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As Long as We Remember...

February 24, 2014

As Frederick becomes Rockville, Rockville becomes New Jersey

Steven R. Berryman

The Rockville, Maryland, of my youth was really what Frederick is today. The landscape was farms rolling into folded suburbs. Beautiful rolling country punctuated it with bedroom communities. Today growth is the issue they share in common, with varied plans and varied results.


With each of these incorporated cities, it’s as much as a county orientation issue as a municipal issue. Rockville is to Montgomery County as Frederick is to Frederick County. The county seat of Frederick is politically medium red (warm pink center) and is driven by the Blaine Young regime; that of Rockville is symbolized by Isiah “Ike” Leggett, the county executive, and is dark blue (icy center).


And, yes, the forms of government are about to become the same...


Frederick resisted much of the tendency to sprawl, despite what the likes of former Frederick County Commissioner Kai Hagen would have you believe. What had been a peak of 2,000 new homes per year became but 400 in the county. The out-growing in Frederick could not even support the old Fredericktowne Mall to the west end.


Frederick wisely invested in its old core section, especially along the Carroll Creek. Smartly envisioned by former Mayor Ron Young, it is being completed by current second term Mayor Randy McClement.


Rockville built its own mall at its town center and planned poorly for parking. It failed and was torn down. Today a fully modern town center thrives in Rockville, but it lacks any of the charm of downtown Frederick, and seems desolate by comparison.


The Rockville of the 1960s included new communities like Old Farm, Tilden Woods, and Luxmanor. Built on the old Magruder Farm at the junction of Bethesda and Potomac with Rockville, an old barn, a two hundred year old “Wolf Tree,” and a community recreation area with new pool greeted new residents.


Entrances to Frederick remind you that it was incorporated 16 years prior to the American Revolution!


The Frederick-like Rockville terminated in Gaithersburg to the north, which had a turf farm and one of the original McDonald’s Restaurants.


Today biotech giant Medimmune dominates the Kentlands area just north of Rockville, and its enormous monolithic manufacturing lab facility (aka Area 51) dominates the entrance to Frederick.


The Frederick areas lesser known biotech company, Lonza hides inside the diminutive town of Walkersville, attached just to the north.


Development in Frederick, hosted to keep people from that horrible I-270 drive, thrives in the Riverside Business Park, nestled just to the south of the Monocacy River. Facilities of SAIC – with major production contracts – share space with a huge Wells Fargo operation.


The Rockville area is in the middle of changing its shopping crown jewel, White Flint Mall, into the next Tyson’s Corner. The transition has been laborious, as the messy existing leases get caught in court, stalling the demolition.


Closer to the Rockville – Gaithersburg nexus, an enormous expansion of Johns Hopkins Medical Center is being planned and re-planned. Anywhere from 30,000-60,000 jobs are projected to be added to an old farm between Muddy Branch Road and the I-370 area being built-up from nothingness. Light rail will carry commuters direct-linked to the Metro in Gaithersburg according to one plan.


Not to be outdone, Frederick is marching forward with plans for a downtown hotel and conference center as part of the aforementioned Carroll Creek Project, Phase 3.


Again, the nature of the differences in the growth has everything to do with scale and preservation. Rural character in Frederick is being preserved actively. The entire county, largest in Maryland, has but 200,000 plus population.


Rockville, which has merged on every side by equally dense localities, such as Silver Spring and Kensington, has become a contiguous sprawl with no end in sight. The million plus residents form the second largest power base in Maryland, second only to Baltimore County. Two years ago, the census identified 51 percent of Montgomery County as minority status.


So, as the Rockville of old has vanished, and lives in spirit in Frederick, Frederick does begin to resemble new Rockville, only better planned. Rockville has become the new New Jersey suburb. What exit are you from?


And as long as they refuse to reduce the bottlenecks on I-270, never the twain shall meet.


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