ROCKVILLE – More than 10 residents and community members told the council they should not allow townhouses to be built at the site of the former Chestnut Lodge during a public hearing Monday.
Developer JNP Chestnut Lodge LLC’s revised plan would include six town homes constructed on the site of the former Chestnut Lodge sanatorium. The council previously voted 3-2 against an earlier townhouse plan, forcing the developer to restart the application process.
The plan from a previous developer was to repurpose the building to contain seven multi-family dwelling units and have underground parking.
In 2009, however, the building burned down.
Peerless Rockville executive director Nancy Pickard recalled the decades of use the building had in its earlier years. Pickard said she believed the appearance of town homes failed to fit the historic character of the previous building and the buildings now on the property.
“While people say that condos and townhouses are not very different, it’s really the building form and character that I believe is detrimental to the way that it’s designed,” Pickard said. “It is not historically appropriate (to) develop town houses.”
Though city staff said other locations in the city at the time included town homes, “that was not the character here in Rockville,” she said.
Robert Achtmeyer, chairman of the Historic District Commission, reminded the council to consider the HDC’s letter recommending approval of the amended plan.
This follows the council-requested commission review of the design which the developer presented over the summer.
Later, Historic District Commission member Emily Correll read Achtmeyer’s letter out loud. Achtmeyer wrote that the commission supported the construction of six town homes on the former sanatorium site.
“The HDC determined that while the new structure pays homage to the Chestnut Lodge main building, based on Standards, Maryland Land Use Article and Technical Guide #5, it is appropriate to differentiate it from the original structure. The remaining Chestnut Lodge buildings and their association with a larger structure were also examined. When the Main Lodge burned, the historic integrity of the site was diminished. It was deemed unimportant that the secondary buildings have relationship to a lager, central building to restore some context to the site.”
Achtmeyer pointed out The Chestnut Lodge Design Guidelines included the relationship of the smaller buildings to a central main building that the relationship gives the secondary buildings their significance.
“Removal of the larger structure diminishes the significance and integrity of the entire historic site,” Achtmeyer said, referencing the guidelines.
He also said constructing town houses with similar “massing, scale, rooflines, foundations, fenestrations, and materials” would render the new development “compatible with the historic district.”
He added, however, the townhouses would not provide “a false sense of history.”
Resident and former Chestnut Lodge head nurse Patricia Woodward disagreed and said town houses would not be appropriate for the site because they are different from the original building.
She said she believed there was room for some flexibility in referencing the old building, however.
“It doesn’t have to be a replica,” she said.
Deputy City Clerk Sara Taylor-Ferrell said the public comment period will remain open until 5 p.m. Dec. 16.
People who wish to submit testimonies or comments on the amended plan may send them in writing in the mail or by email.
After Dec. 16, staff will review all public comments and then report to the mayor and council.
In May, the mayor and council disapproved the developer JNP Chestnut Lodge LLC’s proposal to construct seven townhouses because the proposal seemed to conflict with the master plan.
The developer then revised the plan to include six townhouses.
Staff recommended accepting the new plan, including the building height waiver which would allow the structure to exceed the 40 foot limit.