Kentlands is the first non-resort and second major community in the United States espousing the tenets of neo-traditional town planning known as New Urbanism. Joseph Alfandre, a Montgomery County residential builder, purchased the 352 acres that would become Kentlands in 1988. If Alfandre’s previous suburban developments were unremarkable for planning, their neo-colonial and neo-traditional houses exhibited a higher level of attention to form and detail than those typically found in area subdivisions. This may help explain why he invited the well-known firm of Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk (DPZ) to propose a charrette for the unconventional development of the acreage.
While the establishment of the Congress for the New Urbanism was still five years off at the time that they designed Kentlands, DPZ had already become established leaders in the movement of neo-traditional town planning, making their mark with Seaside, a resort town on Florida’s Gulf Coast that was established 1981. As they sought vernacular coastal models for the design of Seaside’s houses, the firm worked out a broader planning philosophy that came to be known as New Urbanism. Some of the principal characteristics of this philosophy include: walkable neighborhoods having a clear focal point, often a park or square; a rational system of defined blocks; a mix of residential types for both visual interest and to support a more heterogeneous demographic; commercial, retail, recreational, and educational facilities accessible without a car; and houses placed closer to the streets, some with front porches, with parking removed to the rear of the lot or the middle of the block. The architecture usually also references historical forms and styles.
Alfandre and DPZ completed the master plan at the end of 1988 and began working with the city of Gaithersburg to amend various zoning and planning statutes in order to allow implementation of the mixed-use, comparatively high-density concept. The official groundbreaking occurred in October 1989, the first model homes opened in mid-1990, the elementary school was completed in time for the beginning of the 1990–1991 school year, and the first residents arrived early in 1991. The dwellings were initially constructed by four different builders and designed along the lines of the Washington metropolitan area’s preference for neo-colonial design, which was loosely tied to Georgian and Federal sources. The ongoing economic recession in the early 1990s slowed sales and Alfandre was eventually forced to turn over the development to the bank. Although he remained a consultant into 1992, other bank-hired developers were brought on to manage the project. Fortunately, Kentlands was so far underway by then that very little was changed as it developed over the next decade, when the community became widely known through highly favorable professional and popular news coverage.
A second charrette lead by the city of Gaithersburg and DPZ in 1996 resulted in a coherent development vision for the unfinished retail and commercial parts in the northeast area of Kentlands, which was centered on a new “Market Square.” This event also planned the last major residential enclaves in Kentlands adjacent to Market Square and created the master plan for the contiguous Lakelands development located to the east of Kentlands. Now largely complete, Kentlands includes approximately 1,800 dwellings—a mix of detached, single-family houses, townhouses, and condominiums and rental apartments—in eleven distinct neighborhoods, an elementary school, three distinct commercial areas, and recreation facilities.
Katz, Peter. The New Urbanism: Toward an Architecture of Community. Portland, OR: Print Vision, 1994.
Lewis, Roger K. “Kentlands, the Washington Area’s First Community Shaped by New Urbanism, Turns 25,” Washington Post, June 26, 2014.