‘Preserve the Special Character of This Place’
Precious things are rarely encountered, and highly prized. I write to you about a precious place, Kentlands and Lakelands, and the Kimco plan to change it. Developed in 1980, Kentlands embodied a new vision of living space for those desiring the variability and enjoyment of urban living combined with the graceful parks, green spaces and easy living of suburbia. Kentlands was designed to recreate the charm of a dense urban community in a country setting with a broad mix of living situations ranging from town houses, to detached single family homes, to small mansions. The architectural styles encompass Victorian, Gregorian, Colonial and others. The Kentlands “new urbanist” development style came to be copied both in this region and nationally. Its success is to be envied.
My family came here from New York City, where my daughter lived all her life, and where my wife and I spent our entire adult lives until late 2017. So I am not overly qualified to comment much on the quality of this community except to say that we love it here. From what we see, the charm of the neighborhood, and its inhabitants who have both the cosmopolitan elan of city dwellers, but who also have shown us the hospitality and warmth of a more southern state were an antidote to our apprehension of how to fit into a new town, and into our new lives. Rather, we have been welcomed now into many a home, and met many folks, including not a few of the furry and four-legged variety. The aromas of “urinetown” have been replaced by the perfume of wisteria and the many rosebushes and azaleas proudly displayed in the abundant beds by the charming brick and cedar-shingled homes.
The designers of this space thought long and hard about what they would do, and succeeded in a spectacular way. Walking around, the cultural events, the music on the Kentlands lawn, the Arts Barn, the green market, the well-kept shops, the children sipping their decaf iced coffees in Starbucks constantly please the eye and the ear. In market square with the mild weather finally upon us, now, kids riding scooters, laughing and tossing footballs and playing tag, their parents strolling, or dining outdoors. The public art. The pocket parks and innumerable jogging and biking trails. The lakes and the ubiquitous Canadian geese. The birds singing at dawn.
This community has deep historic roots in Maryland. Originating in a farm estate in the 1700s, and continuing through a land grant, then being parceled in a Tschiffley family farm as it has evolved, there has been an emphasis on maintaining the natural function, then the beauty of this land, and preserving the rich natural diversity of its flora and its fauna. In 1942, a successful Washington lawyer, Otis Beall Kent, purchased the 600-acre estate and renamed it Kentlands. Mr. Kent was an avid conservationist who desired to promote habitats for birdlife and wildlife and created the chain of lakes that form a central part of this distinctive place. Mr. Kent deeded his property to include that undeveloped portions remained wildlife sanctuaries including to the National Geographic Society and Isaac Walton League.
My wife and daughter may roll their eyes a bit to see me list the birds and wildlife I see on my regular strolls across this beautiful place. But I have seen woodpeckers of different varieties, great blue herons, chickadees, redwinged blackbirds and American goldfinch to name a few. I have counted 14 different species in one morning walk.
Mindful of my limited experience here, I hope to write you in the context of the rich history and unique, diverse community of Kentlands and Lakelands, about the Kimco plan to develop Kentlands Market Square 20.7 acre shopping center located within the Kentlands Commercial District. The plan includes for up to 1614 residential units, to be engrafted onto a community that now holds only 2200 units. It would allow for a parking garage. It allows for buildings up to 8 stories. It provides for up to 1.2 million square feet of commercial and non-residential uses. It does not provide for ample green spaces and parks. Many of the public open spaces, and wide thoroughfares are more associated with concrete than greenery. And some of these features are not in keeping with the thoughtful development of this precious place.
The empty commercial spaces stand out as you drive through the shopping district. Clearly, more foot traffic, development and high-end shopping will help to revitalize and make more vibrant an already vibrant place. I well understand and respect the local shopkeepers and large business owners’ interests alike in promoting more commercial activity. But I write to remind the community of Kimco’s national business interests and its profit motives. Its development may help us, but it may degrade our town too if it is not carefully watched, and where needed, kept in check.
So I write to second our town council members in the loudest voice I can muster when they ask of Kimco about their land sketch – why not more of those parks and community features that make this place so special? We hoped to see more green spaces. We could have lived in Rockville or Bethesda or downtown D.C.; we didn’t. It is too urban and too metropolitan and too impersonal for my family’s taste. We chose here, and here we will stay. So we hope to involve our community yet more in preserving the special character of this place.
Walking out the other day, I stumbled across pillars of marble half buried in a lawn in front of yet another unique appearing variety of town homes. The plaque for the memorial related how these were pieces of the original Kentlands mansion, recovered from the river and dedicated to the development. This town constantly surprises. But it will be no surprise to see how its resilient and good-natured inhabitants will continue to polish, refine and yes, preserve this jewel of a place for generations to come by ensuring that any development of its ample commercial space brings with it a harmonious relationship to this community.
Jonathan Ginsberg, Kentlands resident