G’town developer says new proposal gives competitor advantage by Jane Roberts

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TraVure Surrounding Properties

Developer Ray Gill contends his longtime plans to build two hotels, Class A office space and a five-deck parking garage along Poplar in Germantown have been hijacked by an eleventh-hour proposal he says would benefit a competitor across the street.

Robert Fogelman, owner of Fogelman Investment Co., has offered to build a road through his company's Westminster town houses, just west of Gill's proposed TraVure development, demolishing 19 units to do it.

The Fogelman proposal contributed Tuesday night to yet another delay in Gill's efforts to secure city approval for TraVure. Commissioners chose to withhold action until the November meeting to fully study the latest traffic twist.

The road, if approved, will make Fogelman's Westminster property more valuable, giving it signalized access to Poplar and connecting it to amenities, including shopping, at TraVure.

But it also would align with curb cuts with the Atrium/Forum office buildings on the north side of Poplar.

In a Nov. 2 letter to the Planning Commission, Fogelman said Gill's project fails to address the needs of the larger area — the 58 acres Germantown designated as its western gateway for pedestrian-friendly growth, including multistory buildings.

Fogelman's issue is the traffic circulation, which he says serves only TraVure and is "antithetical" to what was intended for the area's overall plan.

Gill says the Planning Commission erred by allowing Fogelman to derail TraVure's potential approval.

"We stressed three years ago that we must have a traffic signal for the beginning of our development, not when later phases are built," Gill said in an email. He says Germantown city leaders, who agreed to the light, are developing a reputation with developers for not sticking to their word.

If the access moves west, Gill says property managers at the Atrium and Forum, his competitors in the office market, would benefit.

"They want less competition, not more. We have spent months and hundreds of thousands of dollars meeting weekly to develop the current plan based on what we were told would be approved," Gill said, noting Fogelman could have intervened at any time during the three-year process.

Alderman Forrest Owens, the board liaison to the Planning Commission, agrees Gill has worked to accommodate many requests, including reducing the number of deviations he originally sought from the suburb's Smart Growth code.

"I also won't hide the fact I am frustrated by the late hour of the Fogleman plan," Owens said. "All the Planning Commission members were frustrated. But, do I allow my frustration to distort my long-term vision of wanting the western gateway to be a crown jewel for Germantown? I can't do that.

"We have to examine all possibilities, and when you look at the Fogelman plan and placing a light at that location, it seems, from a planning perspective, to make so much sense," Owens said.

Fogelman's proposed road would run on the west side of TraVure.

As Fogelman notes in his letter, the approved design of the western gateway permits him to develop up to 500,000 square feet of Class A office space on the Westminster property. Gill's plan in TraVure calls for 150,000 square feet of prime office space, plus a 465-car garage and the hotels, which also include parking lots.

City officials say Fogelman's proposal could eliminate some problems by providing another outlet to Poplar. They also say it's doubtful both the signal into TraVure and Fogelman's proposed signaled road could both exist because of the potential traffic backup between the lights.

"We have to get this right the first time because we don't have a second chance," Owens said. "If that means waiting a few more days to conduct all our due diligence, then I think it's worth it."

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