Thursday, May 31, 2007

guest blog: annual growth policy debate 2007

BUT FIRST: There's new life in Rockville Town Square (with pictures!); JUTP sporting a new look in preparation for Sunday's article - more changes to come . . .

FINALLY: Using infrastructure (roads, schools, etc.) to determine where new development should go is pretty common. In Anne Arundel County, there's a boom in "active adult" housing because development that would add more kids to already-crowded schools is prohibited. Next month, the County Council will be holding its Annual Growth Policy debates, deciding how fast the County will grow and in what ways. How do we do that?

Guest blogger and pedestrian advocate Adam Pagnucco is back to explain the formulas used to decide where the infrastructure can handle new growth. Next week, he'll will discuss impact taxes, the almost-inevitable result of any decisions made by the County Council. Take it away, Adam:

Between the early 1980’s and 2004, new developments in Montgomery County were subject to two kinds of analysis for their impact on traffic: Policy Area Transportation Review (PATR) and Local Area Transportation Review (LATR). LATR examined the impact of development on traffic in a handful of intersections close to the project. PATR examined the impact of development on traffic in a large area surrounding the project called a “policy area.” The county had 21 of these policy areas in addition to 10 smaller “Metro Station Policy Areas” and “Town Center Policy Areas.”

The idea behind both LATR and PATR was that if the new development caused traffic congestion to rise above a certain threshold in either a small immediate area around the project (LATR) or a large area around the project (PATR), the developer would be required to provide certain mitigation measures, such as additional road or transit capacity. If traffic conditions were extremely congested in a policy area (as measured by an average congestion index), a moratorium could be declared. In 2004, the last year PATR was in effect, the county had eight policy areas in moratorium for housing construction and six policy areas in moratorium for commercial construction.

In 2003, the County Council voted to abolish PATR, keep LATR and institute a combination of increased and new development impact taxes. The council’s reasoning at that time was that new development should pay for added infrastructure capacity (like roads and schools) rather than be subject to a moratorium until the county could construct the added infrastructure.

New developments would now be analyzed only for their traffic impact on immediate surrounding areas. For example, under the old system, a new development at the corner of Georgia Avenue and Forest Glen Road would be analyzed not only for its impact on that intersection and a couple others nearby (LATR), but also for its impact on the average congestion level for the Kensington-Wheaton policy area (PATR). Under the new system, only the impact on a small number of nearby intersections would be considered.

Critics of PATR’s abolition contended that it was unrealistic to believe that traffic impact from a new development would only spread for a couple blocks away from the site. After the 2006 County Council elections, the council called for an analysis of the county’s growth policy from the Planning Board and specifically requested a recommendation on whether to bring back PATR. The board’s response was to suggest instituting a similar, but not identical process called Project Area Mobility Review (PAMR).

Like PATR, PAMR also assesses the traffic impact of a project on a broad policy area. However, its methodology differs. PATR relied on an average congestion index to determine whether a policy area’s transportation infrastructure was “adequate” to handle additional traffic. PAMR calculates a tradeoff between auto congestion (termed “relative arterial mobility”) and transit capacity (termed “relative transit mobility”). If a policy area had low relative arterial mobility (meaning it had lots of auto congestion), it could still be judged as “adequate” if residents could use transit to get to destinations almost as fast as through car travel. Conversely, if a policy area had transit use that took substantially more time than car use, it could still be judged as “adequate” if auto congestion was low. If a policy area had both high auto congestion and transit options that were much slower than car use, it would be judged as “inadequate.”

Developers in adequate policy areas would not be required to provide mitigation measures under PAMR, though they might face requirements if nearby local intersections were found to be excessively congested under LATR. The planners contended this new system fairly reflected the tradeoffs that residents could make between cars and transit – for example, by switching to transit if car travel was too slow.

The planning staff used their new PAMR standard to calculate adequacy levels for each of the county’s 21 policy areas. In 2005, the staff concluded that every one of the county’s policy areas had adequate transportation capacity. In 2013, the staff projected that only two policy areas – Gaithersburg and Germantown East – would be inadequate. In 2030, the staff projected that only two policy areas – Fairland/White Oak and Potomac – would be inadequate, but that projection assumed that the Purple Line, Corridor Cities Transitway, I-270 widening and Midcounty Highway would all be in place.

Now the debate will begin. Should a new development’s traffic impact be assessed in only a small surrounding area through LATR, or should its impact over a large area also be assessed through policy area review? Are the adequacy judgments of the new policy area review system recommended by the planning board – including its assessment that every policy area in the county had “adequate transportation capacity” in 2005 – realistic? And should the county return to instituting moratoriums in policy areas or merely insist on mitigation measures, such as new roads and/or transit and impact taxes, to be paid by developers? These are the questions now being argued in Rockville.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

mid-day review (updated)

IN THE GAZETTE: Freshman county councilmembers reflect on the first six months; Weast insists on "mandatory busing" in Hampshire Greens [and JUTP told you first]; a triplet I student-taught at Blake is going to college.

When I first met Hans Riemer last summer, he noted I was the only blogger in East County at the same time. "It's kind of like the Wild West out there," he said. Well, I'm not so alone anymore: Check out Stefan M. and his "Thoughts from downtown B-Vill," by which we presume he means Burtonsville. Note the grainy photograph of the Starting Gate, a bar on the Anne Arundel side of Laurel, on the home page. We're not sure what his blog is about, but it's pretty funny.

UPDATE: Also check out Down By The River, a blog about the "eastern most edge of Silver Spring" written from someone who lives off Briggs Chaney Road (I guess). I think that brings it up to twelve East County blogs. Talk about a bloggy neighborhood . . .

TOMORROW: Guest blogger Adam explains the Annual Growth Policy in time for next month's debates. IN THE MEANTIME: Test-driving the new Rockville Town Square.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

signs of life in rockville town square

Check out this slideshow of the new Rockville Town Square.

Three years ago, I hated Downtown Silver Spring. When Ellsworth Drive was closed to cars and little red "Us" hung from street signs, I wrote a column in my high school paper mourning the loss of the gritty, unpeopled wasteland that my parents had fled from in the late 90's. There were people in my Downtown Silver Spring now - people I didn't know, people who looked like they didn't belong - too many people. And while I've come to love my city's new center [and defend it with tooth and nail], I can't help but wonder what it's like for other communities going through the same thing.

Today, I work in the newly opened Rockville Town Square, where a downtown hastily torn out and replaced with a shopping mall in the name of urban renewal four decades ago has been restored, albeit in a sanitized, more marketable form. This past weekend was Hometown Holidays, Rockville's Memorial Day celebration, and people from all over the region were expected to come see performances by KC and the Sunshine Band, Augustana and local favorites like Jimmie's Chicken Shack.

And, in fact, they did. In the new heart of Rockville, middle-aged couples pushed strollers in one hand and held Budweisers in the other. Packs of teenaged uber-preps, emo kids and suburban homeboys wandered up and down the narrow streets, staring in the windows of stores selling things most people can't afford or don't need. And toddlers wielding balloon swords and walking balloon dogs ambled about a little grassy area in the square, a luxury that many in Silver Spring are fighting for today.

AFTER THE JUMP: the Town Square learns from Silver Spring's mistakes while making a few of its own.

The four-block Rockville Town Square complex includes 175,000 square feet of retail space, compared to 360,000 square feet in Bethesda Row and over 450,000 square feet in Downtown Silver Spring. Don't let the term "retail" fool you - the tenants at Rockville Town Square are overwhelmingly restaurants, ranging from burgers at Five Guys to steak at Greystone Grill. For the residents of the over six hundred condominiums sitting on top of these restaurants - a feature neither Silver Spring nor Bethesda claims to offer (yet) - a quick meal is no more than a few steps away, but most daily needs require a hop in the car, seemingly defeating the purpose of the Square's pedestrian-oriented design.

In Silver Spring, you can buy a book or CD, a pair of shoes, or a nice suit; in Bethesda, you can even pick up an iPod or a $10,000 television. At Ten Thousand Villages in Rockville, you can buy a thirty-four-dollar laundry hamper hand-woven by Bangladeshi artists. Then again, Rockville Pike, the nightmarish, thirty-mile-long shopping strip, is only a block away.

But for what shopping you can't do here, the Square more than makes up for in ambiance. Downtown Silver Spring, with its lights and neon, proudly refers to itself as "a good old fashioned sensory overload." Rockville Town Square earnestly wants to bring back the feel of an earlier time, with building fronts echoing century-old Victorian and Federal-style buildings that still exist a few blocks away.

Having five stories of condos above everything helps - the rhythm of bay windows and balconies give the feel of a neighborhood, one with actual residents that will actually be there at midnight to hear the drunks stagger home. It feels historically grounded and wildly authentic at the same time. But it plays better than streetscape along Ellsworth and Fenton in Silver Spring, where all you see are blank fa├žades dressed up with a thin layer of concrete and brick.

It remains to be seen, however, whether Rockville Town Square can continue to muster up the crowds that will make it "the place to be." Whether you're dining al fresco or skateboarding across the plaza (not recommended due to the cobblestones), you're there to see and be seen, and that requires lots of people. However, there's a considerably smaller population within walking distance than in Silver Spring, where over 32,000 people live within one mile of "the Turf" according to The Peterson Companies. The city of Rockville, which extends for nearly two miles in every direction around the Town Square, has less than 50,000 residents.

Two large parking garages, one of which has eight stories (compared to the Town Square Garage in Silver Spring, with seven) will accomodate visitors from surrounding towns. The nearby Metro stop will help as well, but it's several blocks away, involving a long trek across Rockville Pike in an enclosed bridge that suggests a shopping mall more than a town square.

Also note the main anchors of Downtown Silver Spring and Bethesda Row are movie theatres. Rockville has the Regal Cinemas 13, conveniently located across a vast parking lot from the Town Square project. (That parking lot proved to be very convenient during Hometown Holidays; by the looks of the crowds, it is the real Rockville Town Square.) Are Rockville Town Square's anchors - the new Rockville Library and the Arts and Innovation Center - enough to draw people to that space? Or will it be the restaurants that bring them in? Or will it be the square itself, despite being hidden from neighboring streets behind the same six-story buildings that lend it so much character?

"This does not look like Rockville," one of my co-workers noted the other day, echoing the same frustration I'd had with Silver Spring three years earlier. But with the already-completed King Farm neighborhood a mile north (with its own "village square") and future developments at the Twinbrook and White Flint Metro stations, the face of Rockville is quickly changing. And, unlike in older, urbanized communities like Silver Spring and Bethesda, these places are hobbling together an city fabric from scratch.

If Hometown Holidays is any suggestion, Rockville's new downtown may be a huge success with its new take on a formula that's been tried twice before in Montgomery County. Yet "the Turf" in Silver Spring shows us that there's lots of room for surprises. What will happen as the Rockville Town Square gets a mind of its own? We're about to find out.

And I'll be here, for the summer at least, watching.

Friday, May 25, 2007

the final word with roger berliner

NEXT WEEK: Test-driving the new Rockville Town Square; controversy over proposed offices in Colesville. TODAY: Why does Jerry Weast support "mandatory busing" in East County schools?

The final stop on Just Up The Pike's "County Government Head-to-Head Tour."

If you want to see where Councilman Roger Berliner (D-Potomac) got his start, you'll have to begin with Jerry Springer. Not the trashy talk show host, of course - we mean the upstart Ohio politician who became a trashy talk show host. It was Jerry Springer who gave Berliner his first job as an aide to the mayor of Cincinnati. "He had a great, incredible political future that he threw away by some 'extracurricular activities,'" Berliner says, referring to Springer's fondness for prostitutes.

And after Springer tanked, Berliner bounced around, serving at "virtually every level of government," he says. He worked in the California state legislature, in both houses of Congress, and in the Carter administration - all before he was 33. When it was time to settle down, he chose to move to Potomac. (We can only assume that it was more affordable twenty years ago than it was now.) "Montgomery County was where I wanted to live," he says.

"I brought together adversaries . . . and helped them find common ground."
Berliner took a few years to raise a family, coach high school baseball, even write about pork barrel politics. But "I hadn't been intimately involved in Montgomery County politics," laments Berliner. It was time for a change. So, following in his former employer's footsteps, Berliner (at right) decided to start a talk show.

Search for Common Ground in Montgomery County ran successfully several years on Montgomery Community Television without a single chair thrown. "I brought together adversaries . . . and helped them find common ground," Berliner says. "I thought the TV show was very successful."

Roger Berliner likes being a mediator. You can't bring him to say a bad thing about his fellow councilmembers. "I guess one of the surprises [about being a councilman] is how much I enjoy my colleagues," he says. "The whole is greater than the sum of its parts, if you will. Each individual councilmember has specific strengths and passion that when you add them all up works well for the County." A little more optimistic than Valerie Ervin's early frustrations with the Council, it must be noted, but that's just how Berliner operates.

AFTER THE JUMP: $300,000 houses in Bethesda? Berliner says "maybe."

"I don't think [racism]'s a driver in the conversation." - Berliner on the Purple Line
Roger Berliner likes to talk about the things you can't measure, like beauty. When asked about some Bethesda residents' opposition to the Purple Line, he rules out the usual accusation of racial bias towards more diverse communities further along the proposed route (see Langley Park day laborers, at left.) "I don't think [racism]'s a driver in the conversation," he says. "Is it possible? Sure. I think it's much more we have this resources we have grown to love and we don't want it to change." He's talking about the Capital Crescent Trail, and he knows why people might not welcome the trains.

"They love the trail as it is," Berliner says. "There aren't a lot of trails in the Downcounty. They have a hard time envisioning how their enjoyment of the trail won't be impaired."

"So, intangible things," I suggest.

"I don't think quality-of-life is intangible," Berliner says. "Beauty is not measurable, but is it not real?"

"Beauty is not measurable, but is it not real?"
Is beauty real? That's what Roger Berliner wants to find out. Last March, when we first spoke, he proposed the creation of a "McMansion task force" to see if and how Montgomery County could regulate the design of oversized new homes, the majority of which - such as this home on Randolph Road (at left) - are an abomination to good taste. He's bringing together representatives from the County government, the development community, and the neighborhoods to hash out an official policy for McMansions. "I have tentatively hired professional facilitators," he said in March, "so that people aren't at each other's throats."

Actual task force meetings will begin in June, and Berliner is excited about the potential. "I think the process of bringing people in at the beginning . . . changes the conversation," he says. Nonetheless, East County won't be seeing much representation on the task force. "75 percent of McMansionization takes place in my district," he says. "There will be a disproportionate amount" of representatives from Bethesda, Chevy Chase and Potomac. (There is one space open for an East County resident, but it has not been filled.)

Even the looming fights over development impact taxes and the Annual Growth Policy have Berliner unfazed. He claims to be "agnostic" on the proposed increase in taxes on new homes that even Ike Leggett complains might stifle growth. "Taxes should increase," he says, noting it was part of his campaign platform. "I am concerned that we do not have the revenue that is required to prevent our community from having even more congestion problems."

"Those of us who are blessed with abundance have a duty to work for the community who have less."
But what about affordable housing? Surely Roger Berliner knows how expensive it can be to live in his own district - without the added burden of impact fees. "I believe affordable housing - in terms of new construction - is already out-of-reach," he says. "Our effort needs to be preserving existing neighborhoods." Berliner cites Battery Park (at right), in the shadow of Downtown Bethesda, as an affordable neighborhood with "$300,000 homes," he claims.

"Are you sure?" I ask. "$300,000 for a house? In Bethesda?"

Berliner pauses. He taps his fingers on his chin and starts speaking, slowly, as he has for the past half-hour. "They could be apartments . . . they could be more multi-family," he says. "I could be wrong."

A search of Downtown Bethesda shows that, yes, you can find a "place to live" in Bethesda for $300,000, but if you'd like four walls and a roof, it'll set you back close to a million dollars. So much for affordable housing, Roger Berliner. Beauty may not be measureable, but affordable housing is, and there isn't nearly enough of it. Now that's something to talk about.

Photo of Jerry Springer from Photo of Roger Berliner from Berliner's website. (Note how, after two meetings, I never snapped a photo of this guy. My bad, not his.)

Thursday, May 24, 2007

weast: "mandatory busing" is okay, if you're hampshire greens

In a week when it comes out that suspensions are skyrocketing at East County schools like Key Middle School, it's not surprising that some parents might want to send their pre-teens elsewhere. But when nearly three-fourths of suspensions in Montgomery County are handed out to black students, it becomes increasingly apparent why the school system may want to spread the "diversity" around, if you will.

Enter Hampshire Greens, the golf course neighborhood at New Hampshire and Norbeck where "mandatory busing" has become a beacon of hope for Key officials and a pain in the butt for residents. Key might be eight miles and a forty-five minute bus ride away (past three other middle schools) from Hampshire Greens, but that's okay for Superintendent Jerry Weast. "I . . . do not find the Hampshire Greens situation to be unique or unusually burdensome," writes Weast in his recommendation (warning! PDF file) to keep the middle school boundaries exactly as they are.

At a Board of Education meeting Monday night, Weast "recommended that Hampshire Greens continue its articulation" or assignment to Key, according to a report by Northeast Consortium representative Phil Kauffman. In addition, the PTAs of the three neighboring middle schools - White Oak, Briggs Chaney and Farquhar - supported Weast's recommendations.

Would either of those three schools have anything to lose from letting a few Hampshire Greens kids in - or five, to be exact? Not at all. Even Key, for whom those five kids singlehandedly lower the percentage of minority or low-income students at the school, won't see much of a difference no matter which way the district lines fall. Weast's own report shows that if Hampshire Greens was redistricted to any other East County middle school, the percentage of black students at Key Middle School would increase from 49.2 percent to 49.5. We can already see the suspension rates skyrocket as frustrated teachers try to discipline their students of color.

What a waste of time! There is a serious issue in Montgomery County Public Schools that needs to be resolved, and we're fighting over whether a handful of kids can go to a school in their own neighborhood. Why should we trying to engineer super-diverse schools when we can't even handle the populations that are already in these schools?

This fight is a loss for everybody: the Hampshire Greens kids who may still be trekking across town to school every day AND the at-risk youth of Key Middle School, whose entire organization - from the administration to the PTA seems more concerned about putting a high-income Band-Aid on a low-income problem.

Pictured: a map of the four East County middle school districts (Banneker, in Burtonsville, is excluded) and the location of Hampshire Greens, currently served by Key Middle School, eight miles away. Click on the thumbnail for a larger version.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

here's what's coming up the pike . . .

BUT FIRST: "I’m opposed to pulling businesses out of the District or Prince George’s County" - Marc Elrich wants to keep NPR out of Silver Spring to save the District: check out the Silver Spring Scene.

The blog's been quiet, but here's what I've been working on at Just Up The Pike and what you can expect to learn more about during the next week:

- What's Jerry Weast have to say about "mandatory busing" in Hampshire Greens? Turns out he's not opposed: find out TOMORROW.

- $300,000 houses in Bethesda? Councilman Roger Berliner says they're already here - and they're our only hope for affordable housing in MoCo! Check out the last installment of our "County Government Head-to-Head Tour" on FRIDAY.

- The new Rockville Town Square opens this weekend! How will it compare with Downtown Silver Spring? You'll hear all about it on MONDAY.

- State Delegate Karen Montgomery wants to stop an office development in Colesville - and the neighbors are Senator Rona Kramer's shopping center! Is there a connection? Not what you'd think: we're going to find out TUESDAY.

Come back soon and check it out - you won't find these stories anywhere else!

Monday, May 21, 2007

so long, neighborspac?

Last week Drew Powell, super-NIMBY and head of Neighbors for a Better Montgomery, threw his hat into the race for Rockville mayor (along with current Silver Spring "mayor" Susan Hoffmann).

But the Neighbors seem to be in trouble: their website has been gone since the beginning of the month. WHAT COULD THIS MEAN for the MoCo NIMBY establishment . . . other than the fact someone hasn't been paying their server bills?

good news and bad news

THE BAD NEWS: Just Up The Pike is very disappointed to announce that we (by which I mean I) missed the first-ever South Silver Spring Block Party, where we're [I'm] sure great fun and great food were had by all. As a blogger, opportunities to leave the house are few and far between and should be taken full advantage of. But, sadly, today was spent doing massive cleaning. I did, however, find all my old campaign mailers from last year's election. Boy, do I miss Robin Ficker.

THE GOOD NEWS: You're reading Just Up The Pike's two-hundredth blog post! For nearly a year, I've been putting my two cents into East County politics and goings-on, and I'm proud to have come this far - and to still have readers!

MORE GOOD NEWS: Check out your Washington Post "Sunday Source" over the next few weeks, because Just Up The Pike will be profiled in a story about D.C.-area bloggers in early June. Just thought I'd give you a heads-up - I got up super-early last Tuesday morning to be photographed on "the Turf," and I want as many people as possible to see my [our] pretty [read: sleepy] face.

STAY TUNED: I'm trying to go for more than one post this week. We'll see how that goes now that I'm back home in Silver Spring (and jobless) . . .

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

the citizens, involved in burtonsville's future

"This is about strengthening neighborhoods, bringing us together in an age when we don't even know who our neighbors are." - Eileen York, Citizens Involved
Over one hundred people came out to Paint Branch High last Wednesday for the fourth meeting of Citizens Involved, East County's newest "civic umbrella group," to discuss the future of Burtonsville with a slate of elected officials, including County Councilwoman Marilyn Praisner (D-Calverton) and State Senator Rona Kramer (D-14), and representatives from Park and Planning and the State Highway Administration.

"I'm impressed by the level of energy," says civic activist Stuart Rochester. "We find crowds like this in Potomac . . . where people have a strong sense of protecting their community."

While the discussion also included trash pick-up and graffiti, the main focus was on "how to pull our town center back together," in the words of Citizens Involved founder Eileen York. Residents and businesspeople alike were concerned about current construction on Route 198 which, like the recently-completed Burtonsville Bypass, have hurt business in the town and made it even more difficult for pedestrians to move around.

"For the past two days, [construction crews] have been milling on 198," one Burtonsville Crossing shop owner says. "It effectively destroyed my business."

after the jump: why east county hates the State Highway Administration.

Piera Weiss, writer of the Fairland Master Plan, which has guided growth in East County for the past ten years, suggested making Burtonsville denser and more pedestrian-friendly. "We need to recast [route] 198 as a main street and old 29 as Burtonsville Boulevard," says Weiss. She mentioned the planned Burtonsville Access Road, which would serve businesses on the north side of Route 198.

The State Highway Administration, which manages both routes 198 and 29, offered few solutions for suffering businesses, other than the existing "Burtonsville Town Center" sign on Route 29. Residents were frustrated by what appeared to be the SHA representatives' unwillingness to help and were not polite about saying so.

"Y'all didn't think it out," spits Burtonsville resident Ron Smith, decked out in a cowboy hat. "Y'all did the worst job I've ever seen in traffic engineering, and I come from aerospace engineering."

Smith was more than frustrated by the SHA's "total lack of neural activity," he says. "I'm talking about from Silver Spring to 216 [and] the brain-dead road design . . . what they did on 29 is stupider than Boston." Turning Route 29 into a freeway, he argued, accomodated express traffic at the expense of local traffic, cutting off neighborhoods and making small trips difficult and time-consuming. "They fucked up Blackburn [Road]," he laments. "I feel sorry for those people."

While York founded the group earlier this year to counter East County's reputation for crime and instability, some feel a discussion about development might be the best way to improve the area's image. "I'd rather us focus on one or two things, like creating in Burtonsville an attractive, functional center that works for the residents and businesses of the community," says Rochester, who chairs the Fairland Master Plan Citizens Advisory Committee.

And if that means a denser Burtonsville, Rochester is optimistic about the possibilities. "I'd be willing to contemplate added density to give the business community more work so they can come up with some more visionary concepts," Rochester says.

Check out the 1997 Fairland Master Plan on the Park and Planning Commission's website.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

catching up with just up the pike

BUT FIRST: in Silver Spring, Blades of Glory fan Roger K. Lewis endorses an ice rink for Veterans' Plaza in his weekly column; in College Park, students pressure UMCP to back the Purple Line, and new on-campus dorms could be built by 2009.

I've just returned from a weekend in Belltown, Delaware. It used to be that a "beach house" meant a house located on, or near, a beach; but the house I spent the weekend in, which belonged to a friend's parents, was several miles away. The new Delaware "beach suburbs" don't look too different than the suburbs that beachgoers are coming from - the strips are wide and lined with chain restaurants; the subdivisions have wide, green lawns; and the new houses are as big (and expensive) as they are here. I'll talk more about it later this week.

ALSO COMING UP: Finals! I will try to post what I can - and there is a lot to talk about. By TUESDAY, I'll talk about last week's Blogger Summit and the fourth-ever meeting of Citizens Involved, East County's newest "civic umbrella group." By THURSDAY, I'll talk about the new Rockville Town Square and how it stacks up to Downtown Silver Spring.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

turf town meeting: on pavement, first dates and figure skates

BUT FIRST: The bloggers meet in Silver Spring TONIGHT.

Part Two of Just Up The Pike's coverage of last Saturday's "Turf Town Meeting." Also check out part one: staking out your turf, the proposed plans for Veterans' Plaza and our previous entries about "the Turf." Additional coverage at the Silver Spring Penguin.

Last Saturday's "Turf Town Meeting" included a brief panel discussion at the Round House Theatre on Colesville Road. Supporters of turf and ice alike were able to get different takes on the Veterans' Plaza project from the architects, Post columnist Roger K. Lewis, and Gary Stith, director of the Silver Spring Regional Services Center. Here's a look at what the experts had to say:

Roger K. Lewis, Columnist

Roger K. Lewis, the Washington Post columnist and professor emeritus at the University of Maryland (the sole reason, I must add, why I decided to attend their School of Architecture) was nothing short of ecstatic about the potential of the space, no matter whose hands it was in. "I think you'd have to be really incompetent to make this place not work," he said. "['The Turf'] proves if you build it, they will come . . . you've validated the decisions made for where a public, urban space should be."

In the break-out session that followed, Lewis explained how the ice rink could be used in the off-season, using plazas in D.C., Italy and other places as an example. "A whole bunch of tables are gonna go in there," he proposed, "a couple of vendors . . . that's a large enough area that could support two or three franchises, and that's where people are gonna be sitting." In the summer, artificial turf could even be installed over the rink, he stated, creating an area similar to what already exists in the Rockville Town Square, which he was involved in the design of.

And the possibilities don't end there. "I can see once a year . . . they should show Blades of Glory [on the converted ice rink]," Lewis said, referring to the recent movie starring Will Ferrell and Jon Heder as competing figure skaters. "It's a send-up of ice skating . . . it's worth seeing for the costumes alone."

Rodolfo Machado, Architect

Rodolfo Machado (left) is a professor of Urban Planning at Harvard and the principal of Boston architectural firm Machado and Silvetti, who won the competition to design the Silver Spring Civic Center. Everything about him suggests the arrogance that architects are often stereotyped with, from the aloof stance he takes in this photograph from the firm's website, to the thick accent (he is originally from Argentina) with which he gave a presentation on Veterans' Plaza, to the blunt way he spoke to the crowd.

"Remember, it is called Veterans' Plaza," Machado said, "it is for Veterans, and it is a plaza. It is not a park," which elicited groans from some members of the audience. His presentation about the plaza included a list of programmed events that would take place there throughout the year. "We are trying to provide the frame, the carpet, for where things are going to happen," he proclaimed. There were several references to the ground as a "carpet," ironic if only because he wants to replace the artificial turf with brick or other pavement.

"People are concerned that these hard pavers will not be as comfortable on our . . . anatomy," the panel moderator nervously suggested.

"That's why we have benches," Machado shot back.

Gary Stith, Silver Spring Booster

According to Gary Stith, director of the Silver Spring Regional Services Center, the only reason that County-run rinks in nearby Wheaton or Cabin John are successful is because of ice hockey teams that rent them out for practices and games. As a result, Montgomery County is not interested in subsidizing the Silver Spring rink. Nonetheless, Stith has set his sights high for the ice rink, going so far as to compare it to the famous rink in New York's Rockefeller Center, which is only slightly larger than the one proposed here.

"If you want to put it in, we want it to work," Stith said, explaining the exhaustive process County experts have gone through in research. "The use of the rink is a function of size and covering," he added. In other words, the larger it is, the more people can use it, and if it's covered, the rink can be used in inclement weather as well. As it is currently designed, the ice rink could attract as many as 35,000 patrons from October to April, using the rinks in Annapolis, Reston and Pentagon Row as examples.

"It'd be a great place to go on a date," Stith said. "You won't see me out there . . . [but] I think you'll attract a lot of spectators."

Monday, May 7, 2007

turf town meeting: staking out your turf

BUT FIRST: The bloggers meet in Silver Spring on Tuesday; the Citizens get Involved in Burtonsville on Wednesday; and Lewis Black comes home to Springbrook next month.

Part One of Just Up The Pike's coverage of last Saturday's "Turf Town Meeting." Also check out the proposed plans for Veterans' Plaza and our previous entries about "the Turf."

Last Saturday afternoon was like any other in Silver Spring. In the street, the Farmers' Market, just ended, had begun packing up; a pack of skateboarders, ranging in age from dough-faced freshmen to college-age, lounged in front of the Baja Fresh; and a man stood at the corner of Fenton and Ellsworth, handing out packets on socialism to passers-by. But on "the Turf," a group of well-intentioned and strongly outspoken citizens had gathered to point and yell about the future of the very [artificial] ground they stood on.

Organized by the Silver Spring Citizens Advisory Board and sponsored by a raft of like-minded community groups, the "Turf Town Meeting" - one of several regarding the future of Silver Spring's accidental hangout - has been publicized for weeks on blogs and neighborhood listservs, and was rewarded by a decent turnout both on "the Turf" itself and at a panel discussion later that afternoon in the Round House Theatre on Colesville Road (which we'll talk about more tomorrow).

As if the chalk lines criss-crossing "the Turf" - showing where the proposed Veterans' Plaza and Civic Building will go (see below) - were real, the crowd was divided by supporters and opponents of the fake lawn that became Silver Spring's accidental favorite hangout. While Gary Stith, director of the Silver Spring Regional Services Center, explained how the site will be laid out, local residents argued over the ice rink's merits. "If a bunch of us hadn't fought for Jesup Blair Park, that would be gone too," shouted Nancy Weber, a local resident for fifty-five years. "This ['the Turf'] is the only green space we have left."

Away from the crowd, Weber explains that we already have an ice rink three miles away in Wheaton. "I can't see spending the money for an ice rink a couple of months of the year," she says. "Somehow it's become a big issue, like we've been deprived . . . I think we've gotten our share. It was a happy surprise that people loved ["the Turf"] so much."

Surprises aside, John Haslinger - the self-appointed "Mayor of Silver Spring" and a thirty-year resident of Bonifant Street - thinks the ice rink is a done deal and sorely needed Downtown. "I have photographs from when this was just a field," he says, having followed the area through its decline. "I was here when they called this place 'Beirut' . . . we went through a long process to get an ice rink. This is really not the time to be asking questions."

The rink can be everything to everyone, Haslinger continues, but the love affair with "the Turf" is fleeting. An ice rink "provides interest, provides a destination for people who do use it and something to watch for people who don't," he says. "For those people who'd like to see the grass up there, I don't think they're considering how it's gonna be with the traffic."

"This [currently] is sort of a rolling little meadow," Haslinger notes, sweeping his hands across the gently sloping green. "The artificial turf is nice on a slope. When you put it on a flat surface, it's just turf."

TOMORROW: Read what the experts think about fake grass, a real city, and what movies to show during the summer film festival. In the meantime, check out the proposed plans for Veterans' Plaza and our previous entries about "the Turf."

homecoming for our native comedian

BUT FIRST: Meet your favorite bloggers at the Silver Spring Blogger Summit this Tuesday at the Gateway Heliport Gallery; coverage of last Saturday's "Turf Town Meeting" is forthcoming.

Before he was an angry adult, comedian Lewis Black was an angry kid right here in East County, growing up in this house in Burnt Mills Knolls and graduating from Springbrook High in 1966. On June 29, 2007, Lewis Black is coming back to do a benefit show at his alma mater sponsored by the Springbrook PTSA.

Whomever made this possible should have the football stadium named for them. I mean, when I was a senior in high school, my friends tried to get Lewis Black as our graduation speaker (after all, Blake's in his hometown, too), but that fell through pretty quickly. (Ditto for Johnny Depp, our alternate.)

Now that Springbrook alumni/staff/parents/seniors have gotten seats, you (The Public) can as well: tickets for Lewis Black's homecoming cost $45 and can be ordered here (warning! PDF file). Is that worth the money? Hell, yes. I will see you there.

Here's the rest of what's happening in East County this week:

GET YOURSELF INVOLVED: Citizens Involved, the "East County umbrella group" that includes only Burtonsville, Spencerville and Cloverly, will be meeting at Paint Branch High this Wednesday at 7:30 pm. All three State delegates and State Senator Rona Kramer will be in attendance to discuss the Burtonsville Town Center among other issues.

THE ARTS vs. DIVERSITY:"Choice" returns to the Choice Process for Northeast Consortium high schools as eighty-five percent East County eighth-graders have been accepted into the East County high school of their choice. This comes after several years of dicking around with socioeconomic quotas that steered some students away from the arts signature program at Eubie Blake High, perceived as being "too white," in the name of giving the school a more diverse population.

NOW, IF ONLY I COULD MAKE MONEY DOING THIS: A Just Up The Pike photograph appeared in Transit-Friendly Development, a newsletter about Transit-Oriented Development published by Rutgers University.

Friday, May 4, 2007

you've always wanted to meet your favorite bloggers . . .

And now you can: this Tuesday, May 8th, please come down to the Silver Spring Blogger Summit, held at the Gateway Heliport Gallery, 8001 Kennett Street, Silver Spring - ahem, South Point. New York may have the bloggiest neighborhood, but the Silver Spring Blogging Conglomerate knows how to party - or, at least, take part in a panel discussion on blogs and gentrification. There will be food, I have been told.

On my way home last week, I found myself in front of a Z6 bus, the very same bus I began riding last summer to work. There's a little irony in taking a picture of bus from inside my car, but I owe Metrobus: their less-than-ideal service to East County is the reason I started blogging.

YOUR SATURDAY HAS ALREADY BEEN PLANNED FOR YOU: Planning Board tackles new growth policy in the morning; that afternoon, show your "Turf" colors at the "Turf Town Meeting."

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

which sounds better: "silver blog" or "blogger spring"?

WHAT'S UP THIS WEEK: Former Gov. Glendening gets kudos from Purple Line boosters tomorrow; See the future of College Park's East Campus at meetings later this week; and wear your love (or hate) for "the Turf" on your sleeve at a "Turf Town Meeting" on said Turf this Saturday.

BUT FIRST: Occasional JUTP guest blogger Adam Pagnucco talks about the new MoCo budget on Maryland Politics Watch.

FINALLY: Anyone who's been watching the revitalization of Silver Spring might have noticed a boom in something other than construction cranes and Starbucks stores: Silver Spring-related blogs. According to the New York Times, gentrifying neighborhoods usually have a high number of bloggers. A year and a half ago, the only Silver Spring blogs were the Singular and the Scene, but today, there are now at least eight other blogs covering the greater Silver Spring area.

One of these new blogs is Thayer Avenue, named for the street in question. While we weren't on the blogroll (at the time of publication), we hope that Thayer Avenue will welcome East County into the fold because, after all, we gave them a Target, and we will take it away.

Another new addition is Silver Spring Town Center, a "community networking site" for residents and fans of Downtown Silver Spring. It's the brainchild of local activist Richard Jaeggi, whose daughter, Lisa, directed last summer's documentary Finding Our Turf. Think of SSTC as a Facebook for Silver Spring, if you will, except without the potential embarassment.

Do you think the Silver Spring blog community's made the changes easier to handle? Is the wall between The People and The People In Charge being broken down? And, most importantly - is it bringing people together?

saving sligo avenue

The Penguin broke the news on the State's decision to drop the Sligo Avenue alignment (the orange line at the bottom of the picture) of the Purple Line last week, and East Silver Spring residents couldn't be happier. One resident who asked not to be named (neither the ESS Civic Association nor SSTOP have made any formal statements) said that "people are thrilled and feel that it is a big win to have Sligo off the table," noting that dozens of homes and businesses will be spared from the wrecking ball.

On Thayer Avenue (the street, not the blog), the resident added, there remain "serious concerns about taking an acre of park land in an area sorely lacking in green space," along with the danger of having a tunnel open onto the street, even if the State has agreed to continue it past East Silver Spring Elementary School. Nonetheless, there is "relief" that a cut-and-cover tunnel is no longer an option for the neighborhood, ensuring that construction impacts will be as minimal as possible.