar Pike on the south, the city’s border on the west and the Nottaway subdivision on the east.

The western gateway initiative is an outgrowth of Germantown’s Economic Development Strategic Plan, which identified five strategic areas in the city that could be redeveloped, including the western gateway.

Several developments that could come to fruition in the 58-acre gateway area spurred the western gateway plan. City officials and property owners worked in conjunction to develop the plan.

“Within that (economic development) plan we identified commercial districts throughout the city that needed to be addressed, what’s unique about them, what could take place there, what shouldn’t take place there and what type of vision we wanted for those areas,” said city administrator Patrick Lawton. “What’s unique about this one was we had interest from the development community to do something different in that area.”

There is little doubt that this portion of Germantown contains multiple development opportunities. It already is home to Saddle Creek, a destination, open-air shopping center at Poplar Avenue and West Street.

More retail activity could be happening a little farther west.

In 2011, Gill Poplar GP, led by managing partner Raymond Gill, bought the 10-acre property housing the historic Nelson-Kirby House for $2.6 million. The property, east of Kirby Parkway and bounded by Poplar on the north and Poplar Pike on the south, was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1986.

The Lawrence Group showed an opportunity to turn the Carrefour at Kirby Woods shopping center into a denser mixed-use development. The same goes for the intersection of Poplar and Kirby, currently a Bank of Bartlett site.

Lawton said Gill, Robert Fogelman, Spence Ray, Henry Cannon and others were all interested in redeveloping properties they own in the 58-acre area and they and the city all desired to operate under the same guidelines while pursuing new models of development.

“We wanted to have the plan and code in place so when development happens we have that code in place,” Lawton said. “When the folks involved decide to do something with their properties is in their court, but at least we’ve said you can do something different than was allowed before.”

Gill said property owners were eager to work with Germantown on the plan because it could expand development opportunities and make a long-lasting difference in the community.

“We all collaborated with Germantown,” Gill said. “We’ve all had the chance to give our input, the property owners and the community, to what its potential can be in the future. It is a very dynamic opportunity.”

Gill Properties could develop the 10-acre Nelson-Kirby farmhouse property east of Kirby Parkway and bounded by Poplar Avenue on the north and Poplar Pike on the south. Click photo to view PDF.

(Renaissance Group)

Gill’s preliminary plans for his site include a mix of uses. One conceptual plan shows three one- to two-story buildings on the eastern side of the property fronting Poplar. The three buildings would feature retail on the ground floor and office space on the second floors. A landscaped boulevard would bring visitors into the site from Poplar and lead to a plaza in the middle of the property.

Toward the southern portion of the property the preliminary plans include two multi-story office buildings, one with 88,000 square feet and another with 99,000 square feet. Gill’s initial plan calls for a multi-story, 450-space parking garage along Poplar Pike, which would be shielded from view by the dense vegetation there.

Another concept shows the opportunity for six mixed-use buildings on the western edge of the property and five mixed-use buildings on the eastern edge, with a retail anchor or office building on the southern portion of the property.

Gill said the historic house and barns would be razed or moved to make way for development.

“We have multiple site plans and the market will dictate the size and height of the retail buildings,” Gill said.

The Lawrence Group said incremental, status quo development of the 58 acres on the western edge of the city could result in 45,600 square feet of retail and restaurant space and 174,000 square feet of office space. That would bring an appraised value of $62.8 million and $327,465 in city tax revenue.

A more mixed development with 447 residential units mixed with 124,000 square feet of retail space, 625,000 square feet of office space and 96 hotel rooms would bring an appraised value of $174.5 million and $972,801 in city tax revenue.

An even denser plan with 2,181 residential units, 104,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space and 859,900 square feet of office space would bring an appraised value of $467.5 million and generate $2 million in city tax revenue.

“If you plan it, they will come and we hope that is what happens when they see this as an alternative option to what is there now,” Lawton said. “This could be the highest and best use of this important piece of our city.”

Germantown has been planning its future for years.

In 2005 Germantown adopted its “Vision 2020” plan, the smart growth redevelopment plan that promotes mixed-use development combining commercial, residential and retail space in a more pedestrian-friendly atmosphere.

Germantown was faced with twin challenges when it developed “Vision 2020.” The city could not expand outside of its current borders and the existing zoning mainly prohibited denser, mixed-use development. That meant few options for the city to raise revenue.

The “Vision 2020” smart growth plan laid out a vision for developing the city’s central business district with pedestrian-friendly streets, a town square inspired environment and taller buildings with retail on the ground floor and residences above.

“Change is hard,” mayor Sharon Goldsworthy told an Urban land Institute gathering earlier this ear. “Not to change is harder.”

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