Monday, June 30, 2008

the death and life of d.c.'s caribbean carnival

Dancers during the D.C. Caribbean Carnival last weekend. Check out this slideshow of this year's Carnival right here.

Last Saturday, D.C. held its annual Caribbean Carnival on Georgia Avenue, also known as Route 29. Part street festival, part family reunion and part excuse (if you're Trinidadian) to play in mud, carnivals are held throughout the West Indies and in cities throughout the Western Hemisphere with large Caribbean populations. The centerpiece of Carnival is a parade which runs from between Missouri Avenue in Brightwood, just south of Downtown Silver Spring, and Barry Place, near Howard University.

Carnival is a big deal for my family, being from Guyana and also being an established part of Georgia Avenue. For years, my aunt owned a small grocery at Georgia and Ingraham Street which she is currently turning into a restaurant. My uncle runs a mechanic's shop below, and my cousin lives above them in a sweet apartment that looks like something off of HGTV.

The epitome of "mixed-use," this shop, like dozens of other West Indian, Latino and other ethnic establishments up and down Georgia, are slowly improving themselves one at a time. Together, they're creating a belt of diverse, real-deal, Jane Jacobs-style (she wrote The Death and Life of Great American Cities, but more about that later) urbanity between the gentrification of Downtown Silver Spring to the north and Petworth to the south.

Silver Spring, Singular reported that a shooting happened in Downtown Silver Spring following the parade, guessing that it might've been at a related party. I can't verify that, but I thought it was a good opportunity to show a different side of the Caribbean Carnival and Georgia Avenue. Check out this slideshow of this year's Carnival right here.

Friday, June 27, 2008

b'ville charrette: stuart rochester responds

Part THREE in a series about last week's Burtonsville Community Legacy Plan Charrette. Check out parts ONE and TWO, where we discussed the charrette and plans to revitalize Route 198.

Wednesday's Gazette says there "seemed to be a consensus" for keeping Burtonsville more or less the same among residents at last week's charrette, but I don't think it was so cut-and-dry. I was disappointed that writer Amber Parcher couldn't find anyone - and there were quite a few - that endorsed more dramatic changes to Burtonsville's struggling village center.

That being said, I wanted to offer a different take on the revitalization of Burtonsville and the greater debate over how East County should grow. Local activist Stuart Rochester, who helped guide the 1997 Fairland Master Plan, was concerned about how he was portrayed in Part Two of our series on the charrette. He asked me to post the following responses, which I have not edited.

Dan: I have had a lot of respect for you until your recent characterization of my remarks at the Burtonsville charrette, which were inaccurate to the point of caricature. First of all, I was speaking at the charrette on behalf of my table; you may have offered your own opinions, but we were instructed to convey the consensus of our table, not our own individual views.

so much more AFTER THE JUMP . . .

Secondly, neither I nor anyone at my table used the word "undesirables," nor did was this even implied except in terms of an undesirable housing mix or jobs-housing ratio from the standpoint of PRECISELY a healthy, DIVERSIFIED community. (Nancy Navarro's reference in her blog comment to alleged use of code-words when she was not even present to hear the exchange was irresponsible, and I will let my disappointment with someone who aspires to be our councilmember taking a cheap shot in absentia go at that.)

Third, your characterization of me being "worried" as I approached you in the parking lot when in fact all I wanted to do was clear the air was the worst kind of racial profiling that you yourself rightfully find so offensive.

Finally, I stand by my position that communities and schools that work are ones that are balanced socio-economically and demographically; if you feel otherwise or want to argue, we could have a fair debate but if you feel otherwise or want to argue semantics, we could have a reasonable debate, but don't demonize or caricature views you do not agree with. I would appreciate your posting this as a response item on your blog, which I was not able to access to post. Thank you, and I hope we can continue a mutually respectful conversation on this important subject in the future.

Later, Stuart Rochester e-mailed me again with another response which elaborates on what we first talked about after the charrette ended Thursday night.

I appreciate your response to my concerns. To continue to have influence and credibility, you have an obligation to report accurately. I am not denying there is racism in our society, among some residents of Burtonsville as well.

But the argument I was making goes beyond race and even beyond references to "affordable housing." The thrust of my conversation was that too many RENTAL units, as has occurred on the east side of US 29, adversely affects the community and its schools, and not because people who live in apartments are somehow inherently bad or undesirable but because proportionately they are not as vested in the community and because they create a turnover/mobility problem that affects PTAs, the continuity and quality of instruction in the classroom, teacher load and morale, etc. And they are not as likely to improve and maintain the properties they inhabit, for understandable reasons (I mentioned Tom Friedman's point, that "no one ever washes a rental car").

Moreover, this is not to say we should not have rental housing in the area but that we should not have disproportionate concentrations, which result in exactly the kind of segregation that rightfully upsets you. So the situation, and my views, are much more complicated than you portrayed them.

What really disappointed me, angered me, was your gratuitous comments about getting into a "white Lexus" and approaching you "after dark" and "looking worried". That kind of racial profiling I find every bit as offensive as you would, and has no place in civilized discussion; I still do not even understand what you meant by that crap. So let's both try to do better to explain what are earnest, legitimate concerns on both sides.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

what's up the pike: giving and taking

The reconstruction of the Silver Spring Metro may not get as much funding as it needs according to a new proposal from County Executive Ike Leggett.

Two years have passed since the fateful flood that gave rise to Just Up The Pike, and I'm proud that I've been able to keep it up, unlike so many of my other grand projects that flame out shortly after getting started. The past two years have been a wild ride, meeting people, traveling the county, making friends and losing a few as well. Here's to another year of writing about the place that I love most - and, to kick it off, here's a look at what's happening around East County:

- It's become clear this week: so shall Ike Leggett giveth, so shall he taketh away. Right after throwing more money at the promoters who'll run the Fillmore music hall in Downtown Silver Spring, County Executive Leggett proposes cutting funds from the Paul Sarbanes Transit Center, a $50 million reconstruction of the existing Silver Spring Metro station. The transit center would expand the capacity of what is currently the state's second-largest transportation hub, bringing local and regional bus service together along with the Purple Line.

Like the Fillmore, the Sarbanes Transit Center is the centerpiece of a large mixed-use development with offices, hotels and possibly residential units. Planning Board Chairman Royce Hanson says the cost-cutting threatens "important design elements" of the project, including the location of a police station and transit store.

- As one East County private school embarks on an ambitious expansion, another struggles to pay its monthly rent. The Chelsea School, a facility for learning-disabled students just outside of Downtown, just embarked on a fundraising campaign to build a Daniel Libeskind-designed addition to their campus. Meanwhile, the Newport School, currently located on Tech Road in Calverton, can't even keep their doors open for next year if their landlord doesn't cut rents.

Both schools have a long history in the area, and in recent years, both have also had to change locations frequently. The Newport School lost three-fourths of their enrollment when they moved to their current space in an office park, administrators said, crippling their ability to raise funds.

Dear reader: thanks for reading! We hope you'll keep coming back again and again. You are why Just Up The Pike has kept going strong.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

roundabouts, or how to make a big traffic impact for little cost

A car gingerly navigates the new roundabout at Fairland Road, Musgrove Road and Marlow Farm Terrace in Deer Park.

A story in this month's Atlantic Monthly talks about the unexpected peril of excessive road signs, which the author argues is a distraction to drivers who could otherwise be paying attention to the road and things in the road instead of next to it. While his suggestion that we should do away with highway signs together - as they've been trying to throughout Europe - kind of scares me, I can agree that our roads could use less visual clutter.

While Montgomery County's been pretty gung-ho about speed cameras - which force drivers to slow down because of a machine by the side of the road, not because of actual people that might be hurt - they are looking at other ways to help motorists and pedestrians deal with one another. Last year, they built a roundabout, or smaller traffic circle, at Old Columbia Pike and Perrywood Drive outside of Banneker Middle School, and it's been the talk-of-the-town in Burtonsville ever since. (Whether or not to build roundabouts on Route 198 was a minor controversy at last week's Burtonsville charrette.)

In my neighborhood of Deer Park, just north of Calverton, the county's building three roundabouts along Fairland Road east of Route 29. It's a guarantee that soon they'll be festooned with signs and warnings in obnoxious colors. For the time being, the roundabouts - still under construction at Brahms Avenue and Musgrove Road; a third is underway at Galway Drive near Galway Elementary School - are a simple and elegant solution to pedestrian-motorist conflicts.

so much more AFTER THE JUMP . . .

This new roundabout is one of three Montgomery County is building along Fairland Road at Brahms Avenue, Musgrove Road/Marlow Farm Terrace, and Galway Drive. Below: the project also includes new sidewalks and jogging paths along Fairland Road.

Why? Because everybody has to pay attention and everybody wins. Traffic on Fairland Road isn't impeded by another stoplight, but the roundabouts force drivers to slow down and become more aware of their surroundings. Motorists have to communicate constantly with pedestrians and other motorists in order to enter or exist the roundabout. No sign can tell you if you can or can't go, and that's the clincher.

Because of the roundabout, the intersection of Fairland and Musgrove which, growing up, had been a site of many near-death experiences running from my house to a friend's house on the other side of the road, is suddenly a place of order and - dare I say it - repose. And we haven't even gotten pretty flowers planted in the middle of the roundabout yet!

East County's never been good to its pedestrians, which is unfortunate for a community with a lot of young people and a lot of buses to catch. The Cherry Hill, Briggs Chaney and Route 198 interchanges were proposed with the intention of giving pedestrians an easier time, and perhaps they have, because anything's easier than running across six lanes of Route 29. But the cars don't have to slow down or even stop anymore, and that doesn't help you when all you've got are your own two feet and luck.

If we're going to be serious about pedestrian safety, we have to give drivers a reason to pay attention to them. Signs and cameras may help increase the scare potential for motorists, but they won't make it any safer to cross a busy road.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

what's up the pike: money money money charrette

County Executive Ike Leggett throws a little more money at the Fillmore. Is Live Nation threatening to jump ship? Let's not jump (ha!) to conclusions.

- Greater Greater Washington, one of the region's best blogs on what's happening inside-the-Beltway, gave a nice long mention to our mini-series on last week's Burtonsville charrette. It's not all too often that a JUTP post gets this much attention - you'll want to get on the commenting bandwagon before the cool kids move on to the next big local blog story.

- County Executive Ike Leggett's working hard to make sure that Live Nation, whose proposed Fillmore music hall will take over the former J.C. Penney building on Colesville Road, stays in the game. In addition to $2 million in State funds, Live Nation will also get $800,000 in tax breaks from Montgomery County over the next ten years. Lee Development Group, who owns the land and a good chunk of the block bordered by Colesville, Georgia, Cameron and Fenton, will get up to fifteen years to develop a hotel-and-office complex behind the venue. That's triple the five-year deadline made by Park and Planning for submitted plans to be built.

I'm surprised by that, because I'd assume a developer would want to get his building up as quickly as possible. Then again, it's been long enough since we last heard about the Fillmore that I assumed it'd already opened. Perhaps I'm just impatient.

- Rising gas prices have forced Montgomery County Public Schools to cut bus service to a wider net of students living near a school. Currently, students within a mile of an elementary school, a mile and a half of a middle school, and two miles of a high school cannot ride the school bus. While the School Board hasn't decided what the new distances will be, I can't help but wonder: seriously? Back when I went to Eubie High, I had a friend who lived just a mile away and rode the bus. There are no sidewalks between his house and the school, and he'd have to cross busy Route 28 to get there.

Could MCPS really take away bus service from neighborhoods where walking to school would actually be dangerous? (More importantly, would The Parents ever let that happen? Seriously? No.)

Monday, June 23, 2008

b'ville charrette: defining "undesirable" (updated)

part TWO of a series on last week's Burtonsville Community Legacy Plan Charrette. Check out part ONE, where myself and a few local residents try to chart a new path for Burtonsville's village center.

Table 6 tries to reconcile the "old" Burtonsville with plans to redevelop its village center at last week's charrette.

After the discussion period, each of the six tables appointed a speaker who told the entire charrette what their group had come up with for Burtonsville's village center. While our table had tentatively embraced mixed-uses and increased density on a strip of Route 198 between Old Columbia Pike and Route 29, others were decidedly against it. One table advocated implementing "green design" in new construction, but insisted on keeping parking out front of the stores, even if they had to face away from Route 198.

"We don't want to attract undesirables," says a speaker from another table, suggesting that the village green proposed in every option we'd been given for the site would be a draw for crime. The "village green," currently three acres of unkempt County-owned land behind Tony's Garage, was first discussed in the Fairland Master Plan eleven years ago. while local activist Stuart Rochester - who served on a citizens advisory board for the Master Plan - argued that the inclusion of affordable housing would be "contrary" to the plan's goal of increasing diversity.

I gritted my teeth as I got up to speak for my table. People can be NIMBYs all they want . . . but "undesirable"? Did someone really say that? No matter what they meant by it, their words pointed straight to the predominantly-black apartments on Castle Boulevard, the townhouses of Greencastle, the kids hanging out on corners and parking lots or riding the Z9 bus into Downtown Silver Spring. I have friends in Greencastle. I had family not too far away.

I hoped this was a misunderstanding.

so much more AFTER THE JUMP . . .

All-residential and mixed-use concepts for redeveloping a portion of Route 198 between Old Columbia Pike and Route 29.

Calmly, I explained the conclusions my group had come to and when I was done, I turned to Stuart Rochester. "I wanted to address those speakers who referred to the 'undesirables' in East County," I added. "I do not believe there are any 'undesirable' people in my community, especially not in this gathering place we are trying to create. We need to make it welcoming, and we need to make it safe. But we are not going to keep people out. That is not the community I want to live in."

The room roared in applause. Don Hauprich, speaking for Table 5, jumped to the village green's defense, saying that it makes Burtonsville a destination. "There are people who like to go out at night with the family or with other people," says Hauprich, youth pastor at Liberty Grove United Methodist Church. "And it isn't always unseemly behavior."

Table 6 seemed to agree, saying they liked the idea of "bringing back a sense of what the town is," in the words of one speaker who recalled when Burtonsville Day parades were held in the village center as opposed to down Old Columbia Pike by the Praisner Library. "We liked Kentlands, we liked Seaside, but not as homogenized," she continues, referring to the products of more famous charrettes, "but we liked the idea of making some order in the space."

After the meeting, Hauprich says it's important to help older residents understand that development can be an asset. As a father, youth pastor and former president of the Paint Branch High School PTSA, he's interested in creating spaces for younger people to call their own, even if some people he knows would "rather poke their eyes out than go to Downtown Silver Spring," he says. "Your best bet is to get the seventy-year-old people to understand we're not bringing crime," adds Hauprich. "you may fight change, but the world is gonna change around you."

He points out that many businesses in the village center don't last long. "I don't want people to panic about 'oh, old Joe's Lawnmower Shop,'" he says. "Businesses have turned over in the past ten years, and it's not because they jacked the rents. The place is a dump."

The Bedding Barn at Route 198 and Route 29 is a local mainstay and, to many, a symbol of Burtonsville's past.

By the time I've finished talking to Hauprich, it's 9:30 and the school parking lot is empty. Chuck Crisostomo from the East County Regional Services Center is carrying display boards out to a little Chevy with the county seal on it. Stuart Rochester is leaning against his car, talking to another gentleman. "I want to have a word with you," he says the other man walks away.

I approach cautiously. It's dark, and we're more or less alone. We've known each other for roughly a year now, and Stuart Rochester has since been a good source for quotes at events throughout East County. (In fact, I last interviewed him little more than a week earlier.) He begins speaking quietly without stopping to take a breath. I put my notebook away, assuming he wants this to be off-the-record, but take it out again and start writing, and he doesn't object.

"I have seen this community brought down by transients," Stuart Rochester begins. "Too many rentals. I am not opposed to affordable housing, as long as it's not the type exploited by absentee landlords . . . too many townhouses, too many Section 8. And it's the poorest communities, Avonshire [a townhouse development at Briggs Chaney and 29], the Boulevard, that will be affected the most."

I bite my lip. I think of my cousin, who raised a daughter in an apartment in Aston Woods before moving to Calverton; my mother, who jumped back into real estate after a long hiatus by working neighborhoods like Avenshire and the Boulevard; a white friend from high school who, growing up in Greencastle, was forbidden to leave her house for fear of crime. "Then who are the 'undesirables'?" I ask.

Boarding the Z9 bus to Silver Spring at Old Columbia Pike and Briggs Chaney Road, south of Burtonsville.

"I do not believe any human being is 'undesirable,'" Rochester replies. "Healthy communities require a proportionate share of home ownership and a healthy socioeconomic balance. Our area in the 1980's took on so many MPDUs that we fell into imbalance in terms of our turnover rate in our housing. And what they call the "mobility rate" in our schools. Greencastle Elementary has one of the highest turnover rates in the County! I think diversity is important, but you want it to be a healthy diversity in terms of demographics."

"But you're not going to fix Greencastle Elementary by building a bunch of single-family houses," I reply. "This goes to the deeper root of the issue, within those neighborhoods, those households."

"Listen," Rochester implores. "The Dutch Market was important because it brought people together, across generations, across races . . . that was what was special about the Dutch Market, and that's what we need. Places that transcend race and class and bring us together as a community."

As a student of planning, can I disagree with Stuart Rochester that building thousands of apartments within the span of a couple of years is a horrible idea? But can I accuse all of their tenants of "bringing down" my community? And what exactly is this "healthy diversity"? How would you set these quotas?

And that's when it hits me. For twenty years Burtonsville had its "gathering place," at least three days a week, where all sorts of people from all over the region could come and shop and eat and mingle. You could get a whole roomful of consultants together and not come up with something as wonderful, and now it's gone. Sure, it's only moved to Laurel, you say, but it's not really the same. How much harder will it be for us to come together
- on this charrette, on the revitalization as a whole - when the one thing that brought us together is gone?

Friday, June 20, 2008

charrette launches debate over future, present of burtonsville's center (updated)

Part ONE on a series about the Burtonsville Community Legacy Plan charrette. Check out part TWO, in which we discuss the proposed "Village Green" and so-called "undesirables" in East County.

East County residents tackled the future of Burtonsville's village center last night for the Community Legacy Plan charrette, initiated by the county to create recommendations for how to redevelop the Route 198 corridor.

A discussion of how to improve Burtonsville's village center grew into a debate over demographics and crime in East County at last night's Community Legacy Plan charrette, held at Burtonsville Elementary School on Route 198.

As Burtonsville has evolved from a rural crossroads to a growing suburb, the community has grappled with the accompanying economic and social changes. Local businesses have been suffering since the completion of the Burtonsville Bypass in 2006; today, the small village center faces threats from new developments under construction in Howard and Prince George's counties.

In response, Montgomery County has hired two consulting firms to draft a list of recommendations for how the community should grow. Annapolis-based Basile Baumann Prost Cole and Associates will determine the redevelopment's economic feasibility, whileRhodeside and Harwell of Alexandria, is charged with urban design.

Route 198 as it exists now.

The consultants talked about the challenges faced by a community whose own residents had described it as "country but convenient." While it stands to benefit from nearby development, the village center struggles to remain relevant - regionally or locally. The streets are congested and disconnected; a slew of different owners with different agendas make the area look messy and disorganized; and the recent loss of the Dutch Country Farmers Market to a shopping center in Laurel destroys Burtonsville's one main draw.

so much more AFTER THE JUMP . . .

Residents look at different proposals for the Burtonsville village center before the charrette.

Charrettes are design workshops in which public officials and the general public get together to tackle a proposed development or community plan. The iconic New Urban development Kentlands, in Gaithersburg, was first planned by charrette twenty years ago; in 2003, many of the original participants got together again to plot the community's future. Closer to home, the Planning Department held a multi-day charrette for its SilverPlace headquarters development in Downtown Silver Spring earlier this month.

Last night's charrette is part of a three-month-long process to determine how to encourage economic development in the the Community Legacy Plan area, centered on the Route 198 corridor between Old Columbia Pike and Route 29. In August, the consultants will review the results from the charrette and return with more specific proposals.

The audience was broken up into six groups, each of which coming to its own conclusions about how a portion of the village center should be redeveloped. I was seated at Table 4, with a pretty eclectic group - Dr. Robert Lennon, a pastor representing the Wyndham Woods Homeowners' Association; Mara Parker, aide to Councilmember Marc Elrich; programmer Thomas Meylan, who lives in Greencastle Woods; Roni Polisar, who lives near the Patuxent, and her husband Barry, a folk singer who recently appeared on the Juno soundtrack.

Scribbled-over maps and drawings at Table 4.

As my table pored over proposal maps and photographs of example projects, the challenge seemed to be how to maintain the "small-town" feel so many people associate with Burtonsville within the need to grow. "What I like about Burtonsville is the remnants of its rural past," says Roni. "Burtonsville is the last rural outpost of Eastern Montgomery County." We all seemed to agree that the answer lay in a lot between the school and Route 198 proposed to become a "village green" in the Fairland Master Plan, drafted in 1997.

As Parker tried to figure out ways to draw visitors to the space from buildings pushed up against the road, Barry joked about adding an elaborate fountain, a rickshaw and even a mini-Roman Colosseum to spice up the area - a response, he said, to some of the more unrealistic suggestions we heard from the neighboring tables. Roni, meanwhile, mused about what made the village center so unpleasant to begin with. "I was thinking what was so unfortunate about the suburban experience," she says. "It's the parking lots."

Each of the four options offered by the consultants took parking off of Route 198 and moved it in back as a way of making the road more pedestrian-friendly. Option 1, which proposed only minor cosmetic changes to the existing buildings, was largely rejected at our table, as was as Option 3, which proposed replacing everything with apartment buildings. Without any businesses, there was no reason for anyone outside of the apartments to visit, laments Meylan, who was concerned about losing the existing businesses he frequents in the area. "Anything that reduces retail reduces my reason to be there," he says.

Many people liked Option 2, which nearly tripled the amount of commercial uses along Route 198. Barry was concerned that new buildings demanding higher rents would replace local businesses with "Starbucks, Starbucks and Starbucks," he says. Our table's mediator, consultant Kate Shiflet, suggested that an all-commercial development may not be feasible. "Without a residential component, redevelopment isn't going to happen," says Shiflet, who works for Basile Baumann Prost Cole and Associates.

A model of the Arts District Hyattsville development, one of many precedents for Burtonsville's revitalization. Photo courtesy of Chip Py.

That brought us to Option 4, which offered a mix of retail space, apartments, and live-work units. Roni was concerned about the density, but I suggested that live-work buildings - rowhouses with retail or studio space on the bottom floor and living space above - might be an affordable way for local merchants to remain in Burtonsville. She liked pictures the consultants gave us of the live-work units in Arts District Hyattsville (a development Just Up The Pike wrote about last fall), calling it "historic, but still with a small-town feel."

While all of us at Table 4 came from different backgrounds and had different ideas of how Burtonsville should look, we'd come to a pretty solid understanding of what we liked and didn't like about the four proposals. One thing was clear: we weren't opposed to change. If anything, we wanted to talk about improving the rest of the village center. The study area didn't include the shopping centers north of Route 198, including the Burtonsville Shopping Center - home to the Dutch Country Farmers Market - which will be redeveloped later this year.

"One thing that surprised me was the truncated scale," says Meylan. "I was expecting a little bit more of a comprehensive approach . . . a piecemeal approach gets piecemeal results."

to be continued . . .

what's up the pike: getting things done

The Chelsea School has launched a fundraising campaign for a striking addition to their current facility in Downtown Silver Spring.

Just Up The Pike took part in last night's Burtonsville Community Legacy Plan Charrette, where the future of a little town on the edge of East County seems, well, more muddled than ever. As we sort out the pieces, here's a look at some local developments that are, well, developing:

- Ellsworth Drive is poised to crash through the architectural vanguard with as the Chelsea School has hired "starchitect" Daniel Libeskind's firm to design an addition to their small campus off of Cedar Street. Libeskind, who may be best known for his still-unbuilt Freedom Tower in New York City, was contacted by the headmaster of the small school for learning-disabled students, which has launched a fundraising campaign to have the addition built.

Sheathed in glass and steel, the expansion consists of a new library meant to resemble an open book. In deference to the surrounding Seven Oaks-Evanswood community, the addition - and the school's new entrance - will be located on the Ellsworth Drive side towards Downtown, while existing bulidings facing the neighborhood will merely be rehabbed.

- The Prince George's County Planning Board enthusiastically approved a concept plan for Konterra Town Center, a large mixed-use project that'll serve as the centerpiece to the sprawling mini-city outside of Laurel. With 488 acres and 4,500 residential units, the project is larger than the King Farm development in Rockville; its nearly six million square feet of commercial space is nearly ten times that of the Downtown Silver Spring redevelopment. Developer Kingdon Gould must be excited about seeing Konterra inching closer to reality, given his first proposal for it was rejected by the Planning Board a quarter-century ago. "When you bring good stuff, you don’t have to fight," gushed Vice Chairman Sylvester Vaughns.

LATER: the Burtonsville charrette turns into a debate on who and what is welcome in East County.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

residents debate access to "green" white oak rec center

A rendering of the proposed White Oak Recreation Center on April Lane. Check out earlier drawings of the project right here. (warning! PDF file.)

Green design was the key phrase at last night's community forum for the proposed White Oak Recreation Center, but resident concerns about pedestrian access threatened to sink the planners' environmentalism.

Roughly twenty people came to a presentation about the facility at the White Oak Library, roughly a mile away from the recreation center's future site near the corner of Stewart and April lanes. Officials from the Department of Recreation gave a presentation about the kinds of programs the facility will offer, while the architects talked about their goal for LEED Silver certification.

LEED - standing for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design - is a 69-point rating system created by the U.S. Green Building Council and used to reward environmentally-friendly or energy-efficient construction. Environmentally-sensitive features that will appear in the recreation center include porous paving surfaces for parking lots, window fins to direct natural light and reduce glare, and a geothermal heating system.

While the center was first proposed twelve years ago, the design process only began last winter and has gone through several iterations in an attempt to strike a balance between a difficult site, a complex program, and the LEED rating. "We have been significantly around and around" on the design, said Jeffrey Bourne from the Department of Recreation. The department is working with local firm Grimm + Parker on this and another recreation center currently under construction in Layhill.

so much more AFTER THE JUMP . . .

Plans for the proposed recreation center. At 33,000 square feet, it would be one of Montgomery County's largest.

At 33,000 square feet, the facility would be one of the Montgomery County's largest, featuring two gyms, a computer lab, classrooms, a "community lounge" for senior citizens, and social hall capable of holding two hundred people opening out onto a deck with views of the woods and possibly the Paint Branch.

Outside, the center would include basketball and tennis courts, two small playgrounds, a multi-purpose field, and a so-called "skate spot," slated to be the East County's first skate park. The fields and skate spot are located on the street, not only because it was the only flat land on the site, but because of neighborhood concerns, explains Steve Parker, one of two principals at Grimm + Parker, an architecture firm with offices in Calverton and Bethesda.

"These people saw this as their front yard," Parker said, referring to the apartments directly across the street.

Residents who lived further up New Hampshire Avenue expressed concerns about the site's accessibility. Earlier proposals for the recreation center placed it in Martin Luther King, Jr. Park in the Springbrook Village neighborhood. That location was closer to schools and in an area known for a high concentration of families, but it was further away from the concentration of apartments along Lockwood Drive and Stewart Lane, where the bulk of the facility's users would come. The current site, most of which is unbuildable due to steep slopes and the Paint Branch stream valley, is closer to the apartments.

A site analysis reveals the difficulties architects and the Department of Recreation face in locating the recreation center and its outdoor amenities.

"I'm concerned about kids - at Springbrook [High], at White Oak [Middle], at other schools - and seniors accessing this, because it's a little out of the way," said one woman.

One gentleman was unsure how far people within the White Oak neighborhood would be willing to travel to the recreation center, given it was a quarter-mile from the nearest bus stop. "How far will people walk, how far will people bike, how far will people take a bus?" he asked. "Where's the data?"

Amy Upton, one of the project architects, pointed to the inclusion of bike lockers and preferred parking for carpoolers as ways the recreation center could discourage driving. "The site is the site," she said. "We're doing the best we can."

Bourne explained that the Department of Recreation had derived a two-to-three-mile range of potential users for the complex. A representative from the Department of Parks chimed in, stating that there were 7,500 people living within a half-mile of the site and 10,000 people living within three-quarters of a mile, which made walking or biking a possibility for many residents.

"When you think about it, it's very accessible," said Steve Parker. "When you look at Wheaton Regional Park, it's not in the Wheaton town center, but it's in a residential area . . . the building wants to be in the green space."

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

money, idealism spent at this year's silverdocs festival

This week marks the start of Silverdocs, the yearly documentary film festival hosted by the American Film Institute and held at our very own AFI Silver Theatre downtown. Actually going to see a movie at Silverdocs has long been a goal here at Just Up The Pike. I'm still smarting from the scars earned two years ago from waiting in line to see The Great Happiness Space only to be turned away just twenty minutes before it started.

Over the next week (the festival has been extended from its usual six days; it runs from yesterday through June 22) you can expect to see a flood of snooty film types downtown, throwing around five-dollar words, ten-dollar tips and probably making snide comments about how "contrived" Ellsworth Drive is.

At least, for the first day or two. Events like Silverdocs are good publicity for the area, both nationally and on a local scale as well. Long stereotyped as either a derelict city or an unenlightened suburb, Silver Spring has the opportunity this week to show the world - from Brussels to Bethesda - that it's a thriving, sophisticated sort of place, with lovely shops and its own Metro stop and all sorts of foreign foods you can't pronounce.

Hopefully, our visitors will return home with stories not just about the movies they saw but about the people they met and the times they had right here. That's probably a ridiculously hopeful thing to hope for, but it's summer, and youthful idealism is the only thing that keeps one from wilting in the unforgiving sun like a hothouse flower.

As for me, I'll try once again to see a movie at Silverdocs - I'm gunning for Bird's Nest, Bi The Way, or Chevolution - in the hopes that overwhelming interest does not lock this humble blogger out of a showing. We'll see how that goes. (So much for youthful idealism, right?)

Monday, June 16, 2008

hungry? dirty clothes?

This map provided by WSSC shows areas on water use restriction after this morning's water main breaks. If you live in the pink area, you might want to start boiling your water. Maybe.

UPDATE: You can wash clothes and dishes, but you might want to keep a pot of water on the stove.

If you don't have food at home, you're out of luck: Montgomery County has ordered restaurants in areas affected by this morning's water main breaks in Derwood and Wheaton to close up shop "until further advised," as announced by County Executive Ike Leggett barely an hour ago:
Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett, joined by County Health Officer Dr. Ulder J. Tillman, today ordered food service facilities, including restaurants, fast food outlets, food markets and mobile food trucks, to remain closed until further advised . . .

“Nothing is more important than protecting the health of our families,” said Leggett. “Until WSSC can assure us that restaurants have an adequate supply of potable water to perform all of their food preparation and serving activities, we must issue this directive. I hope this will only be necessary for a very few days. We are working closely with WSSC in order to minimize the impact of this directive.”
The county's already placed water use restrictions on a vast swath of the east side, including Wheaton, Glenmont, Olney, Ashton and Sandy Spring, Cloverly, Colesville, Fairland, West Laurel, and parts of White Oak, Calverton and Burtonsville. (Check out maps at the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission's website to see if you're affected.) For the next three days, local residents are advised to boil water used for drinking, cooking or cleaning food, while doing laundry or running the dishwasher is forbidden.

Finally: if you live in Congressional District 4, don't forget to vote in the special election tomorrow. You can find your polling place here.

IMPACT picnic brings immigrant communities together

IMPACT Silver Spring, a local non-profit helping to bridge the divide between immigrant communities in the Downcounty, held a Community-Wide Picnic last Saturday in Takoma Park.

It looked like a normal summer get-together, with radio hits playing over a boombox, children with painted faces, and plates of hamburgers fresh off the gril. But IMPACT Silver Spring's "Community-Wide Picnic," held last Saturday at Takoma-Piney Branch Park, had higher aspirations.

"You can see all the diversity," says program director Winta Teferi. "It's important to create a strong network of people who are connected across lines of race and language. Sometimes you come to a place and you stay with the people you know."

IMPACT Silver Spring was founded nine years ago as a response to the Downcounty's rapidly changing demographics, representing the area's newly forming immigrant communities while also teaching people to advocate for themselves. Their picnic sought to bring together alumni of their Neighborhood IMPACT program, which helped renters build coalitions within apartment complexes, and IMPACT in the Schools, which encourages parents to get involved in their children's education as a means of decreasing the achievement gap between minority students and their white counterparts.

While the dual programs help people become involved in their community, political office is rarely seen as a goal, Teferi explains. "We emphasize the idea of working with others," she says. "We encourage them to work together starting from small improvements in their communities . . . we believe that big changes start very small."

so much more AFTER THE JUMP . . .

Program director Winta Teferi poses with a local resident.

Sara Mussie, a Downcounty resident of sixteen years, went through the IMPACT in the Schools program before becoming a staff member. A mother of Ethiopian descent, Mussie wasn't accustomed to working alongside her kids' teachers because of her culture's faith in their authority, she explains. "My parents hardly came to [my] school because that was the culture. There was no connection between," says Mussie. "We encourage them to have communication with the teachers."

Originally, Mussie was skeptical about the program. "I felt that I was doing good with my children," she says. "With the teacher I had no relationship. I would say 'hi,' 'bye,' go to the Parent-Teacher Conference once a year, that was it. I never advocated for my child. Once I started going through the program, that really helped me . . . and I could help others as well."

The program aims to help immigrant parents adjust to the social and cultural norms of American schools. "We give six-week-long workshops for parents how to help your child at home, how to work with the school system," explains Mussie. "It's very interactive . . . like a discussion forum. We give them the tools, how to ask the right questions, how to use a calendar."

Intern Megan Moriarty became interested about Neighborhood IMPACT after writing about it for her Community Planning program at the University of Maryland, where she graduated with a Master's degree last month. As a renter in Falkland Chase, Moriarty relates well to the individuals she works with.

"I think the same issues come up if you're a renter in Silver Spring or Takoma Park or D.C.," says Moriarty. "Same complaints, the same difficulties of being renters . . . IMPACT embraces it. What can we do to work with property managers, to work with our neighbors, to make our communities better places."

After both of IMPACT's programs wrapped up for the spring, those involved in the organization were anxious for a way to bring its members together. "We have two programs, one for renters and one for parents and we don't really do anything for both," Moriarty says. "It's a good way to get people involved and grow the network, if you will." After considering a retreat and softball team, a picnic "seemed like the easiest thing to pull off in the short term," she adds.

An Olney native, Moriarty left the Washington area for college, studying at the University of Colorado and in Costa Rica before returning for graduate school. As she becomes more involved with groups like IMPACT Silver Spring, leaving again seems increasingly difficult. "I left and never thought I'd be back," says Moriarty. "The last couple of years in Silver Spring, I can't imagine leaving now. The more you become connected, the more you understand how things work. I can't imagine doing that over somewhere else."

Friday, June 13, 2008

JUTP interviewed on rockville central radio

Continuing with this week's theme of "How Could You Possibly Consider This To Be East County," I appeared on Rockville Central Radio, an online talk show hosted by Brad Rourke and Cindy CG of Rockville Central, the premier Rockville blog and a resource I encourage you to check out.

We talked about how Just Up The Pike got started, Don Praisner's first week in the County Council, and the Dutch Country Farmers' Market in Burtonsville. Check out the interview right here - if you're impatient, fast forward about fourteen minutes.

what's up the pike: friday the what?

MTA's proposed transit center at University and New Hampshire in Takoma Park would collect several local bus routes and the Purple Line into one consolidated facility.

We're a little all over the place at JUTP this week. Here's a look at what going on as we head into the weekend:

- The MTA promises that a proposed transit center at University and New Hampshire can boost development in the Takoma-Langley Crossroads, but ridership numbers aren't enough to convince the Taco Bell currently at that corner to give up its location.

- Today, I'll be interviewed on Rockville Central Radio, an online radio show hosted by Brad Rourke from Rockville Central, representing the other Pike in Montgomery County. The show's at noon; you can listen to it here.

- Voters in the 4th Congressional District, which includes a healthy chunk of East County, get a head start on November with a special election next Tuesday to replace Congressman Al Wynn (at left), who resigned after losing the Democratic primary to Donna Edwards in February. Edwards will be running against Republican Peter James of Germantown, who's profiled in the Post today.

I've never met Peter James, though he did take me to task (in a comment I can't currently find) for not talking to him after a candidates' forum last April. James and Edwards will be running again in November - by then, hopefully, we'll be able to talk to both candidates in depth.

- Speaking of people I'd like to talk to: Just Up The Pike is developing a little planner-crush on Rollin Stanley (pictured at right in 2004), the recently-appointed Planning Director for Montgomery County. An Ontario native, he cut his teeth revitalizing Toronto and St. Louis before Montgomery County tapped him to come down here. Earlier this week, he told the Greater Bethesda Chamber of Commerce this week that big houses will be "the next slums" and that future development will have to be smaller, and I'll bet everyone in that room had to pick their jaws off the ground.

Park and Planning did a little last-minute switcheroo on us when we tried to interview Stanley for our East County-unrelated story about 4 Bethesda Metro Center, but I'm looking forward to meeting him for reals. (Nothing's planned yet, of course.) Call it a new "Head-to-Head Tour," if you will, except there's only one stop.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

different views clash in developer spat over proposed bethesda tower

UPDATE: The Planning Board has unanimously rejected Meridian's proposal for 4 Bethesda Metro Center. Board member Jean Cryor says the building "overshot the mark. I am not opposed to seeing more development right there . . . But this building a couple of feet away from another building isn't it."

We know, Bethesda is NOT East County. But there's a photo of Downtown Bethesda in my room, one taken inside 3 Bethesda Metro Center, from which you can see the Silver Spring skyline. It's a view that may or may not exist in a couple of years. When I was asked to write this piece, all I had to do was look at my wall and I said "yes."

A rendering of the Meridian Group's 4 Bethesda Metro Center, a controversial proposed office building in Downtown Bethesda. Clark Enterprises, who owns 1 Bethesda Metro Center (at right), claims the building violates zoning restrictions.

Two summers ago, I interned at an architectural firm in Bethesda. Our office filled the entire floor of a building downtown; from one side, I could see out to Tysons Corner, and from the other, to Downtown Silver Spring. Staring out the window proved to be an excellent way to fight boredom. This week, the Planning Board will look at a proposed office building in Bethesda that could change the way Montgomery County’s downtowns are developing – and the way many office workers waste their time.

“Right as we're speaking, I’m looking down East-West Highway from the eighth floor of BMC 3,” says Bob Harris, lawyer for Holland and Knight. He’s representing the Meridian Group, whose proposed 4 Bethesda Metro Center would sit more or less in front of his office, atop a food court that most agree has seen better days. Will the new building block his view? It’s already blocked, says Harris, “by Frank Saul’s building, towards the north of Silver Spring.”

Frank Saul, or B.F. Saul II, is the chairman and founder of Chevy Chase Bank. His twin Chevy Chase Bank Towers sit directly across Wisconsin Avenue from the Metro Center, a complex Meridian purchased in 1999. “You can reportedly see the Tysons Corner skyline from his office,” a penthouse, says Harris, “and this would partially block the view.”

so much more AFTER THE JUMP . . .

Looking east from 3 Bethesda Metro Center towards Downtown Silver Spring in 2005. Most or some of this view would disappear behind 4 Bethesda Metro Center, if built.

But the view isn’t the only reason why Chevy Chase Bank, along with local developers Chevy Chase Land Company and Clark Enterprises, are opposing 4 Bethesda Metro Center in what the Washington Post calls a "struggle among real estate titans." As Adam Pagnucco explains on Maryland Politics Watch, it comes down to the process. The six-acre block known as Bethesda Metro Center, with its four 1980’s-era concrete towers, has reached the maximum density for its site.

Harris says a 1989 zoning law allows developers to include “any land attributable” to a property, including surrounding streets. Old Georgetown and Wisconsin are “public use easements,” he argues, given to the State and County to use but legally owned by Meridian, providing the additional land to give them a density bonus.

The method’s legality has been controversial. “We don't think it has any merits,” says communications director I.J. Hudson, representing Clark Enterprises, owners of 1 Bethesda Metro Center. “There were trails here before there were property rights,” he adds, pointing out that Wisconsin Avenue was once a Native American trail.

Hudson, who was a Channel 4 anchor for over two decades, works for Garson Claxton, located a few blocks away. He’s no fan of the Metro Center’s aesthetics – white concrete and tinted glass – but he and his client remain faithful to the project’s original vision.

“These people working on the urban study back in 1980 . . . they were talking about ‘smart growth’ before that word was used,” Hudson says in that smooth, encouraging TV voice. “The buildings aren’t the most attractive, you know, tastes change in architecture. But they followed the rules. This thing is built out.”

The Bethesda Metro Center plaza, seen from ten stories up. Saul's Chevy Chase Bank towers are to the left, and the BMC food court is at the bottom.

Montgomery County planner Josh Sloan disagrees. As project director for 4 Bethesda Metro Center, he’s confident that Meridian’s proposal is legit. “We're not setting a precedent with calculating the density this way,” Sloan says, pointing out that other developers have done the same. “If we thought that [the opponents’] claim was valid, we wouldn't have recommended approval.”

For over a year, Sloan and his staff worked with the developers, wrangling as best a product he could from their vision and what the zoning would allow. “We all had concerns about several things about the project, in the building, and typical review process we get input from all the divisions,” Sloan says.

Last fall, a series of memos were circulated by one staff member who argued that the proposal would burden local infrastructure without providing enough amenities. In response, Sloan made sure that Meridian would keep its promise to activate the windswept plaza below. As for the views? “The building is quite narrow, so it's not going to completely block it,” he offers.

“We really worked on the footprint of the building and accessibility through the building to increase pedestrian access and liven more areas of retail,” says Sloan. “The entire first floor is retail. It's more accessible than the building.”

Recent developments like Bethesda Row and Bethesda Lane (pictured) have drawn customers away from the nearly thirty-year-old Metro Center.

For Harris, whose office looks down on the plaza, the Meridian proposal could dramatically change his perspective. “I must confess that I don't always have my nose to the grindstone,” he says sheepishly. “I sometimes gaze out the window. I see the plaza seven times a week, almost always six times a week, and it has never performed the way people thought it should.”

The problems are numerous. “It's inaccessible,” he says. “It's hot in the summer because of the reflection off the white pre-cast buildings that surround it, and it's cold in the winter. It will get moderate use on a day when the temperature is between sixty-five and seventy-five degrees, and between the hours of twelve and one-thirty when the office workers are eating lunch. On the weekends it's particularly dead.”

“We believe that by putting an office building whose front door is on the plaza so it will draw people there to begin with,” says Harris. The Meridian Group is also in talks with restaurants like the Corner Bakery, whose presence in the building they hope will “encourage other restaurants to set up business there.”

To keep visitors from slipping away to Bethesda Row, Meridian promises “significant improvements to the plaza itself,” Harris says, including “landscaping and greenery” and “new water features that will draw people in.” The bus terminal below will be revitalized with artwork and new lighting.

Looking southwest from 3 Bethesda Metro Center, towards Bethesda Row.

They will also install a stage and screen for outdoor movies, an idea that came up in the developer’s meetings with the surrounding neighborhoods. Harris doesn’t say that won them over, but he hasn’t heard any complaints from the neighbors, either. “We have met with various civic associations,” he says. “To my knowledge, the ones that we met with have not opposed it.”

“Everyone agrees that the plaza space could be improved, probably quite a bit, but the answer is not to attach those improvements to a sixteen-story building,” says Hudson. “It goes against the master plan, it goes against the sector plan. It measures density in a way that no one else gets to do it.”

When it was drafted in 1994, the Bethesda CBD Sector Plan didn’t anticipate a fifth high-rise in the Metro Center, though it does recommend “[improving] visibility of the food court by modifying building entrances, fa├žade treatments, and lighting in a manner compatible with the surrounding buildings.”

Hudson would like to see “a smaller building, something less obnoxious than a huge building,” he says. “Open space is a premium in Bethesda these days . . . and there’s the matter of process.”

Whether or not Meridian’s method for measuring density is legal, their example could be repeated all across Montgomery County, fears Hudson. “What happens here, they kind of call it a ‘ground zero’ for what the county has to say about these sector plans,” Hudson says. “How important are they? If they can do it here, they can do it in your neighborhood.”

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

what's up the pike: more b'ville shopping center shenanigans

Congratulations! You're reading Just Up The Pike's 401st post! With our second anniversary coming up soon, JUTP is making a few changes to give You, The Reader, an easier time. First up: moving the "What's Up The Pike" segments, usually at the top of our posts, into a whole new post. After all, aren't our posts long enough as it is?

Anyway. From the Gazette:

- Developer Chris Jones tells the East County Citizens Advisory Board that his new Burtonsville Shopping Center will be the "greenest suburban retail" in the nation, but denies that he's snagged Giant from across the street as an anchor.

- Speaking of Burtonsville Shopping Center: the Burtonsville Post Office, which has been located in the shopping center for over ten years, was evicted because the Postal Service couldn't commit to a ten-year lease, says Jones. Councilmember Don Praisner fears they may not be able to relocate in Burtonsville but, then again, they can't exactly follow the Amish Market to Laurel, can they?

NEXT WEEK: Find out about the future of the White Oak Recreation Center and Burtonsville's village center at open forums next Wednesday and Thursday.

guest blog: district 4 unites

WHAT'S UP THE PIKE: Hearing for determining historical status of Falkland Chase postponed until July.

Just Up The Pike wasn't able to attend last Thursday's inaugural meeting for, a user-generated website for District 4 residents. We asked local activist and Aspen Hill resident Thomas Hardman, who created the website along with Burtonsville's Eileena York, to write a recap of the event, held at the Long and Foster branch office in Burtonsville Crossing.

On a clear June night, most of the members of the Burtonsville Business Association acted as hosts to visitors from other parts of the county. Aside from this writer, we had a delegation from the Northwood-Four Corners civic association. Ms. Barth, the president, gave out considerable information regarding the status of their mild feud with the County and Parks and Planning, which intend to convert their community park into a soccer field.

We also had an unaffiliated "drop in" from Colesville, who mentioned something about a strawberry festival this weekend, but didn't give more details. He helped start an interesting discussion on traffic issues, pedestrian safety, and hiker-biker trail plans.

As regards to the County and Planning's plans for the park, there has been longstanding contentions that the intended action will amount to spending tax money that nobody has for a project the locals don't want. The delegation was adamant that they've already invested considerable personal time, along the most ecologically sensible lines, to clear invasive species out of the area, and to promote a shared neighborhood space suitable for almost all uses other than field athletic sports.

so much more AFTER THE JUMP . . .

Thomas Hardman (this writer) had some questions about their experiences with respect to crime, inviting a contrast-and-compare examination of the respective approaches to cleaning up the parks pursuant to "crime prevention through environmental design." Ms. Barth pointed out that most of the overgrowth that obstructs a view of the parks - potentially creating a hiding place for crime - is in fact invasive vegetation. Indeed, this has been our experience at North Gate Park in Aspen Hill, at least at the edges of the park, where invasive vines created a mat that acted as a curtain. Simply removing the invasives over the last 5 years or so has resulted in much greater visibility in our park, and increased police activity in that area has made the park available again to the intended users, rather than a den of thieves.

We also heard more from myself and from Eileena York (of the BBA and Citizens Involved) on the intentions of our project. Eileena handled the organizational aspects as to times, dates, general purpose. I tried to elaborate on the philosophy.

All across District 4, and probably much of the rest of the county, you might have a set of neighborhoods, separated only by a stream or a major road. On either side of the divide, the houses are much the same, the issues are the same, the problems are the same, just as the same sun and moon shine on all alike. Yet each of these communities seems to deal with the county government and to seek remedy - for the same things - as individual communities. Each would benefit by more understanding of the neighboring communities, as commonalities would be come evident, and with commonality, perhaps a more unified and much larger set of petitioners to the County. Rather than dealing with each community as an isolated group, potentially playing zero-sum games of setting one against the other in a scramble for programs and funding, the County could be dealing with an entire Council District that has decided amongst themselves what they want and don't want. This would be a return to self-governance, to unity as a people, and potentially could be a check and balance against the tendencies of one-party governments towards top-down and occasionally arbitrary impositions of policy on the governed.

We don't know when or where our next meeting might be, yet, but at least this is a start. We will see how all of this unfolds over the next few years, as this is a long-term project at the very least. At the very best, who knows? It's utterly grass-roots which ought to please a certain type of Democrats and Independents, and if it gets results and helps hold down taxes while putting more power in the People and less in the government, sensible centrist Republicans ought to get on board as well. But party or ideology isn't the issue: the issue is increasing awareness and communication, and forming common cause to the public benefit.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

former councilmember praisner memorialized in library, recreation center

WHAT'S UP THE PIKE: TV plastic surgeon meets adoring fans at White Oak Sears; One-quarter of Guatemalan town has moved to Langley Park; Riders forced to pay fare on some Metrobuses during Code Red day.

Newly-elected Councilmember Don Praisner unveils a sign dedicating the Fairland Library to his wife Marilyn as County Executive Ike Leggett and Councilmembers George Leventhal, Mike Knapp and Duchy Trachtenberg look on. Check out this slideshow of the ceremony.

Over one hundred friends and supporters braved hundred-degree temperatures Saturday morning to dedicate two community facilities in Burtonsville to former Councilmember Marilyn Praisner (D-Calverton), who fought to ensure East County had the same amenities available in other areas.

"I know my mother is looking down on us, shaking her head, saying 'I don't deserve this," said Alison Klumpp, one of Praisner's two daughters, during a ceremony in front of the Marilyn J. Praisner Library and Community Recreation Center, formerly the Fairland Library and Community Recreation Center. "But you do for making this community a better place for children children and adults alike."

Family members, community leaders and elected officials offered memories of Praisner's life and career, which ended upon her passing away in February. Three students from Paint Branch High School played a musical tribute including a rendition of the song "My Way" by Frank Sinatra. The ceremony ended with an unveiling of three new signs - on both buildings and at the complex's entrance on Old Columbia Pike - bearing the former councilmember's name.

so much more AFTER THE JUMP . . .

County Executive Ike Leggett speaks about Marilyn Praisner's life as Don Praisner looks on.

County Executive Ike Leggett, who had been close friends with Praisner for several decades, spoke of loss and rebirth. "We're saddened that we do not have this brilliant mind, dedication to county, making sure what is done is right," said Leggett, speaking slowly and deliberately. "But now it is time to turn the page. A new beginning for this community . . . It's difficult because when we look at the challenges facing Montgomery County today we need Marilyn Praisner more than ever."

Leggett pointed to Old Columbia Pike, where Praisner had pushed for road improvements and expansion of Ride On service, as a lasting example of her work. "If you look down this street you'll see sidewalks up and down connecting schools, libraries, houses of worship," said Leggett. "We are connected because of Marilyn Praisner."

Widower Don Praisner, who won a special election last month to finish the rest of his wife's term, was visibly shaken as he made a brief statement during the ceremony. "It's a little difficult for me," he said, "but I want to thank all those voters in District 4 for voting for me . . . being retired for fifteen years, it's hard to go back and get a job."

Gene Neal, retired Program Manager for the Department of Recreation, talked about Praisner's fight to build the recreation center, which was not completed until 2002, seven years after the library. "Many facilities are named after people we don't even know," he said. "I don't think there's a person in Montgomery County that could say this isn't the right thing to do."

Students from Paint Branch High School, where all three Praisner children attended, play a musical tribute for Marilyn Praisner.

The unveiling ceremony was a relief for Klumpp, who with other family members has attended many events commemorating her mother's life over the past four months. "It's neat to know that my mom's name will live for a generation to come," says Klumpp, a teacher at Fairland Elementary School. "This is our culminating event . . . which I'm somewhat thankful for. It's so emotional to hear all these honors."

At-Large Councilmember Nancy Floreen, was glad to see the dedication made. "I think it's a great legacy for her," says Floreen, who served with Praisner since first being elected in 2002. "It's just horrible that it has come so soon . . . I still can't believe that she's not here."

Burtonsville resident Stuart Rochester, who worked with Praisner as chairman of the Fairland Master Plan Advisory Committee, recalled the "easy access" he and other citizens had to their councilmember. "I could call her at work, even on vacation," he says. "No one gave more generously of her time . . . we had a wonderful personal and civic relationship."

Don Praisner, who joined the County Council for its new session yesterday, expressed gratitude for the "outpouring of support" his wife received for her years of hard work. "I always questioned her 'why did you do all the things you did,'" he says, "and it's clear with all the support we've received. Even driving up and down Old Columbia Pike is still gonna bring back memories."

Monday, June 9, 2008

south silver spring breaks out with second-annual block party

Silver Spring-based Lloyd Dobler Effect was one of fifteen performing acts at yesterday's second-annual South Silver Spring Block Party. Check out this slideshow of the Block Party.

A rapidly growing neighborhood continues to build a name for itself as hundreds of residents braved triple-digit heat indexes for yesterday's second-annual South Silver Spring Block Party.

Dozens of Downcounty restaurants, merchants, non-profits, artists, and even a handful of Silver Spring bloggers set up booths along Kennett Street offering everything from food samples to "Fair Trade" t-shirts to even pet adoptions. New for this year was a stage, with fifteen musical and dance performances taking place throughout the day.

Formerly an industrial area separating Downtown from the Shepherd Park neighborhood in the District, South Silver Spring has experienced an explosion of residential development, with thousands of apartments and condominium units being built over the past five years. With so many new residents, bringing neighbors together was a must, says David Fogel, vice president of the South Silver Spring Neighborhood Association.

"A few of us came together saying 'we need more vibrancy'" in South Silver Spring, Fogel says. "The Block Party's a great example of that. It's not just talking online but rubbing shoulders."

so much more AFTER THE JUMP . . .

Booths line Kennett Street during the South Silver Spring Block Party.

Planning for the block party began last winter and was made easier because so many people who helped coordinate last year's event stuck around. "We had a good core group from last year's," states Fogel. "Everybody had a positive experience and wanted to do it again."

For some, the event was enough to get them involved in the community. Kristin Callahan, who moved to Eastern Village four months ago, and Jessica Lindstrom, who's lived there for two years, were encouraged to help out by Fogel, who also lives in the complex. "A lot of people from our building are volunteering here," says Lindstrom.

"I think it's definitely good for the community," says Callahan. "People get to come out and meet each other, learn about local businesses they may not have heard of."

Many residents felt inspired to get involved, though some admitted it wasn't likely given other obligations. South Silver Spring resident Zahava sat on the grass outside the Kennett Street Garage while listening to local rock band Lloyd Dobler Effect and feeding her children a snow cone. "To see people in my neighborhood being involved it makes me want to do more," says Zahara, who declined to give her last name, "but having two young kids . . . eating breakfast is an accomplishment."

Acorn Market is a new, bi-monthly event hosted by the Gateway Georgia Avenue CDC.

The Block Party served as a launching pad for Acorn Market, a bazaar of local merchants in Acorn Park organized by Gateway Georgia Avenue, a community development corporation aimed at revitalizing neighborhoods on both sides of the D.C.-Maryland line. With nearly two dozen vendors from the Downcounty participating, the market was a "tremendous success," says Jane Henderson of White Oak, the corporation's treasurer.

While Gateway Georgia Avenue also works in the District, almost all of Acorn Market's funding came from the Montgomery County government, explains Shepherd Park resident Marc Loud. "As D.C. does more of the underwriting and funding, you'll see more vendors" from the District, he adds.

In addition to reaching across the state line, Fogel noted other goals the South Silver Spring Neighborhood Association aims to accomplish closer to home, including building a retail base and improving pedestrian connections to Jesup Blair Park, east of Georgia Avenue. "Getting across Georgia Avenue is tough, not necessarily if you're my age, but if you have kids," says Fogel. "We really need to dig back into the zoning to meet the needs of an urban area . . . if we're gonna grow in a way that's sustainable for all these things."

"I think at the end of the day we'll have a lot more people than we did last year," Fogel notes. "It's an incredibly exciting time to be part of developing a new urban community. Next year, we'll have thousands of new people living here."