Excerpted from ‘The Emergence of Modern Kentlands’ by Richard L. Arkin
Joseph Alfandre & Kentlands Vision
The modern history of Kentlands begins with the 1988 sale of 352 acres of the old Kentlands Farm from Kentlands Foundation Trust and Helen Danger Kent to Great Seneca Limited Partnership, a division of Joseph Alfandre & Co.
The price Alfandre paid has never been clear. The sum has been variously reported as low as $41 million and as high as $64 million, although the latter figure may have included development costs. The land cost clearly reflected the overheated real estate market of the mid- 1980’s, however, as well as Kentlands’ unique location as one of the last remaining large pieces of undeveloped land in the Rockville-Gaithersburg area of Montgomery County. Chevy Chase Savings & Loan Corporation, the centerpiece entity of the Chevy Chase magnate B. Francis Saul’s financial empire, financed the purchase. Alfandre quickly sold, for $17 million, a portion of the site adjacent to the future Great Seneca highway (then under construction) to Midwestern shopping center magnate Mel Simon for development a modern (and rather conventional) regional mall. Alfandre’s initial thought was to develop the rest of the former Kentlands Farm along somewhat conventional suburban lines, but with the architecturally pure house types he was known for building, most recently in his Washingtonian Woods subdivision.
Alfandre became increasingly captivated with the beauty and order of the rather formal old Kentlands Farm complex and his sense of what could be accomplished began to evolve. Perhaps, he thought, the farm complex buildings could become the heart of a neighborhood more reminiscent of old-time country villages.
Alfandre met with land planners Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, then best known for their recently completed project at Seaside on the Florida panhandle, a neo-traditional resort village. After trips with Duany to a number of U.S. and European traditional towns, Alfandre became convinced that a neo-traditional town could work at Kentlands. He hired Duany’s firm, DPZ, to create a vision, Kentlands Vision, of a new-old community, a neo-traditional neighborhood at Kentlands.
In June 1988, Alfandre, City officials, scores of planners and other professionals, the public, and Duany and his wife and partner Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk (DPZ), held a week-long planning ‘charrette’ at the old Kentlands Barn. The result was 'Kentlands Plan', a detailed scheme for developing Kentlands as a new, mixed-use, economically and physically varied old-town neighborhood in Gaithersburg.
City approvals were quick to follow and Alfandre formalized the community in December 1988 by creating Kentlands Citizens Assembly. At that time, he appointed five developer members as its officers and trustees. DPZ maintained a presence in a converted farm building as Kentlands ‘Community Architect’ to oversee development.
The following May, to generate interest in the project, Alfandre transformed the area near Kentlands Mansion by pitching a giant tent on Kent’s former Hidden Garden (now Kentlands Green in the Old Farm District) for Kentlands Festival of the Arts. (In September 1991, the arts and charitable character of the community were reflected once again when a bevy of artists and interior decorators transformed the old mansion into Kentlands Designer Showcase as a fundraising exercise to benefit the National Symphony Orchestra.) An Old Farm Charrette in mid-1989 proposed using the mansion, barn, and other buildings to create an arts campus for Gaithersburg in Kentlands, a vision that is slowly being realized.
Construction at Kentlands Begins
A formal groundbreaking ceremony was held in October 1989 and the new Kentlands neo-traditional neighborhood was on its way. A flurry of activity took place in 1990. The elementary school (called Kentlands Elementary School by everybody who was involved with the project) was at Duany’s insistence and Alfandre’s expense, been redesigned and built as a two-story school with a columned entrance. The school was completed in September and the first class of children entered. But the name Kentlands Elementary School did not fit in with the current naming requirements of the Montgomery County Board of Education. Over the passionate opposition of Gaithersburg’s Mayor and City Council, the school was named Rachel Carson Elementary (a Silver Spring, Maryland conservationist).
The old main entrance lane from Darnestown Road was closed for most of 1989 and much of 1990 to facilitate reconstruction of Inspiration Dam. As a result, the main entryway became the Osage Orange Allée, a tree-lined country lane that connected Quince Orchard Road (Maryland Route 124) with the newly opened Information Center in Kentlands Barn. The old Kentlands Gatehouse that had guarded the entranceway was demolished for the construction of Kent Oaks Way, but the demolition was carefully documented and a replica Kentlands Gatehouse was completed a few months later.
Kentlands Information Center was opened in the old Kentlands Barn in mid 1990, with individual sales offices for the original builders (Rocky Gorge, Fairfield Homes, Joseph Alfandre & Co., and Mitchell & Best) opening up in the Carriage House (a converted garage next to the barn) or in sales trailers.
The first model homes were opened on Beckwith Street by Rocky Gorge in mid-1990. One of these included a small carriage house accessory apartment over the garage, a singular neo-traditional success in Kentlands. In August 1990, Joseph Alfandre and Company announced it would begin sales of its long-anticipated Old Farm District homes, starting off the sales process with a land-rush in which nearly two dozen future residents camped out all night to assure their place in line for sales the next day. This was the last land rush in Montgomery County, however, because the economic slowdown was rapidly turning into a major recession for the real estate market and sales slowed visibly.