Judy Gross, who last year published “The Kentlands: A Home for All Seasons,” an anthology of essays about the community, said that a quarter-century later, she and other residents believe that vision is largely a reality.
“We had lived in suburbia in Long Island and New Jersey, where we lived on half an acre and had to drive everywhere we went,” said Gross, 77, who moved to a townhouse in Kentlands 19 years ago with her husband, Ted, to be closer to their son in Gaithersburg after their first grandson was born. “We came here and said: ‘Wow. What a difference.’ ”
New urbanism: When Potomac builder Joseph Alfandre bought Kentlands Farm in 1988, there was only one well-recognized neotraditional development in the United States: Seaside, a Florida resort community developed by urban planners Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk of DPZ.
Alfandre hired DPZ to design a similar community in Gaithersburg, making it the first year-round neotraditional development, Gross said. In 1990, when the Kentlands sales office opened, two dozen people camped outside overnight to ensure their spot in line, according to Gross’s book.
The development was constructed over more than a decade, using multiple builders to ensure the houses were architecturally distinct. The process led to a diverse housing stock, but it contributed to financial difficulties for developers. In 1991, Joseph Alfandre & Co. and Great Seneca Limited Partnership turned the development over to the bank to escape financial ruin, according to Gross’s book. Alfandre continued to consult on the project, but other developers finished the job.
“The reason why you don’t see that many communities using this development model is that it’s not a revenue-optimizing design for developers,” said Alex Kleinman, chairman of the Kentlands Citizens Association board of trustees. “You don’t see cookie-cutter homes, because they purposely brought in many different builders. The result is something special. But if you’re a developer, is it something you want to commit yourself to economically?”
Diversity and walkability: In addition to architectural diversity, Kentlands offers a diversity of housing types, with apartments that appeal to young singles, townhomes that draw retirees looking to downsize and single-family houses, Gross said. There’s even a retirement community, Kentlands Manor.
Residents can walk almost anywhere: to several man-made lakes, to a Whole Foods or Giant Food supermarket, or to the commercial district on Main Street. Among the couple dozen restaurants on Main Street is Vasilis Mediterranean Grill, whose owners live in an apartment above the restaurant, Gross said.