The city of Rockville, after more than two years of frustration and legal wrangling, has regained control of the still-undeveloped tract in the city's downtown that it has long hoped would be the centerpiece of the city's Town Center project.
Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge DeLawrence Beard ruled earlier this month that Hadid Investment Group Inc., a local developer that had been given construction rights on the site, has no further claim on the two-acre city-owned lot at North Washington Street and Middle Lane.
Hadid had contracted with the city in 1985 to build a 192-room luxury hotel on the site, but defaulted on that agreement last fall.
Beard ruled that with the default Hadid relinquished all control over future development of the property, as well as the $576,342 the firm paid for the site.
The land is considered choice property, and many city officials believed the hotel would breathe new life into the Town Center project. The complex, first announced in 1978, would be just one block from the Rockville Metro station. But plans for it have encountered a variety of stumbling blocks.
Washington architect Arthur Cotton Moore's plans for the Town Center called for a hotel and an arts center, as well as a set of office buildings a block away.
Hadid broke ground for the hotel in September 1985. But no further construction work was done, leaving officials in City Hall -- located less than two blocks from the site -- with an unsightly and overgrown lot that served as a constant reminder of Hadid's unkept promises.
City officials declared last fall that Hadid had defaulted on the agreement, while Hadid contended that a hotel was no longer economically feasible at the site.
While Beard's Aug. 11 ruling would appear to be the final chapter in the stormy relationship between Hadid and the city, Mayor Steven Van Grack said that an attorney for Hadid "approached me just last week" to consider another project with Hadid as a limited partner.
"I told him no," Van Grack said.
The mayor said the ruling "allows us to recuperate from this experience and carefully consider new options. It was an albatross around our neck. Now it's been removed."
The city's immediate concern with the property, Van Grack said, is "with its appearance, not development."
The mayor and City Council recently approved a $20,000 plan to transform the downtown eyesore into a park. Van Grack said that within two weeks, benches, flower beds, trees and shrubs will be installed on the property, which will be known as North Washington Dell.
Van Grack emphasized that the park "represents a temporary solution only. The plants and everything can be removed when the city decides what course to follow. I am not prepared to leave it undeveloped for the long term."
Van Grack said that although developers have approached city officials with ideas for construction on the property, he is "not prepared" to decide on the property's fate in the near future.
Warren Eisinger of Eisinger-Kilbane & Associates, the owners and developers of the Rockville Metro Center project located across the street from the undeveloped parcel, said his firm will open an 11-theater movie complex, two restaurants, 50,000 square feet of retail space and 16,000 square feet of office space late next year. The firm has already completed 90,000 square feet of office space and 40,000 square feet of retail space.
Van Grack said development of the park will be put on hold for "at least two years" so the city can monitor the progress of the Eisinger-Kilbane property as well two office buildings called for in Moore's plans. Van Grack said walkways will connect development on the park site to the Eisinger-Kilbane complex.