Construction has begun on the Crown community, bordered by Fields Road, Sam Eig Highway and Decoverly Drive in Gaithersburg. After several years of planning, including a declaration of bankruptcy by the original developers, the 182-acre, urban-style community will now become a reality.
KB Home and Centex Corporation bought the Crown Farm property in 2005 for $155 million with plans to build 2,000 homes and a new high school. The property was rezoned and had preliminary plan approval, but due to bankruptcy, building did not commence.
In April 2011, the Gaithersburg City Council unanimously approved the schematic development plan for the Crown Farm neighborhood. SunBrook Partners, the master-planner of the Crown project, has developed residential communities in major metropolitan markets across the United States.
In mid-July, JBG Rosenfeld Retail (JBGR) and the Bozzuto Group bought a portion of the 182-acre crown site from SunBrook Partners for a reported $28 million. JBGR and Bozzuto will develop the Downtown Crown portion of the Crown community.
Gaithersburg Mayor Sidney Katz, city officials and interested residents attended a bus tour of the property on July 23. With construction just underway, Karl Alt, director of development for SunBrook Partners, served as tour guide, providing a narrative on what citizens of Gaithersburg can expect to see at the Crown property over the next few years.
Alt outlined plans for the six neighborhoods that will comprise the Crown community. The first, Downtown Crown, will serve as the dining and retail center of the neighborhood and will feature 260,000 square feet of open-air, walkable streets and a variety of restaurants and retail establishments. The retail district will be anchored by a Harris Teeter grocery store and an L.A. Fitness center, both of which have signed retail leases.
JBGR has been charged with attracting retail establishments and restaurants to Downtown Crown. The company specializes in the leasing, development, acquisition, construction and management of retail and mixed-use properties throughout the mid-Atlantic region. Currently, JBGR holds more than 30 shopping centers, nine freestanding store sites, and numerous mixed-use retail sites in its portfolio.
“Very shortly, you will begin to see things coming out of the ground,” said Krista Di Iaconi, principal with JBGR.
Restaurants are planned to occupy 40,000 square feet of Downtown Crown, including nationally known establishments and both fine dining and fast casual restaurants.
“We hope to be able to make an announcement about restaurants next month,” Di Iaconi said.
In addition, JBGR is working to bring an eclectic mix of retailers to Downtown Crown, and Di Iaconi said designer fashion stores, boutiques and gift stores are among the businesses that have shown interest. “We hope to announce retailers by the end of the year,” she said.
The shopping district will include three parking garages and a large outdoor lot at the Harris Teeter grocery store. Plenty of on-street parking will also be available. The area will include a large village green to host concerts, a farmers’ market and other cultural events.
In addition to restaurants and retail, 540 multi-family units developed by the Bozzuto Group will be lofted above the main street retail and dining environment in three- and four-story buildings.
Crown West will be the first of four residential neighborhoods planned for the development. Located at Fields Road and Decoverly Drive, Crown West will include 339 townhomes and 59 single-family homes built by KB home and Pulte Group. Model homes are expected to be complete by the end of 2012.
The Corridor Cities Transitway (CCT) includes a planned stop on Decoverly Drive. The median is very wide on this street to accommodate the CCT. In addition, SunBrook Partners will reconstruct Fields Road to become “more like a boulevard,” Alt said.
Stressing the interconnectivity of the neighborhood throughout his presentation, Alt said all the new roadways connect to the roads that are already in place.
The single-family homes and townhomes of Crown West will spread out from the central Downtown Crown area and will be interspersed with parks, hiker-biker trails, pocket parks and water features. The neighborhoods will have streets named after prominent innovators in music, science, art and literature and will feature plenty of open green space to create a community with a park-like feel.
Neighborhood six, which has not yet been named, has been set aside for a future high school. “We are dedicating 32 acres to the city of Gaithersburg for a high school,” Alt said. While Montgomery County Public Schools plans do not currently include this new school site, Katz said the land is there for a school to be built.
The Crown East neighborhood will include additional single-family-homes and townhomes in addition to a homeowners’ association facility, a community center and pool.
“Our focus now is on planning the Crown East neighborhood,” said Alt.
Crown Center will include additional multi-family homes, a small retail section and a freestanding bank building. Bank construction will begin very soon. SunBrook Partners is approved to build multi-family dwellings up to 20 stories in this area of the neighborhood.
Unnamed neighborhood four will feature a large city park.
“We are excited and confident that we can create a new destination for living and shopping in Montgomery County,” said Robert Zeiller, vice president of SunBrook Partners. “We are perfectly positioned at the junction of major roads and transit, right in the heart of Montgomery County.”
A marketing campaign that began in late March includes a website (www.smarturbanliving.com), on-site signage, and a social media presence. “We have seen a tremendous amount of interest,” said public relations and marketing representative Kristine Warner.
The Maryland Historic Trust and the Historic District Commission are working with SunBrook Partners to rehabilitate the Crown Farm homestead. The main house will be renovated and sold, while the corn crib and silos will be conveyed to the city of Gaithersburg as a public amenity.
The Crown project was planned under the U.S. Building Council’s LEED guidelines, and the community was designed to national standards for sustainability and environmental sensitivity. Twenty percent of the total acreage of the community will be maintained as green space.
Landscaped bio-medians will be featured throughout Crown, and a pond and linear park will highlight the junction of Diamondback Drive and Ellington Boulevard. In addition, SunBrook Partners will restore part of Muddy Branch Creek as part of its deal with the city.
Government projections show that more than 50,000 science and technology jobs will be added to the Gaithersburg area over the next several years, and many of these new employees are expected to live in the Crown area.
“The thing that’s great about Crown Farm is its proximity to Science City and Johns Hopkins University,” Alt said. “We see that as an asset, bringing thousands of jobs for residents.”
The grand opening of Crown is planned for April 2014.