Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Alternatives for future use of the Chestnut Lodge site in Rockville?

Testimony at Monday's Mayor and Council meeting capped other efforts underway to reopen debate on how the former site of the historic Chestnut Lodge sanitarium should be redeveloped. There is, of course, a new townhome proposal on the table, which recently passed scrutiny by the Rockville Historic District Commission (although two members were absent that evening). Chestnut Lodge burnt down in 2009, in what is suspected to have been an arson incident.

Patricia Woodward, a resident who was once head nurse at Chestnut Lodge and now heads the Chestnut Lodge committee for the West End Citizen's Association, said a reconstruction of the original building "can be done," as a condominium development. This would reduce the size of what is proposed now by 63%. 

Woodward noted that "there is a precedent for rebuilding, reconstruction” on the site, including the stable, "wing B," and the Ice House. She said that, during her tenure, the Ice House served as a music room, with a baby grand piano, drum set, stereo system, and electric guitar. There was "room for jamming, and it was most enjoyable," Woodward recalled Monday night.

It is invaluable to have people who were actually at the Lodge during its operation participating in this discussion. 

It's also valuable to have input from former Mayor Larry Giammo, who was in office at the time when a Planned Residential Unit agreement was made with developer Chase Communities, and the Chestnut Lodge historic district was created. He made the point that townhomes had previously been determined unsuitable for the Chestnut Lodge site. Both he and current Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton have questioned the action of city staff in substituting their professional judgement for the terms of the PRU. Doing so was "actually illegal," Giammo said Monday night. He argued the issue should have been brought to the Mayor and Council. Newton questioned city staff later that evening as to why she and the Council were not informed of this matter.

The West End Citizen's Association has also started a petition to oppose the townhome plan, after Woodward's committee recommended the City deny the townhome plan. The petition has already gained 50 signatures. WECA is seeking further discussion that would determine a plan that considers both the historic importance of the site, and the previous PRU.

Chestnut Lodge was "the most important, most notable historic asset in the 
City of Rockville, before it was allowed to be destroyed by fire," Giammo said Monday.

Given the County's mental health crisis today - where both City and County police officers are often the ones who have to address the consequences of that crisis firsthand, and so many in the County are homeless - one wonders why the big talkers on mental health among our County Council didn't step in to acquire Chestnut Lodge, when it ran into financial difficulty.

Photo courtesy City of Rockville

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