Residents Urged to ‘Speak With One Voice’ on Kentlands Downtown

Illustration from “Design Guidelines” | Hord Coplan Macht, Inc. The submitted design for a six-story apartment building with ground-floor retail in Kentlands Market Square features an unlined parking garage on Center Point Way.

Illustration from “Design Guidelines” | Hord Coplan Macht, Inc.
The submitted design for a six-story apartment building with ground-floor retail in Kentlands Market Square features an unlined parking garage on Center Point Way.

The first of many is how Kentlands Town Architect Marina Khoury described the six-story apartment building planned for Kentlands Market Square at a May 29 Town Hall meeting held at the Kentlands Clubhouse. The meeting was hosted by the Kentlands Downtown Working Group, a Kentlands Citizens Assembly committee, and attended by more than 40 residents.

The building will offer ground-floor retail, 245 dwelling units and an interior, three-level garage with 341 residential parking spaces and 235 retail spaces.

It is planned for the Kentlands Market Square surface parking lot bounded by Kentlands Boulevard, Commerce Square Place, Center Point Way and a row of commercial—Orangetheory Fitness, My Gym Kentlands, U.S. Postal Service and Buca di Beppo—that will disappear or be relocated to make room for the new building.

Kimco Realty, owners of Kentlands Market Square, submitted a Schematic Development Plan application (SDP-8146-2019) for the Block F building in early May. The Gaithersburg City Council and Planning Commission will hold a joint public hearing on this application on June 17, 7:30 p.m. at City Hall.

Khoury urged those at the meeting to attend and invite their neighbors. “If we speak with one voice, I think that will carry a lot of weight with the City Council and the Planning Commission and the mayor,” she said.

To that end, a joint letter was submitted to the Gaithersburg city manager, the mayor and City Council on May 17 asking that the city consider recommended modifications to the building as conditions for its approval. The letter was signed by the Kentlands Community Architect, DPZ CoDesign, the chair of the Board of Trustees of the Kentlands Citizens Assembly (KCA), the Chair of the Board of the Lakelands Citizens Association (LCA), the chair of the Kentlands Downtown Working Group (KDWG), the chair of the Kentlands Historic Trust (KHT), and the chair of the Villages of Kentlands & Lakelands (VKL).

“There is a lot about this building that is good,” Khoury stressed. She supports a mixed-use building in this location, its massing (or density and height of building), the courtyard design, the redesigned Commerce Square Place entry street, the ground-floor retail facing the new paseo, and the building’s Leadership Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification.

But drawing on her knowledge of Kentlands and from her position as town architect and partner with Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company (DPZ)—the firm responsible for Kentlands’ New Urbanist design—Khoury said that the new building does not suit Kentlands in its architecture or spirit.

“Our residential is very unique,” she said, “and we want to make sure that our commercial, which is what’s going to change over the next 20 years, is equally good.”

Khoury cautioned residents to not focus on aspects of the plan already approved—height, density and mix of units—or potential impact on traffic and schools. All of this was already considered and approved at the Sketch Plan phase. In practical terms, she noted, traffic patterns change once a building is built and by then it’s too late, and student generation numbers are “voodoo science … we just don’t know how many students will show up.”

Instead, she urged residents to make sure that the building reflects the character of the community and serves as a model for future construction. This building, she said, will outlast many current residents and is the first of many mixed-use, multi-story buildings planned for Kentlands Market Square and Kentlands Square.

DPZ, KCA, LCA, KDWG and VKL do not support the building’s unlined parking garage along Center Point Way, its poorly located and too wide service access and parking entries, and the building’s overall architecture, she explained.

The building’s unlined parking garage means “you’re going to see a parking garage along Center Point Way. Most of the residents, at least coming from Lakelands, will be walking along Center Point Way as they get to downtown and that’s unfortunate,” she said. “They have a service access, meaning the loading trucks are going to be backing off that street, and the parking entry is there as well.”

This facet of building design does not reflect Kentlands’ walkable, New Urbanist principles. “We want to focus on how pedestrian friendly is the building along the streets that we have determined to be important,” she added.

Khoury described building architecture as regrettable. “And beauty matters. So, how beautiful can this building be? And when I talk about beauty, we’re not trying to tell you what a beautiful building should be because we don’t have a concept for what is beautiful. However, what matters is that when people feel they have a sense of belonging to a place, they love it more, they take care of it more, they invest in it more, those places are more successful, people tend to be more socially connected with each other. As you can see, the whole community spirit that we have here, it’s not by chance that community spirit is alive here, it’s by design.”

Khoury suggested that the following architectural guidelines be adopted:

  • Use red brick as one of Kentlands’ identifying characteristics;
  • Articulate materials horizontally not vertically, unless if used to accentuate distinguishing elements such as bay windows;
  • Achieve a small-scale texture by providing muntins on windows, except for storefronts; and
  • Provide depth to the building facade with glazed openings of a minimum depth of three inches at frontages.

“This is going to set the tone for every other six-story building that comes in,” she said. “This is one of many. Saul has plans to do this. Kimco has plans to continue densifying.”