Periodically during coming months, this column will focus on the diverse attributes of some of these newly designed communities.
A good starting point is Gaithersburg, in the heart of Montgomery County, where ground was broken last month to kick off development of “Crown,” previously “Crown Farm.” Comprising 182 acres, the size of many American small towns, Crown is conveniently located near Interstate 270 and the Intercounty Connector, an area slated for much of the county’s future growth. SunBrook Partners, Inc., is Crown’s master developer.
Key to that growth, and to Crown’s success, will be the Great Seneca Science Corridor and the county’s 18-million-square-foot “Science City,” where more than 52,000 jobs could be created, according to County Executive Isiah Leggett (D). Also essential for healthy, sustainable long-term growth will be road and transit improvements, in particular future implementation of an effective transit system — bus or light rail — for the Corridor City Transit (CCT) network.
Crown’s physical plan envisions a systematic pattern of tree-lined streets and blocks, along with numerous public amenities. A new high school will serve as a civic focus and anchor the southeastern end of Crown’s main street, the plan’s circulation spine. Almost a third of Crown’s land will be urban parks, plazas and natural open space, all within easy walking distance of the community’s future residents and workers.
The original framework plan for Crown was crafted several years ago by the Washington office of Ehrenkrantz Eckstut & Kuhn (EEK), an architecture and urban design firm now merged with Perkins Eastman. In 2007 the EEK Crown Farm plan received a national award for regional and urban design from the American Institute of Architects as well as recognition by the Smart Growth Alliance for the plan’s embrace of “smart growth principles.”
Crown’s framework plan will accommodate as many as 2,250 residential units, mostly apartments and townhomes, and 320,000 square feet of retail and commercial space. The October 1 phase groundbreaking launched Crown’s downtown, mixed-use core: 538 apartments and 260,000 square feet of street-level retail space being built by the Bozzuto Group and JBG Rosenfeld Retail.
Street-fronting retail at sidewalk level with apartments above typifies the smart-growth urban design strategy for the relatively dense, mixed-use downtown core. Retail amenities will include a Harris Teeter grocery and six restaurants offering diverse cuisines. Within the apartment development, residents will have access to interior courtyards, a fitness center and yoga studio, a pool and media theater. Phase one facilities will open in 2014.
Beyond downtown Crown, ground also was broken in the Crown West neighborhood, planned for about 400 single-family homes, both attached and detached. Pulte Homes and KB Home are building 140 phase one townhomes in Crown West.
These uses and how they are deployed should ultimately ensure that Crown, despite its suburban location, functions more like a walkable urban environment than a conventional, auto-dependent suburb. Crown undoubtedly will be a desirable place to live for many of the scientists, engineers, managers and other professionals working in the county’s Science Corridor and Science City.
But how many of those who work in Crown’s stores, restaurants and Harris Teeter, and others who are teachers, police officers, firefighters or office support staff, will be able to afford to live in Crown?
There will be a small percentage of affordable, below-market-cost housing units, mandated by the county, in Crown. But given current housing policies and fiscal constraints, nationally and regionally, many of those with jobs in Crown will have to reside elsewhere, probably farther out. Let’s hope they nevertheless will be close enough to use transit instead of driving.
Roger K. Lewis is a practicing architect and a professor emeritus of architecture at the University of Maryland.