Rockville Project with Inclusive Community for Disabled Adults Could Break Ground in Fall 2018

Most of the 70 apartment units for Main Street at 50 Monroe Place will be considered affordable


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Rendering of the Main Street project

Via Jillian Copeland

A local couple is gearing up to start construction on a Rockville apartment complex that would offer adults with developmental disabilities the opportunity to live independently.

The project, called Main Street, won approval last month from the city’s planning commission, and Jillian Copeland said she and her husband hope to break ground in fall of 2018.

The planning commission’s decision marked a major step forward in the Copelands’ mission to create affordable housing and energetic gathering spaces for disabled adults.

It’s a project that is close to their hearts, as parents of a son with developmental disabilities.

“We want to provide an inclusive, affordable, welcoming community that provides opportunities for all people to thrive,” Jillian Copeland said in a phone interview.

Copeland has a long history working on disability issues. About 10 years ago, she founded The Diener School in Potomac to address an educational gap for students with disabilities and create a place that would meet her son’s needs. Now, she’s turning attention to a shortage in housing options.

The Main Street website cites estimates that in Montgomery County, about 75 percent of adults and children with intellectual and developmental disabilities live with a family member. Many times, family caregivers are aging, and adults with disabilities can suffer feelings of isolation and depression, Copeland said.

At the same time, high housing costs make it difficult for these adults to live independently, especially since many work part-time in minimum-wage jobs, she said.

To tackle these challenges, the Copelands are planning to construct a 70-unit apartment building on a vacant lot at 50 Monroe Place in Rockville. Most of the apartments would have one to three bedrooms, although there would be a few efficiency units, Copeland said.

At least a quarter of the units will be devoted to adults with developmental disabilities, and at least 90 percent of the units will be affordable, according to a planning report.

Copeland said she and her husband have established a nonprofit, Main Street Connect Inc., to support the initiative and are trying to raise $7 million to help pay for construction costs.

So far, they’ve gotten about $5.4 million in donations, she said. They’ve also applied for state tax credits to put toward the costs of building the apartments.

The Copelands want to pay for much of the project upfront, so they can keep housing affordable for residents and dedicate rent proceeds to ongoing maintenance and operational costs, Jillian Copeland said.

In addition to housing, the 81-foot-tall Main Street building will include gathering spaces open both to residents and people who live outside the community. The ground floor will have a teaching kitchen and an assembly room where, Copeland said, residents and visitors can hold pizza parties, game nights or book club meetings. There also will be a wellness center with spaces for physical activity, yoga and meditation, she said.

Rendering of kitchen and gathering space at Main Street. Via Jillian Copeland

A café staffed by people with disabilities will occupy part of the ground floor, Copeland said.

She said she hopes the Main Street model will spread to other communities across the nation.

“I am thinking big,” Copeland said. “I feel like we can and should be providing opportunities for this population, so we’re starting here. Rockville is the first.”

Bethany Rodgers can be reached at bethany.rodgers@bethesdamagazine.com.

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