Kentlands History and Future

 

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Beginnings
The neighborhood of Kentlands that you see today has deep roots in Maryland history. Kentlands is built on a former farm estate that had its origins in a 1723 land grant to Joseph West. In the mid-18th century, Henry Clagett, a prosperous farmer, acquired much of this land for his holdings. When Clagett died in 1777, several sections of this property passed to his son, Joseph.

The Tschiffely family began to farm the land in 1852, when Frederick A. Tschiffely purchased more than 200 acres of land from a Clagett heir. He was then 34 years old, and owned a prominent wholesale pharmaceutical business in Washington. In 1900, his son, also named Frederick A. Tschiffely, built the impressive brick mansion, barn, gatehouse, overseer’s house, greenhouse and chicken coop that gave the property the nickname of “The Bricks”. The family called their estate Wheatlands, after the wheat that was grown on the farm, and raised their eight children in the mansion. Mr. Tschiffely was the largest wholesale pharmaceutical distributor in the Washington area, and owner of Washington’s best-known pharmacy. His daily commute to Washington began with a horse and buggy drive to the Gaithersburg train station.

Over time, the land was farmed less, and given over to pasture for cows, sheep and race horses. Wheatlands gradually became a summer house for the Tschiffelys, who spent winters in Washington, DC. Still, each generation of the Tschiffely family purchased land to increase the size of Wheatlands, and took an active interest in Montgomery County growth. With their approval, rocks for county roads were excavated at a quarry on the farm. This is the quarry that now forms the center of Little Quarry Park.

In 1942, a prosperous Washington lawyer, Otis Beall Kent, purchased the 600 acre estate and renamed it Kentlands. An avid conservationist, he brought a new vision to the property that saw Kentlands as both a nature habitat and model farm. Mr. Kent greatly expanded the farm with the purchase of adjoining land, enlarged the mansion to hold his art and music collections, and built and rebuilt brick outbuildings to house his farm manager and staff, the farm equipment, and his many vehicles. Concerned about protecting his estate, he maintained his own fire company in the firehouse, where he housed a collection of vintage fire engines.

The most dramatic change to the property occurred in 1944, when Mr. Kent began construction of the chain of lakes that bordered his mansion on three sides. The lakes were intended for irrigation, for flood control, and most importantly as habitat for the birds, fish and wildlife he was determined to shelter and preserve.

Towards the end of his life, in the 1960’s, Mr. Kent deeded parts of his estate to the Izaak Walton League and the National Geographic Society with the condition that the unbuilt portions of the properties remain wildlife sanctuaries. He also laid plans for the future development of his estate as a uniquely beautiful, natural neighborhood, which he planned to name Lakelands. At that time, Kentlands lay in an unincorporated part of Montgomery County, outside the boundaries of the City of Gaithersburg. Although Kent’s plans for development were never realized, the 1966 annexation of Kentlands into the City of Gaithersburg laid the groundwork for the pioneering collaboration that would occur twenty years later.

The Evolution of Kentlands
In 1988, Joseph Alfandre, a prominent local developer, purchased Kentlands from Mr. Kent’s adopted daughter, Helene Danger Kent. Mr. Alfandre had a vision of creating not just a residential development, but a complete town based on traditional neighborhood planning principles. He brought in Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, two crusading urban planners who had attracted attention for their town planning theories, and gained the support of the City of Gaithersburg for his plans. A partnership with Gaithersburg’s Mayor Edward Bohrer, City Council, and Planning staff was critical if the 352 acre site were to become a laboratory for town planning.

As part of his proffer, Mr. Alfandre deeded the historic Tschiffely-Kent buildings to the City, and the lakes, green and quarry became part of the City parks system. This interlocking of public and private lands meant that Kentlands would always have a civic focus, and connected the new community to the City of Gaithersburg. Kentlands visionary Joseph Alfandre had a very clear idea that this special community be guided by what was initially referred to as the “Kentlands Foundation”, an organization integrated into the Master Plan from the outset, that would be the main device within the community that Kentlands citizens could draw upon to enrich their own lives, their family lives and overall community life. This organization was later named the Kentlands Community Foundation. Alfandre wrote a booklet entitled “Seasons”, which more fully explains his personal philosophy behind developing communities such as the Kentlands.

In June 1988, a five-day charrette was held that brought together the Alfandre development company, the design team of Duany Plater-Zyberk, City of Gaithersburg officials and planners, residents and County stakeholders to design this new neighborhood. During this five-day period, ideas were sketched and re-sketched until a master plan emerged. Because conventional planning prohibited most of the core concepts of traditional neighborhood design, a new zoning concept was developed by the City called the MXD zone. The new MXD zone allowed a mix of commercial and residential uses and was governed by the design code developed in the charrette — and subsequently adopted as part of the rezoning.

The design of Kentlands addressed the question of how to create a rich environment in which community would be both fostered and enhanced by planning. A central precept is that the community should be pedestrian-oriented, and mix together the necessities of daily life. Houses, shops, businesses, offices, schools, places of worship, restaurants and recreation are placed close together, and made accessible to walkers via sidewalks and paths. Equally important is the diversity that comes from a mix of residents and housing affordability. Housing types were built that would work for singles, young families, and older residents, in a range of apartments, cottages, townhouses, single-family homes (some with garage apartments) and live-work units.

After the initial plans were laid down, and construction begun, ownership and management of the Kentlands development passed to the Great Seneca Development Corporation, an affiliate of Chevy Chase Bank.

Six years later, part of the National Geographic site adjoining Kentlands was purchased for development as the traditional neighborhood of Lakelands, and Duany Plater-Zyberk and Company were retained to develop the master plan. This time, a number of Kentlands residents had the opportunity to participate in the Lakelands charrette and explore ways to enliven the shared downtown area. The build out of the 340 acre Lakelands neighborhood greatly enlarged the shared commercial area and added density important to its viability.

Kentlands today remains a work in progress. While residential development is complete, and commercial development well underway, the reuse of buildings and sites has already begun.

Parks & Landmarks
A Mix of Public and Private Places
Kentlands is noteworthy for its intensive mix of public and private spaces. Green spaces in Kentlands range from quiet parks and active playgrounds to lakes, gardens, a village green, paths and nature trails. Fences serve as both boundaries and markers, delineating private and common areas. Neighborhood parks, playgrounds and common areas are maintained by the Kentlands Citizens Assembly, while the City of Gaithersburg shepherds the responsibility for the lakes, green and quarry parks. The Main Street Pavilion offers an outdoor space for a farmer’s market and community events.

Historic Buildings
The City of Gaithersburg maintains most of the historic buildings related to the Tschiffely and Kent families. The City’s renovation of the mansion and barn into cultural facilities realized a key component of the Kentlands plan in that the arts would be an integral part of community life. The Kentlands Mansion serves as a rental facility and art gallery, hosting weddings, parties and business events. In the Gaithersburg Arts Barn today, former horse stalls house artist studios and a 99-seat theater occupies the upper floor where Mr. Kent once held dances. The Firehouse awaits renovation.

The Carriage House that once housed Mr. Kent’s automobile collection is now a community facility owned by the Kentlands Citizens Assembly. The brick building provides space for meetings, classes and an office for the Kentlands Community Foundation.

A few historic structures remain in private hands. The Farm Manager’s House is again a residence, and a replica of the original Gatehouse appears at the entrance on Route 28. The crypt built by the Tschiffelys was never used, but with the garden house ruin it adds a scenic note to walks. The Community Architect’s Office links Kentlands’ past to its future.

Civic Sites
The Kentlands Clubhouse is the neighborhood’s social, administrative and recreational center. Owned by the Kentlands Citizens Assembly, the neighborhood homeowner’s association and governmental body, the clubhouse, pool, tennis courts and lawn are used daily by residents for meetings, social events, sports, and clubs. Rachel Carson Elementary School, the Kentlands Children’s Center and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints integrate public education, day care and worship into a walkable environment.

Principles of New Urbanism and Traditional Neighborhood Development
Walkability
Most daily needs; shopping, services, schools, and recreation, can be satisfied within a five to ten minute walk of home and work. Pedestrian-friendly design includes buildings close to the street, front porches, continuous tree cover, on-street parking, hidden parking lots, and garages relegated to rear lanes. Narrow streets, traditional roadway features (e.g. forks, triangles, staggered intersections, traffic circles, and curb bump-outs), and on-street parking are provided to calm traffic. Elementary schools, day-care centers and recreation facilities are located and sized to be easily accessible on foot or bicycle. A range of parks, from tot-lots and green spaces, to ballfields and community gardens, are distributed within neighborhoods, with small playgrounds distributed evenly throughout each neighborhood.

Connectivity
An interconnected street grid network disperses and slows traffic and increases walkability by allowing most streets to be narrow. Cul-de-sacs are avoided unless demanded by natural conditions. Interconnected networks of streets and paths are designed to encourage walking, reduce the number and length of automobile trips, save energy and allow all trips to be comfortable, pleasant, and interesting.

Mixed-Use
Mixed-use is encouraged within the neighborhood and the block and within buildings through a mix of shops, offices, apartments, houses, recreation and institutional uses.

Diverse Housing
A range of housing types, tenures, sizes and prices are located close together, often in the same block. Houses are permitted to contain an ancillary dwelling unit in the rear yard, typically above the garage. Affordable housing is designed to look like market-rate housing, not segregated, and never clustered in large numbers. The housing mix brings people of diverse ages, ethnicity, and incomes into daily interaction.

High-Quality Architecture and Urban Design
Design emphasizes aesthetics, human comfort, and a sense of place. Civic buildings and public sites are placed in prominent locations, as landmarks, within the community. Streets are faced by building fronts or public tracts and most vistas are terminated by a public tract, natural feature, deflection in the street, or carefully-sited building. Retail buildings front the sidewalk directly, with no setback. Residences are placed relatively close to the street with allowable encroachment by bay windows, balconies, stoops, open porches, awnings, arcades, etc. Most residential lots have parking access via rear lanes, and garages that must be served from the street are separated or set back from the front of the house.

Increased Density
Residences, shops, services and employment are close together to preserve open space, encourage walking, reduce public costs, and provide sufficient scale to support local amenities, businesses, and public transportation. Close neighbors naturally develop social interactions, beautify their surroundings by adding landscaping and gardens, and watch over each other for collective security.

Traditional Neighborhood Structure
The neighborhood has a discernable center and edge. Commercial activity and housing density increase toward the neighborhood center, with office space often accommodated in mixed-use buildings. Each neighborhood center includes a civic space (e.g. square, plaza, or green) and reserves at least one prominent site for a civic building.

Sustainability and Environmental Quality
Development, construction, and operations are designed to minimize environmental impact. Significant natural features (e.g. wetlands, lakes, and streams) are retained and celebrated by designing public spaces and thoroughfares to front them rather than by privatizing them behind backyards. The plan is accommodated to the topography to minimize the amount of necessary grading. The site is developed to maximize the preservation of specimen trees by locating greens and parks as tree save areas. Open spaces are connected into continuous natural corridors as green belts passing through neighborhoods or greenways within neighborhoods. PReservation and renewal of historic buildings, districts, and landscapes affirm the continuity and evolution of urban society.

Smart Transportation
A high-quality rail network connects cities and towns. Neighborhood centers provide dignified places to wait for transit. All elements of site design encourage a variety of modes for daily transportation.

Kentlands Community Foundation (KCF)
The Kentlands Community Foundation is a community-based, not-for-profit organization rooted in Kentlands. The Foundation’s mission has three branches: to serve as an educational resource on the landmark new urbanist community that is Kentlands, to build community by supporting local arts and cultural programs, and to provide opportunities for volunteerism and community outreach.

The Foundation believes that the neighborhood is the heart of community life. Our goal is to help connect individuals and families in ways that enhance everyday life and encourage civic involvement. All programs are open to the public, and volunteers are always welcome.