- The Washington Times - Monday, June 12, 2000

When Joan Bejean's family moved to the King Farm development in Rockville last year, she knew a planned elementary school would not be built in time for her 10-year-old daughter, Dominique.
But she figured Alexandra, 3, and Andrew, 1, someday would walk to King Farm Elementary in what is touted as a planned community, where residents can walk to work, shopping and public transportation.
"We felt a little swindled," Mrs. Bejean said on a recent sunny morning in the family room of her six-bedroom home. "Everyone is led by the advertising to believe there'll be a school here. Now if people ask me about it, I say don't hold your breath. Your grand-children may go to King Farm Elementary."
In two years, the 500-acre King Farm, sandwiched between Inter-state 270 and Route 355, has erupted with development. Along Redland Road, which once bisected acres of fields, now sprouts a parking garage, a gas station, town houses and office buildings.
The developer, King Farm Associates, is building as fast as it can in hopes of riding the hot real estate market. Builders tell of would-be buyers camping out in their cars overnight to purchase lots. Officials from other cities and counties have visited King Farm to learn how they can build this at home.
But buyers had better be patient. It could be a decade or more before King Farm's reality matches the vision.
The former farm ultimately will hold 3,200 to 3,600 homes a mix of apartments, condominiums, town houses and single-family homes. King Farm also will include 3.1 million square feet of office space, a 125,000-square-foot retail village with banks, restaurants, a video store and a supermarket, two large parks and two schools, according to approved plans. The community is expected to add 20 percent to Rockville's population of 49,013.
Prices range from $160,000 for a condominium to $1,400 a month for a luxury apartment rental and $300,000 to $600,000 for a single-family home, with rents for office space at $27 to $30 per square foot.

The vision

Newspaper ads and growing folklore about King Farm paint a picture of the best of the city and suburbs: Children walk to the development's elementary and middle schools under the watchful eyes of neighbors, who relax together on their front porches.
Residents are whisked to the nearby Metro station by a trolley that runs along a transitway (a road dedicated to public transportation) through the center of the de-velopment. Families stroll together to the local ice-cream parlor, passing workers on their way home from their on-site offices.
But that vision may be a long way off.
Officials at Montgomery County Public Schools say there are no plans to build schools in the development for which land has been set aside. Similarly, state officials say they are studying whether a transitway is feasible. It could be five to 10 years or more before approvals and funding are in place and for a trolley or bus line linking Shady Grove Metro, King Farm, Comsat Corp., a major satellite communications company in Bethesda and other key points.
The ice-cream parlor is located in a gas station mini-mart. Although the developer believes employers can tout their proximity to new housing as an employee benefit, thus far he knows of no one who plans to live and work at King Farm.
Still, residents say they expected kinks when they moved into a new community, and praise King Farm Associates for their accessibility and willingness to help foster a community. They like the spacious new homes not far outside the Capital Beltway and the friendly neighbors. Many say they wouldn't live anywhere else.
"I've lived in a lot of places Texas, California, Missouri, Bowie, Florida and I don't think I've ever come across a community like this. It's awesome," said H. Michael Mogill, who founded the King Farm Civic Association because of frustrations with phone and cable service, mail delivery and trash pickup, clustering of "moderately priced" housing in the development and other problems.
"I give it five stars on a scale of one to four. And when it's finally finished, it'll be even greater," Mr. Mogill said.

The pioneer

A steady parade of dump trucks passes by Mr. Mogill's front porch. Across the street, two yellow bulldozers flatten a field, readying it for construction of town houses.
Mr. Mogill calls himself a "pioneer." He and his wife, Barbara Levine, were one of the first families to move to the development two years ago, coming from just a half-mile away. Mr. Mogill, a meteorologist and teacher, works from home and needed more space, and liked the thought of getting into a new development early, before the prices rose.
He quickly found other residents eager to build a community, whether by attending Frederick Keys baseball games together, chatting on a listserv or just waving hello.
"When we first moved in, it took 15 minutes to walk our dog around these three blocks," Mr. Mogill said, gesturing toward a grassy drainage ditch marked "passive green space."
"Now it takes more than an hour because people stop and talk."
Sometimes they talk about the problems of pioneering a new neighborhood, such as getting the mail delivered. The mailboxes for the 97 single-family houses already occupied sit at the curb. But mail carriers are not allowed to leave their trucks on the "driving route." If a mailbox is blocked by a parked car, that household may not get its mail that day.
Mr. Mogill, who is president of the civic association, wants the developer to move the mailboxes to the sidewalks and is pressing the post office for a "walking route."
"It's ironic we and the developer have designed a walkable community and the post office won't walk it," said Robert J. Spaulding, Rockville's chief of planning.
Minor problems are to be expected when you're creating a new kind of development, said Mark Gregg of King Farm Associates, who owns the property with the Pritzger family of Chicago. Mr. Gregg and Rockville officials say many laws and regulations had to be changed to accommodate King Farm and its new-old ideas, such as back alleys and office buildings without seas of parking lots.
"Because this was a little different, not all the rules and regulations in place address this type of community, and the mailboxes are an example of that, Mr. Gregg said. He has offered to put the mailboxes in back, so mail carriers can drive through the alleyways.

Planned villages

When Mr. Gregg and his partners proposed the development in the early 1990s, there were just a few planned communities in the region, such as Reston in Virginia, and Columbia and Kentlands in Maryland. Mr. Gregg visited older cities, such as Annapolis and Boston, as well as newer urban redevelopments such as Memphis, to fine tune his vision.
Like some of those communities, King Farm features houses so close together that neighbors can see in each other's windows. The large homes, many of which have front porches to encourage neighborly chats, sit close to the street. Garages are hidden in back, off alleyways, and streets form a grid to allow efficient traffic flow instead of the traffic jams associated with cul-de-sacs of traditional suburban developments.
Offices and retail will be built within walking distance of the homes, and apartments will sit atop restaurants and stores. Office buildings face the street, with garage parking in the back, instead of standing surrounded by the oceans of parking lots so ubiquitous to suburbia. It's meant to be reminiscent of older cities, but draw suburbanites.
"Developers have been reticent to do things like this, but these are the types of things planners want to see: living above the store, a main street orientation," said Scott Parker, a Rockville planner who devotes much of his time to King Farm. "The overwhelming popularity of this is going against the traditional attitudes of, 'Everyone wants a 10,000-square-foot lot.'
"Ten years ago, it was, 'Who's going to want to live in a place so clustered together?' It seems like there's a surprising trend toward transit-oriented communities to mitigate the problems of suburban living."

Smart growth

State officials tout King Farm as an example of "Smart Growth," and the literature describes it as "a transit-oriented community with neo-traditional design elements." But with 20 percent of the residential portion occupied, there is no public transportation. Yet those who are complaining aren't the residents, but environmentalists, residents of nearby neighborhoods and proponents of clustering development around transit.
"This is a classic type of project for us Smart Growthers, said Neal Fitzpatrick, conservation director of the Audubon Naturalist Society. "I've heard Rockville say this is a transit village. But it doesn't have the transit there yet."
On a map, Mr. Gregg points out a "transitway" slated to run through the center of the development connecting King Farm with the Shady Grove Metro station and other points on the 14-mile route.
A trolley or busway is one alternative being considered as part of a study of the I-270 corridor, said Lorenzo Bryant, project planner for the Maryland Mass Transit Administration. A public hearing on the proposal is scheduled for early 2002, and there is no funding yet for final design or construction.
"Transit shouldn't be after the fact," said Ginny Barnes, president of the West Montgomery County Citizens Association. "People should be able to walk out of their houses and never get in a car, never, and that would be smart growth."
Montgomery County will begin Ride-On bus service through King Farm this fall, and King Farm Associates has pledged to provide a supplementary shuttle bus for 10 years beginning early next year, once the first two office buildings become fully occupied.

Building transportation

It's important to introduce public transportation before people establish their driving patterns, said Rockville Mayor Rose Krasnow. And people are establishing patterns quickly, as the development seems to spring up overnight.
"They're building faster than we'd thought," Mrs. Krasnow said. "I used to drive up [Route] 355 and think how amusing it was we had a farm in the center of the city, so it's not surprising it's developed." But the speed makes it "a little harder for people to absorb."
Rockville officials say some city residents cherished watching the sun set over the fields and are sad the farm is gone. The old barn and silos are still visible from the office buildings and through the back windows of the original model homes, but town houses are going up on one side and excavation work encroaches from the other.
The city originally had two scenarios for King Farm, one assuming the project would take 15 years to complete and the other assuming 30 years. Later, we said, 'Forget the 30-year' and kept 15- and seven-year plans instead," said Lisa Rother, a Rockville community planner.
Two years after the first "pioneers" moved in, 97 single family houses, 75 town houses, 92 condominiums and 365 apartments are occupied. The first office building was fully occupied at the end of last month (May), the second will be occupied by the end of the year, and construction on the third of 10 to 12 planned begins in October.
Rockville officials will begin work this summer on the first park, located on the southern part of the site, the only part occupied thus far. The first set of model homes closed in May and a new model home row opened closer to the northern part of the site that will be developed next.

Where's the school

Mrs. Bejean and others hoped the planned elementary and middle schools would help tie together the new community.
But officials at Montgomery County Public Schools say there is no need for the schools in the foreseeable future. The school boundary line bisects the community, so some children will attend Rockville's Richard Montgomery High School with its prestigious International Baccalaureate program and its feeder schools, while others will be assigned to the Gaithersburg High School cluster.
It's typical for developers to set aside land for a school, but the school system uses it only when and if it is needed, said Bruce Crispell, a senior planner who is the school system's chief demographer. For example, an elementary school designated on the Germantown master plan in the late 1980s, for which land was set aside, is only now under construction.
Mr. Crispell projects King Farm will add 200 students to College Gardens Elementary School and 150 children to Rosemont Elementary School over the next six years. Both schools are being expanded to accommodate the growth.
Citizen activists say they want to push the school system to change its boundaries now, even before anyone moves to the northern half of the development and is sent to Gaithersburg schools.
"It's just a shame that they want to split this community in half already, said Mrs. Bejean, who sits on the activities committee of the developer-controlled homeowner's association, as well as working with the new civic association created by residents.
"We already feel sorry for the people who will live on the north half of the farm, who are going to be in the middle of a controversy. We want them to have the same benefits all of us have living in this community."
The fault lies not with the developer but with the school system, she said. Despite the frustrations, Mrs. Bejean likes King Farm. The problems, she said, are "the rough edges of a community in its infancy."

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