Community Members in Opposition to Ashton Development Project

by Aidan Trump ‘21

As a part of the larger Ashton Village Sector Plan approved by the Montgomery County Planning Board on December 3, 2020, a nine acre tract of land sitting off the southeast corner of the intersection of New Hampshire Avenue (MD 650), and Olney Sandy Spring Road (MD 108) is set to be developed. Currently, the Sandy Spring Bank’s Ashton branch is situated on the land. While some in the community look forward to the development in Ashton, many have voiced their concerns about the size and scale of the new development which could potentially have 150 new living units. These residents feel the development would detract from Ashton’s rural village atmosphere. 

The developer Fred Nichols, who is an Ashton resident, plans on building a combination of townhouses, stacked flats, and mixed-use buildings, the tallest being 45 feet, 15 feet taller than the Alloway building, currently the tallest building in Ashton, also built by Nichols Contracting Inc. According to the Planning Board’s draft, the “community and the landowner [Fred Nichols] have a strong desire to continue a bank use [in some form] on the southeast corner.” 

During the Ashton Sector Plan’s virtual public hearing, held on March 2, lawyer Francoise Carrier spoke on behalf of Nichols’ development team. Explaining that Nichols would be “building a predominantly residential, mixed-use project with a focus on missing middle housing … [and that] Nichols intends to closely track the Village Core framework in the draft Sector Plan, with a large open space that will be open to the public, a linear park connecting that open space to New Hampshire Avenue, wide sidewalks, pedestrian scale lighting, and on-street parking,” said Carrier to the Montgomery County Council. 

While the public park and improvements to pedestrian safety have been well received by community members, there is still contention when it comes to the size and scale of the development. There is continued opposition to the high-density zoning, concentrated at the tip of the southeast corner, as well as the maximum 45-foot building height which allows for four-story structures. Additionally, there are concerns that the increase in housing and by extension increase in automobiles could create traffic, as well as pedestrian safety could be exacerbated due to the close proximity to Sherwood High School.

An online petition calling for changes to the development currently has over 600 signatures. The petition calls for the Sector Plan’s design guidelines regarding appropriate building types to become mandatory, as well as the utilization of an advisory committee of community members and stakeholders. The petition also requests cutbacks on the permitted density of the development and a reduction in the allowed building height. 

 Katherine Wheeler, an Ashton resident for nearly 28 years, serves as the president of the Homeowners Association for the Spring Lawn Farm, a neighborhood situated off of New Hampshire Avenue less than one-tenth of a mile away from the southeast corner. Wheeler noted her disappointment at how the developer’s proposed design did not match that of the Ashton Village Plan. She stressed the importance of fostering cohesive community-driven advisory during the conceptual stage of development. “It is very important for community members to be involved in the conceptual development stages. Collaboration between the community and developers often results in better designs and a less contentious process,” said Wheeler. 

There is some agreement between those in favor of development and those who aren’t. Neither want to see a large corporate entity built in a similar fashion to that of the CVS, which sits adjacent to the southeast corner.

It remains to be seen whether or not the voices of the community will impact the development of the southeast corner. The next step in the finalization of the plan is the Planning, Housing, and Economic Development (PHED) Committee Work Sessions tentatively scheduled on Monday, April 5, and Monday, April 19.