Developers break ground on central Montgomery’s last large tract

Correction: A previous version of this article focused on Mary Garrett Abert’s reaction to the demolition of a farmhouse once owned by her family on the site. The article should have also mentioned that  another house on the property, the England-Crown farmhouse, was deemed historic by Gaithersburg’s Historic Preservation Advisory Committee and will be restored and sold as a private residence as part of a plan for developing the 182-acre tract. Several other structures also deemed historic will be preserved and dedicated as part of a five-acre city park.

October 11, 2012

A monumental day for Montgomery County government officials and commercial developers was heartbreaking news for Mary Garrett Abert.

Crown Farm, the last large undeveloped parcel in central Montgomery County, is now the construction site for 320,000 square feet of retail and commercial space, plus 2,250 residential units.

Developers and local government officials broke ground on the Crown project Thursday. The 182-acre tract occupies the southeast quadrant at Sam Eig Highway (Interstate 370) and Fields Road in Gaithersburg.

“Change, change, change,” Abert said sadly from her home in Rockville. “I’ve learned that you can’t maintain what used to be.”

Abert’s family owned the farm, starting with her great-great-grandfather in the early 1800s. One of the farm’s silos is still visible from nearby roads, while the farmhouse and a few buildings were razed or have burned down over the past few years.

Local nonprofit group Montgomery Preservation had fought to save the farmhouse, which was marked a historic home, but Gaithersburg ultimately approved a developer’s demolition permits.

“It just broke my heart when they tore down the old house,” Abert said.

On Thursday, not far from the site of the demolished farmhouse, Gaithersburg Mayor Sidney A. Katz put on a hard hat and drove a polished shovel into a mound of dirt, placed precisely in front of a “Downtown Crown” banner marking what is planned to become a walkable streetscape lined with shops and restaurants.

“No one could be more proud than I am,” Katz said.

Inside a white tent, developers gestured toward a colorful scale model of the planned community. JBG Rosenfeld Retail, based in Chevy Chase, will build Downtown Crown’s restaurants and shops, while the Greenbelt-based Bozzuto Group holds the rights to develop residential space, which will be called “Cadence at Crown.”

Dave Brawner, a project manager for David M. Schwarz Architects, which designed the streetscape, said the space is intended to create an urban feel within the Montgomery suburbs.

There is “a bit of permanence” to the design, Brawner said, explaining that the project’s designers wanted the community to look as though it had always, and would always, be there.

Downtown Crown’s shops and restaurants will include Harris Teeter, La Madeleine, Asia Nine and Roti Mediterranean Grill. The community plan also incorporates a high school and a Corridor Cities Transit station for a light rail or bus line that would connect Gaithersburg with Clarksburg. The county school system has yet to describe its approach for developing the school.

Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) welcomed the project but acknowledged its hurdles. In 2006, the land was annexed by Gaithersburg, then sold to developers. Three years later, those developers went bankrupt.

The new development will “stimulate the economic soul of this area,” said Tom Bozzuto, chairman and chief executive of the Bozzuto Group. “Downtown Crown is all about the future.”

— The Gazette

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