Thursday, May 31, 2018

downtown silver spring could get a business improvement district. what is a BID, anyway?

In order to attract new businesses and residents and better maintain the downtown area, a group of local businesses and property owners in Silver Spring want to start a business improvement district, or BID. But what is a BID anyway?

Downtown Silver Spring at Night
 A group of businesspeople and property owners want to give downtown Silver Spring a Business Improvement District. Photo by the author. 
A business improvement district is basically a nonprofit organization that manages a commercial area. They can provide a variety of services, like sidewalk cleaning, capital improvements, security, parking and transportation management, and social services. But they also work to market and promote an area, recruit new businesses, and retain current businesses. BIDs are created by local governments, and are given the ability to raise funding through taxes on commercial property owners.

GGWash editorial board member Payton Chung used to serve on the board of a BID. “I like to think of them as micro-local governments — like taking an homeowners' association (HOA) and having it cover a whole Main Street,” he says. “In practice, what they usually do is give your area chamber of commerce some taxing and spending authority. They're not quite as intrusive as an HOA, because they don't have regulatory or policing mechanisms.”

BIDs are pretty common in DC and Arlington, covering areas like downtown DC, Golden Triangle, Rosslyn, and Crystal City. Dupont Circle just started one, and at least five new BIDs are under consideration in Brookland, Congress Heights, H Street NE, Shaw, and MidCity (covering the area around 14th and U streets).

Thursday, April 12, 2018

wheaton woods residents are upset about plans to build rain gardens

Montgomery County has plans to build gardens that collect and clean stormwater on the street in front of homes in older neighborhoods. Residents, however, are up in arms.

A rain garden on Dennis Avenue in Silver Spring. Image by Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection.
Whenever a new development is built, the developer is usually required to plan for getting rid of rainwater from big storms. They regrade the land so water flows away from houses, and often create a stormwater management pond where all the water can go.

Older neighborhoods frequently lack those things. Many streets in older neighborhoods don’t have good drainage, or have streets with no curb and gutter. After a storm, water can collect in people’s yards, causing erosion or flooding. Or, it flows directly from the street into a storm drain, collecting a lot of pollutants before dumping the water into local waterways.

Several years ago, Montgomery County started the RainScapes program to address this issue by building rain gardens on public property, including parks and schools, and giving private property owners rebates for building them on their land. Also called a bioswale, a rain garden is basically a landscaped area that’s designed to collect rainwater after a storm. They include a mix of plants, rocks, dirt, and even sand that filters the rainwater before it seeps into the ground below or is directed to a storm drain. Native plants give pollinators and other animals a welcome habitat.

People are mad

Currently, the county is working on plans to build them in Wheaton Woods, a 1950s-era neighborhood between Wheaton and Rockville where flooding is an issue. However, some neighbors are fighting it. One resident told Channel 7 that the gardens are dangerous because people will fall in them. Another claimed that they would hurt his property values, while a third worried that stormwater pollution will somehow end up in his yard instead.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

montgomery county rejects affordable housing in silver spring and will build it elsewhere

Neighbors have been fighting a proposal to build affordable senior housing and a childcare facility in downtown Silver Spring. In response, Montgomery County officials made a compromise: they’ll allow the childcare to go forward, but the senior housing will be built five miles away.

Montgomery County will not build 92 apartments for low-income seniors here. Image by Google Street View used with permission.

Ever since the Silver Spring Library moved to a new building three years ago, the county has been figuring out what to do with the old 1950s-era library, located four blocks from the Silver Spring Metro station on Colesville Road. County officials identified affordable housing and childcare as two major needs in the community, and put out a call for proposals to provide both on the two-acre site.

Affordable housing developer Victory Housing submitted a plan to replace the library with 92 apartments and a child care center. However, County Executive Ike Leggett just announced that they’ve selected a proposal from child care provider CentroNia and the Gudelsky Foundation to simply turn the library into a child care center. The Gudelskys, who own development firm Percontee, will provide land at Viva White Oak, a mixed-use development they’re building five miles away, where Victory Housing can build the apartments.

This decision appeases local historic preservationists who wanted to see the building preserved, a group of neighbors who opposed building housing (and in some cases, child care), and those who wanted the land turned into a park (despite there already being a park next door).

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

this video shows you how to find the right MCPS school for your family

There are over two hundred public schools in Montgomery County, and if you're picking a place to live, it often means comparing the schools in different neighborhoods. How can you find the right school for your family? This video shows you how.

Recently, I interviewed Montgomery County board of education member Jill Ortman-Fouse about the best tools for learning about local public schools. While websites like assign each school a point rating based on test scores, they don't tell the full story.

Instead, Jill recommends taking a more hands-on approach. If you're curious about a school, schedule a visit, meet with the principal, or talk to neighbors whose kids attend that school. There are also a variety of online resources, including school websites, Twitter accounts, and Facebook pages, that list events going on at each school and can provide a first-hand look at what happens there.

And of course, Montgomery County Public Schools has a website with lots of information as well. Schools at a Glance is their annual report of data about every school in the system, with everything from test scores to teacher statistics to building information.

Are you trying to pick a school in Montgomery County right now? Have you picked one in the past? What tools did you use?