The site of Rockville’s former historic landmark, Chestnut Lodge, a 19th-century psychiatric asylum that burned down in a 2009 fire, is one step closer to having a final plan.
Although Rockville bought three parcels of land the historic landmark was built on to build a public park, the City still has several more bureaucratic procedures to undergo before it can be official designated as park – mostly notably, choosing a name.
While City officials suggested “Chestnut Lodge Park" as an a seemingly obvious choice, there is a community push to instead name the park after Sander B. Cohen, a Rockville firefighter who died after being struck by a car while helping another person who crashed his car along I-270.
Residents and City firefighters gathered en mass for the April 30 public hearing about the park’s new name, asking the City to consider naming the park after Cohen.
“He lost his life helping a complete stranger very close to home here in the City of Rockville limits,” said James Seavey, a Rockville firefighter and friend of Cohen's.
Residents presented the Mayor and City Council with a petition supporting their cause, which had more than 1,000 signatures. Susan Adams, a resident of the City, said while she did not know Cohen personally, she had started the petition as a way for the City to honor someone who sacrificed his life to help others.
“I believe he should be honored for his life and his sacrifice in the line of duty by honoring and naming the new park in his honor,” Adams said.
Not all residents agree on the park's name.
Nancy Pickard, executive director of the historic preservation society Peerless Rockville, said she thinks the City should name the park after Chestnut Lodge as a way of remembering the City’s former historic landmark.
“This property has a deep significant history as the 100-year-plus location of the world-renowned Chestnut Lodge Sanitarium and Hospital, and selecting a name that respects and honors this heritage is more than appropriate; it is essential, so that its identity as the home of this often storied but physically vanished institution remains a part of Rockville contemporary history now and into the future,” Pickard said.
After previous attempts to get approval to turn the land, which is located along West Montgomery Avenue, into a site for the development of townhouse failed, the City bought some of the parcels of land to turn the spot into a public park.
Since it burned down in 2009, City officials and residents have debated what should replace the former historic 19th-century luxury hotel-turned-psychiatric asylum, located on the site at 500 West Montgomery Avenue. After a push by developer Chestnut Lodge, LLC, which owned 1.69 acres of land on the site, to build townhouses, the City instead stepped in to buy the land with the goal of turning it into a public park.
In June, the City agreed to pay $2,575,000 to the developer after the parties reached an initial agreement made in the previous February. The last two parcels of land – which the Homeowners Association transferred to the City in exchange for maintaining the land – will give the City a contiguous piece of land to build a park on.
The City will hold a public hearing during the next Mayor and Council meeting May 14 on a proposal to re-zone the land for use as a public park.