Gaithersburg park could soon land on Crown development site -- Gazette.Net







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As construction in Gaithersburg’s Crown development is ramping up, city officials are trying to decide how to proceed on the city’s eventual piece of the Crown property.

Gaithersburg staff and the city council discussed plans for a city park and re-evaluation of the site’s historic designation at a meeting Monday.

“As we enter this new budget cycle, we figured it was appropriate to begin really understanding and provide the council and public and staff with information on what’s involved,” said Rob Robinson, the city’s lead long-range planner.

In February 2008, the Gaithersburg’s Historic District Commission designated the England-Crown Farm at 403 Decoverly Drive as a local historic resource, which included the designation of 10 structures.

A fire in the spring of 2011 destroyed several significant structures of the farm, such as an English-style hay barn, a horse barn, a dairy barn and a milk house.

Following this incident, city staff began looking into re-evaluating the land’s historical designation. Architect Mark Thaler of Albany, N.Y., was hired by the city to produce a report about the current condition of the structures, description of treatment options and costs and potential use of the structures.

One of the Crown developers, Westbrook Acquisitions, is expected to donate the 3-acre parcel to the city, with the four remaining historic structures — a corn crib, two silos, metal grain bin and machine shop.

Because of the fire and loss of structures that had a significant impact on the overall meaning of the farm, the City Council decided to support staff’s suggestion to explore re-evaluation of the historic site designation, and turn the focus from the designation of the entire site, to the designation of individual farmstead structures.

Councilman Jud Ashman said the fire altered all the original plans that the city had for the site.

“It was tragic in a way with the loss of the three barns because it changed the context of everything we were looking to do there,” he said.

Thaler explained that the city can choose to preserve, rehab or restore the structures on the farm. Preservation involves keeping the buildings almost exactly as they are with minimal repair work, while rehabilitation occurs when the building is used for a different purpose. Restoration is the process of changing a building to have it resemble a certain period.

If the city were to decide on one of the treatment options for all of the buildings, it would cost about $506,060 for preservation, $638,380 for rehabilitation and $617,370 for restoration. Upkeep of the structures would also cost the city $20,000 annually.

While the site is almost 3 acres, much of the area is designated as environmentally sensitive, leaving only about three-quarters of an acre of usable space for the park, according to Assistant City Manager Dennis Enslinger. He said that because the buildings are small, it would be hard for them to have constant use.

As a result, he said staff recommends the park land be passive in nature.

“You might throw a Frisbee or you might have a picnic on this site,” he said.