For First Time in 30 Years, KCA Issues RFP for Town Architect

Photo | Mac Kennedy The Kentlands town architect office is located on Firehouse Lane.

Photo | Mac Kennedy
The Kentlands town architect office is located on Firehouse Lane.

The Kentlands Citizens Assembly (KCA) issued a Request for Proposal (RFP) for the Kentlands town architect position on March 1. At the March 22 meeting of the Board of Trustees, four firms were considered; their bids were summarized in a comparative spreadsheet for the board members. Duany Plater-Zyberk (DPZ), the new urbanist planning and urban design firm that helped shape Kentlands and the current town architect, is one of the firms being considered.

DPZ has held the Kentlands town architect position for nearly 30 years. According to Barney Gorin, president of the KCA who was speaking in an unofficial capacity, Town Architect Marina Khoury, and Kentlands Historical Trust (KHT) Vice-Chair Hamid Nazari, the KCA has never before solicited bids for the town architect position.

At the March 22 board meeting, KCA President Barney Gorin said, “I am appointing SNG Engineering of the Kentlands as the town architect, and I am asking for the Board’s approval.”

Board members requested more time to study the submitted bids and interview firms that are under consideration. Concerns expressed included the new firms’ lack of new urbanism expertise and losing DPZ’s institutional knowledge of Kentlands.

Marina Khoury, who attended and spoke at the March 22 board meeting, agreed to extend DPZ’s contract for one month. The current contract ends at the end of March.

While Khoury expressed disappointment in how the RFP was handled—DPZ found out about the bid process at the same time as the other firms—she noted that the KCA is well within its rights to look for another firm to fill the position. That said, she stressed that DPZ “wants to stay involved. … And if this is not to be, we want to pass the reins to an equally qualified firm.”

Khoury has been the Kentlands town architect for 10 years, and she replaced DPZ’s Mike Watkins who held the position for 20 years. “This is a beautiful, new urbanist, authentic place that’s hard to replicate,” Khoury said. “It’s this way because there’s always been a town architect on board carefully shepherding it.” She added that she loves the community not only as an architect and planner, but also as a mother. “This is not a job for DPZ,” she stressed. “It is much more than that.”

The town architect reviews residents’ visual change applications for their adherence to the code, and then makes recommendations to the KHT. KHT members then approve or deny applications. The town architect attends monthly KHT meetings in an advisory role and not as a voting member.

The town architect also works with residents to find solutions. This can be via phone or in person, Khoury said, and consultations often last 20 minutes or more. A month might bring in 20 applications, she estimated. In all, the town architect position entails four to six hours per month.

Both the town architect and members of the KHT serve at the pleasure of the KCA president.

Hamid Nazari is the longest standing member of the KHT. He said that he and his fellow committee members serve because “we like the community, and we want to support it.”

Despite the KHT’s working relationship with the current town architect, committee members were not consulted or informed of the bid. The KHT, Nazari said, found out about the bid at their March meeting when Khoury told them.

Nazari said that Kentlands is really DPZ’s “baby. … They planned this community and guided its development.” Khoury, he noted, regularly “goes beyond the contract. … I am witness to their monthly over-contractual commitment to applicants and to the committee.” He cited the careful preparation time put in before meetings that sometimes include presentations.

“We have a very good working relationship with DPZ,” Nazari said. “DPZ wants to make sure that Kentlands is as beautiful as possible.”

Recently, Nazari attended a meeting with DPZ, the Kentlands Community Foundation, Kimco and Saul where upcoming commercial development was discussed. Since the town architect is charged only with Kentlands residential development, Khoury’s input was unofficial. “From the perspective of the Kentlands community, they’re (DPZ) giving so much more than they’re paid for,” Nazari said.

“We are not trying to impose our Kentlands vision on them (Saul and Kimco),” Khoury said of the meeting with commercial developers. “But the KHT thinks it’s important that there should be a conversation between these groups.” Both Saul and Kimco plans include mixed-use development with residential in the top floors of buildings, she noted, and the concern is that this not conflict with current Kentlands residential and that the two planned mixed-use communities complement each other.

“Kentlands is about to undergo significant change in the next decade,” Khoury said. She is thankful that Kimco and Saul were willing to come to the table to discuss plans, and feels that this is because of DPZ’s worldwide reputation as well as institutional knowledge of Kentlands.

Nazari said his concern is that residents know about the bid. “DPZ is invaluable and irreplaceable for maintaining the Kentlands mission,” he stressed.

Gorin said that he could not comment “as we have a procurement in progress.” A decision is expected at the next monthly board meeting on April 26.