What will be a long and possibly contentious process to develop the 180-acre Crown Farm property began last Thursday with a four-day-long series of workshops called a charette.

KB Home and Centex Homes, the builders of what could be more than 2,000 houses on the property, hung balloons and provided sandwiches for the hundreds of Gaithersburg residents who turned out for the workshops at the Gaithersburg Marriott Washingtonian Center.

The work sessions at the hotel -- focusing on land use, the county's master plan for the area, transportation issues and schools -- were a brick's throw away from the rolling farm along Washingtonian Boulevard. The Crowns were forced to sell their land after the patriarch of the family died and the inheritance taxes were too much to bear.

"I hope you listen to us," said Rosalind Lacy MacLennan, who lives near the farm, speaking to the project's architect in front of the audience. "I hope this is not a bait-and-switch. Please, please listen to us."

Neighbors offered a multitude of ideas for the site. Build the houses close together to preserve land, one woman said. Use the existing home and barns, which date back several centuries, for community meetings or dances or arts and crafts. Make sure Gaithersburg can handle the traffic. And the ideas continued.

Representatives of the builders wrote the ideas on large pieces of paper and hung them around the room, to save for use in development, which could take a year or more.

The two companies will seek to have the property, which lies in Montgomery County, annexed by the city of Gaithersburg. That would avoid a review process that has come under fire recently at a time of booming construction.

The developers seem to know the process will be a long haul, and they offered the public more than just discussion. "We know that people are always happier after they have had something to eat," the project's architect, Matt Bell, told the audience. "So, please eat."

Honors on the Environment

The Maryland-National Capital Building Industry Association presented a number of awards to area builders for their commitment to going the extra mile (or acre) to preserve, enhance and protect the environment. Several Montgomery County projects were highlighted.

Miller & Smith Homes won for its Springview community in Olney, with 33 lots on 73 acres. About 58 acres were kept as open space -- rolling fields, forests, a winding rural road and long sidewalks. All the homes meet the federal government's strictest guidelines for energy efficiency.

Pleasants Development Inc. won for Kingsview Village in Germantown, which features a forested storm-water treatment wetland, a nursery and retaining walls for forest preservation.

The civil engineering firm Loiederman Soltesz Associates Inc. won for the Gardens of Traville project in Rockville, a 5.5-acre senior housing development, and for its work on the revitalized downtown of Silver Spring.

Bid Online for Biotech Auction

MdBio Inc., an organization that promotes biotechnology companies in Maryland, has launched an online auction leading up to its annual golf tournament Wednesday. The proceeds will be used to support the MdBioLab, an 18-wheel trailer truck laboratory that travels around the state educating students about biotechnology.

Up for auction: opera tickets, autographed basketballs, ski lessons and golf outings.

For more information on the auction and the golf tournament, go to www.mdbio.org/newsite/news/index.html.

Feting Women in Business

Women Business Owners of Montgomery County will host its ninth annual "Women in Business Celebrate Success" on Oct. 21 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Hilton hotel in Gaithersburg.

The theme this year: "Past, present and future." The organization is also celebrating its 25th anniversary and will honor 25 outstanding women in the county.

To register, go to www.wbo-mc.com/gala.

Have some business news about Montgomery County? Send an e-mail to rosenwaldm@washpost.com.