Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Gateway to Olde Towne will soon start construction

Features include a lagoon pool, four ‘‘eclectic” towers, fountains and front stoops

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Image courtesy of CIty of Gaithersburg
A rendering of Archstone’s plan for redevelopment of its property along East Diamond Avenue.
Following four years of planning and revisions, the Archstone-Smith development slated for Olde Towne Gaithersburg’s main drag was approved by the city’s planning commissioners.

Demolition permits have been issued for 320 to 408 E. Diamond Ave. Building permits are expected to be approved in a few months and construction could begin in six months, said Greg Ossont, director of the city‘s planning and code enforcement department.

Nearly 80 residents of Ty-Gwinn, Diamond Court and Deer Park Apartments were displaced this winter so the affordable housing complexes could be demolished. Forced to move out by Feb. 29, the residents received three-and-half-months rent from the developer and city assistance to help with relocation; eligible residents were also offered zero-percent loans from the city to buy homes. Two local attorneys plan to move two buildings with historic value to make way for the construction.

‘‘I’m blown away,” said Clark Day, an Olde Towne resident who lives on Walker Avenue. ‘‘We are witnessing the beginning of a new era for Olde Towne.”

His comments came before city planning commissioners approved final site plans for the 6.5-acre mixed-use development at a March 19 meeting at City Hall. Archstone will include 389 high-end apartments or condominiums and 18,000-square-feet of ground-floor office and retail space.

‘‘We still have a lot of work to do before this place is ready to open... It’s a big, multifamily project,” Ossont said. But ‘‘it’s very significant for Olde Towne — once folks start to see construction and see buildings start to go back up, it will be a dramatic impact.”

According to a 3-dimensional model and drawings, Archstone will consist of four connected buildings with storefront awnings, four ‘‘eclectic” towers, four fountains and recessed entrances.

Behind the streetscape will be three gardens, including one public garden. The public garden will include an elevated peony garden, fountains and a bench with a statue of former Mayor Ed Bohrer. His likeness will be designed from family photographs and memory — and could even highlight his famous habit of wearing no socks.

‘‘Clearly we’re at a convergence of some remarkable creativity,” said Planning Commissioner John Bauer, who called the project’s design principles ‘‘some of the most thoughtful in a long, long time.”

‘‘It’s going to be truly momentous to see this in Olde Towne,” he said.

Architects from the Preston Partnership, LLC, a design firm based in Falls Church, Va., said that they looked at existing properties at North Summit and East Diamond Avenues and sought to make Olde Towne’s central corner more pedestrian-friendly.

They ‘‘punctuated” four connected buildings with differently designed towers and added residential stoops as well as three recessed entrances.

Fronting each building will be areas amenable to landscape or café seating, while raised tower spires and gable windows will create a dynamic roofline, said architect Stephen F. Strasser. A key goal was to fit the new design into the existing context, he said.

His team suggested using different bricks and colored pavement for ‘‘carriage ways” that will provide glimpses to the three internal gardens, in an effect he said was like Charleston, S.C.

Inside the residential area will be a curvy lagoon pool with a sandy beach entry on one end and lap lane on the other that will ‘‘promote a series of lifestyles” for residents in one garden, he said.

A courtyard will included a fenced-in gathering spot with shaded seating, bar tops, and double-sided fireplace conducive to social gatherings. Another garden will feature a series of box-like wood structures, spilling waterfalls and gas fireplaces.