Crown Farm House Demolished
By Sonya Burke
The Town Courier
July 7, 2010
The city of Gaithersburg approved a demolition permit for the green and white two-story house at Crown Farm on May 24 to the surprise of the city’s elected officials and some area residents.
Although the house was not officially designated as historic, there was local interest in relocating or salvaging it.
Gaithersburg resident Brian Stone said he had hoped to move the house to another site on the Crown Farm property.
"I was shocked to see it wasn’t there," said Stone. Disappointment soon followed, he said.
"Gaithersburg: Then and Now" author Shaun Curtis, who recently published a book of photographs documenting Gaithersburg’s history, said he was also caught off guard when he realized the house at 10000 Fields Road was gone.
"I found out when I drove by the house in a pile of rubble," said Curtis. "Of course, I was disappointed."
Council member Michael Sesma also learned the house was gone when he drove by the site. At the June 21 Mayor and Council meeting, he asked city staff if any parts of the house, including doors or windows, were salvaged for reuse.
Planner Eliza Voigt shook her head no.
Although she doesn’t oppose the demolition of the house, City Council member Cathy Drzyzgula is unhappy with the process because she said the public should have been notified before the structure was razed so that parts of the house could have been salvaged.
"The process fell apart when the status of the house changed, and no one knew about it," Drzyzgula said. "I certainly think MPI [Montgomery Preservation Inc.] should have been notified."
"I miss Fred Felton," said Stone. "He may have been able to help this not happen. He would have given me a call."
Felton is a former assistant city manager who managed Crown Farm’s annexation into the city and oversaw much of the plans for development and preservation at the site. Felton recently passed away after retiring from the city last fall.
Mayor Sidney Katz called the lack of communication a "lesson learned" and said in the future a notice should be posted on the city’s website.
In an e-mail to The Town Courier, Planning and Code Administration Director Greg Ossont confirmed his staff did not alert the elected leaders of the pending May demolition through the city’s daily e-mail briefing (an internal communication vehicle between employees and the elected leaders).
"I was well aware of the re-issuance and ensured staff made sure that all of the efforts in 2007 were properly documented and conditions met before they reissued the permit," said Ossont in an e-mail to The Town Courier.
In 2007, the developers of Crown Farm applied for a demolition permit, and it was noted on the approval application that the city’s Historical Preservation Advisory Committee (HPAC) "recommended that in the event that the house is not designated as a historic structure, city staff should request assistance from Montgomery Preservation Inc. (MPI) and other suitable organizations to make an effort to find a party interested in reusing and relocating the structure to facilitate that process." The 2007 permit also required that the city staff work with the former residents of the house and the applicant to gain a full historic documentation of the ownership and maintain a photo record of the both the inside and outside of the house.
Although that demo permit expired six months after it was issued, Ossont said the house was documented inside and out with hundreds of photographs that are now available on a compact disc at City Hall. He reports that an adjacent chicken coop was also moved, and he cited expenses as a possible reason no one had stepped forward during the past three years to move the house to another location.
"It’s quite an expensive operation," explained Ossont at the June 21 meeting. "I don’t think anyone had the resources."
Stone disagrees. He said he was always interested in helping move the house and was close to making it happen before the housing market collapsed and the original owners headed to bankruptcy court. Since then, Stone said he has not been contacted by anyone about the house. He said a basic move would have cost about $40,000, not including the foundation work.
Today, Ossont says, the developers of Crown Farm are in a hurry to get construction going, which may explain why the recent demolition work occurred so quickly.
"The developers would like to start moving dirt this summer and are working very hard to make that happen," explained Ossont.
Stone, a lover of old houses, worries now about the status and security of the remaining structures at Crown Farm.