This story was edited at 5:30 p.m. on Oct. 12, 2012. An explanation follows the story.
A monumental day for Montgomery County government officials and commercial developers was heartbreaking news for Mary Garrett Abert.
Crown Farm, the last large undeveloped parcel in central Montgomery County, is now the construction site for 320,000 square feet of retail and commercial space, plus 2,250 residential units.
Developers and local government officials broke ground on the Crown project Thursday. The 182-acre tract occupies the southeast quadrant at the intersection of Sam Eig Highway (I-370) and Fields Road in Gaithersburg.
"Change, change, change," Abert said sadly from her home in Rockville. "I've learned that you can't maintain what used to be."
Abert's family owned the farm, starting with her great-great-grandfather in the early 1800s. One of the farm's silos is still visible from nearby roads, while a few buildings were razed or have burned down over the past few years.
Local nonprofit Montgomery Preservation Inc. had fought to preserve one farmhouse, which was marked a historic home, but the city of Gaithersburg ultimately approved a developer's demolition permits.
"It just broke my heart when they tore down the old house," Abert said.
Abertís great-great grandfather lived in the Heeter-Crown farmhouse, which was demolished. Another house on the lot, the England-Crown farmhouse, will be sold as a private residence, Crown spokesperson Tammy Murphy said.
On Thursday, not far from the site of the demolished farmhouse, Gaithersburg Mayor Sidney A. Katz put on a hard hat and drove a polished shovel into a mound of dirt, placed precisely in front of a "Downtown Crown" banner marking what will become a walkable streetscape lined with shops and restaurants.
"No one could be more proud than I am," Katz said.
Inside a white tent, developers gestured towards a colorful scale model of the planned community. JBG Rosenfeld Retail, based in Chevy Chase, will build Downtown Crown's restaurants and shops, while the Greenbelt-based Bozzuto Group holds the rights to develop residential space, which will be called "Cadence at Crown."
Dave Brawner, a project manager for David M. Schwarz Architects, Inc., which designed the streetscape, said the space is intended to create an urban sense within the Montgomery County suburbs.
There is "a bit of permanence" to the design, Brawner said, explaining that the project's designers wanted the community to look as though it had always, and would always, be there.
Downtown Crown's shops and restaurants will include Harris Teeter, La Madeleine, Asia Nine and Roti Mediterranean Grill. The community plan also includes a new high school and a Corridor Cities Transit station for a light rail or bus line that would connect Gaithersburg with Clarksburg. The county school system has yet to describe its approach for developing the school.
Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett welcomed the project, but acknowledged its recent hurdles. In 2006, the land was annexed by the city of Gaithersburg, then sold to developers. Three years later, those developers went bankrupt.
The new development will "stimulate the economic soul of this area," said Tom Bozzuto, CEO and chairman of the Bozzuto Group. "Downtown Crown is all about the future."
Editorís note: The story was changed to reflect that two old farmhouses were on the Crown property.