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Garden Center Seeks Expansion

The Good Earth Garden Center, located at the corner of Falls and Glen roads, has asked Montgomery County for permission to expand, both to improve the business and to correct several zoning violations.

“Our goal is to improve efficiency and improve the facilities — make it a better environment for people to shop,” said David Johannes, president of GEG, Inc., owner of the center.

The center has applied for a modification to their special exception from the Montgomery County Board of Appeals so that they can expand their operations and correct several violations of their current special exception.

Good Earth had been involved in ventures outside the scope of its original special exception, according to Stan Garber, investigator with the Montgomery County Department of Permitting Services. “They had several small businesses,” Garber said.

The center was also cited for several structures, lighting and parking areas that may be in violation of its current special exception.

According to Garber, the center has been working to relieve the problems. “I was happy to see they got rid of the small businesses,” he said.

Among the problems were the sale of garden furniture and produce. The center sold stone benches that could be placed in a garden.

“We didn’t even consider it garden furniture; we thought of it as statuary, but we didn’t want to start trouble so we removed it,” Johannes said.

Johannes noted that if it is approved he plans to bring back the stonework, but not to expand. “We’re not going to bring in wicker and tables,” he said.

“We didn’t know that you weren’t really allowed to be selling produce,” Johannes said. According to Garber, that is something that requires specific permission.

The modification to the special exception the center has proposed will resolve these issues.

“That’s all we ask — if their property has grown so much. There are two options, either return to the original or propose a modification. Now we’re just waiting to see what the board does.” Garber said.

Johannes says he is trying to be sensitive to the needs of the area, and neighbors say he’s succeeding.

“With neighbors, you don’t want to disrupt them,” he said. In addition to building in the retail area, the plans call for extensive landscaping around the edges of the property.

This planned buffering seeks not only to reduce the road noise for customers but also to help screen adjoining property owners.

“They’re not going to have to see all the gravel they see now,” said Bryan Natoli, the center’s general manager.

At least one neighbor is satisfied with efforts so far.

“These guys are trying to ameliorate problems they’ve inherited,” said Jeffrey Harab, a nearby resident. Harab was referring to the state of the property when GEG took it over in 1997. “They appear to want to make everyone happy,” he said.

Harab likes having a garden center in his backyard. “What more could you want than something green and growing? These guys are making everybody’s homes prettier,” Harab said.

“Our goal is to improve efficiency by putting in a central, upscale sales center — to update the whole facility,” Johannes said.

The new center will be based on the concept of an English style garden center, Johannes said. Display gardens, walking paths and covered shopping areas will make it a more park-like setting. It will also allow a customer to see what a mature plant will look like before they purchase it.

“It’s about presentation and silent sales,” said Johannes. He defined silent sales as allowing customers to get the information they need from signs placed in the displays instead of a salesman. “The English are much better about silent sales than we are here,” he said.

This, Johannes hopes, will help them toward their ultimate goal. “We’re looking to increase the average sale from the customer,” he said. Johannes noted that the average sale at the center is low for the industry and he hopes to increase it through the new presentation.

“People are always looking for something. Our goal is to offer the best products we can at the best value we can,” Johannes said.

Additionally, as part of the special exception, the center hopes to add some staff members. “We’re asking for 8-10 full-time and 15-18 part-time staff,” said Natoli. According to Natoli, the staff is close to that number now. He also noted that about half of those staff members will be neighborhood teens.

If everything goes smoothly, Johannes expects to begin construction in the fall of 2003 and finish in time for the spring of 2004.

The hearing before the Board of Appeals is scheduled for Jan. 17, 2003 at 9:30 a.m. Organizations wishing to testify must file two copies of their statements at least 10 days before the hearing. An individual may testify without prior notice.