Consultant Kevin Fisher discusses the Burtonsville Community Legacy Plan as board member Eric Luedtke looks on. For more pictures, check out slideshow.
New landscaping and reconfigured parking will save Burtonsville's struggling village center, according to County-hired consultants who presented recommendations for the business district last Wednesday at the monthly East County Citizens Advisory Board meeting. Run-down and lacking a cohesive identity, the village center - strung along Route 198 between Old Columbia Pike and the Burtonsville Bypass - has lost business since the bypass was completed two years ago. While it doesn't suggest any zoning or land-use changes for the village center, the new Burtonsville Community Legacy Plan reflects the desires of local businesses and residents, the planners say.
Following two open forums in March and a charrette - or design workshop - in June, consultants from Rhodeside and Harwell of Alexandria and Basile Baumann Prost Cole and Associates of Annapolis developed several possibilities for how Burtonsville could redevelop. They were then refined into a single concept that reflected the community's desire to preserve existing businesses in Burtonsville and their "strong opposition to residential development," according to Kate Shiflet of BBPC.
Among the consultants' proposals for the short term were widening Route 198 and adding new sidewalks and street trees; reducing the number of driveway entrances along the road and moving most of the parking lots in front of stores to the back; building the Burtonsville Access Road and adding new street connections to enable visitors to travel from shop to shop without going back out on 198; and creating a new community gathering area in front of the Burtonsville Elementary School.
check out the plan and hear what people had to say AFTER THE JUMP . . .
The new plan proposes landscaping, reconfigured parking and a gathering space for Burtonsville. For more pictures, check out this slideshow.
"The recommendations lead more to minimal change," said Kevin Fisher of Rhodeside and Harwell, who noted that businesses would be encouraged to improve their building façades facing 198. "We're not ripping up all the streets, we're not wiping out the buildings, we're improving what's there."
Over the next five to ten years, the consultants suggest relocating signage on routes 198 and 29 to better identify the Burtonsville commercial district to people traveling through the area. They'd also like to see a new road south of Route 198, similar to the proposed access road, that could provide another alternative route for local traffic. A road, Tolson Place, already exists in that area. "It's about providing visitors with an alternative way to shops and dining," said Shiflet.
Some earlier considerations had to be taken out of the final plan. Burying power lines underground was "cost-prohibitive," the consultants said, and installing a landscaped median down the middle of Route 198 would be difficult to do because of the left-turn lanes that are there now. Board member John Thomas pointed out that there weren't any crosswalks shown on the plan, either, and Fisher explained that there are no proposed pedestrian crossings other than the current ones in front of Seibel's restaurant and at Old Columbia Pike, which are a fifth of a mile apart.
A view of Route 198 with improved façades.
Board member Bill Strassberger expressed skepticism about the plan's potential. "I see a lot of moving parts, a lot of people having to get involved," he said. "How do we go from a picture on an easel to making this a reality?"
The next step, explained Roylene Roberts from the Montgomery County Department of Housing, is to apply for Community Legacy funds from the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development. Several years ago, Downtown Silver Spring received $1.8 million from the same program for the ongoing revitalization there, though Roylene Roberts doubts that Burtonsville will get as much funding "because this year they only have $6 million in the pot," she said.
And though the money's coming from the same place, Roberts insisted that concerned residents shouldn't be worried about Burtonsville getting too big for its britches. "This isn't going to be like Downtown Silver Spring or Bethesda," said Roberts, "because that's not what Burtonsville is."
Fisher discusses the plan with concerned residents.
There were some concerns about the planners' suggestion of adding housing to the commercial district. "It doesn't seem appropriate . . . if you're talking about adding housing, like apartments, to add to this congestion at this particular point," said board member Stan Doore. "Because of the County's master plan and the low-density wedge that 198 constitutes, there's no plan for denser housing," points out Stuart Rochester, who sat on a citizens' panel that helped draft the Fairland Master Plan eleven years ago.
Burtonsville resident and children's songwriter Barry Louis Polisar, who attended the charrette in June, liked many of the proposed changes, he said in an e-mail to Just Up The Pike. "It looks like a noble attempt to improve the access to the businesses there, improve the slap-dash look, and make the shopping and restaurants more bicycle and pedestrian friendly."
"The suggestions made are excellent," said board member Eric Luedtke, who also lives in Burtonsville. "I really like the inclusion of the village green, and hope that if built, it will be a gathering place for the community, in the same way that "the turf" was for downtown Silver Spring, but hopefully with a little less trash mixed in."
"There are few places now for those of us who live in Burtonsville to gather," Luedtke said. "This will create that sort of space, and by doing so bring Burtonsville together in a new way. I'm very hopeful that it will help tie together all our suburban bedroom neighborhoods into a more cohesive community."