The 180-acre Crown family farm, one of the last major tracts of available land in a rapidly developing area near Gaithersburg, is being sold to local developers who are planning thousands of homes, dozens of retail outlets, and possibly a new high school.
James "Kenny" Crown, whose family has farmed the land since the early 1900s, said that he wasn't exactly pleased to see the land go but that the family was forced to sell after his uncle died last December and the inheritance taxes were too much to bear.
"We're just going to have to live with it," Crown said yesterday.
Final details of the sale are still being negotiated, according to Crown. The price was not disclosed.
Crown said his family has had dozens of offers from around the country for the land, which is located in a prime area off Fields Road near the Rio and Washingtonian shopping center, but decided to sell to a local development team led by Gaithersburg businessman Aris Mardirossian.
"He's from around here," Crown said. "We know him. He seemed like a decent guy."
The local developers, who did not return several phone calls yesterday seeking comment, are partnering with KB Home, a publicly traded Los Angeles home builder, which will probably take the lead in turning an expanse of rolling hills into an urban community much like the nearby Kentlands.
"This is a unique opportunity in a unique location," said Steve Coniglio, vice president of land for KB Home.
Coniglio said the team would probably not stray much from the county's master plan for the site, which calls for 2,000 homes and about 50,000 square feet of retail space.
But whether the county, mired in controversy over its ability to manage growth, will oversee the development is unclear. A 13-acre tract of the farm sold to developers for $9 million earlier this year was annexed into Gaithersburg, which approved plans for 68 family homes and townhouses. City officials and Coniglio said they would explore a similar annexation for the rest of the farm, leaving much of the development review authority to the city.
In either case, the development of the Crown farm is likely to stoke concerns about traffic and overdevelopment in the area. Concern about development, particularly in northern Montgomery County, is at a peak following the disclosure of hundreds of building code violations in Clarksburg and the recent decision by state officials to push ahead with a major highway, the intercounty connector.
"I just keep wondering how I'll be able to go to work and do anything in a reasonable amount of time," said Carol Martin, who has lived near the farm for 20 years. "If I wanted to live in a crowded area I would be living in a city, even downtown Bethesda. The planners just don't get it. I hope that we will come together and fight it."
The sale could also include a bonus for the Montgomery County Public School system. According to a memo sent to board members by Superintendent Jerry D. Weast, the buyers of the Crown family farm indicated they would be willing to donate up to 35 acres for public school and recreational purposes.
A formal announcement of the sale and potential use of some of the acreage as a school is expected at a mid-morning briefing in Gaithersburg today.
The potential high school campus would be the Montgomery County school system's 26th high school. The Crown farm site would be added to the list of possible high school sites in the mid-county area.
Staff writer Lori Aratani contributed to this report.