Thursday, July 31, 2008

guest blog: pushing into the patuxent's backyard (updated)

Ryan Homes, whose Whitehall Square development in White Oak is pictured above, will be among those building condominiums on a site at old Route 29 and Dustin Road. Developer Tom Norris presented his proposal for Patuxent Ridge to local residents last night at the Praisner Library, raising concerns about its proximity to the Patuxent Watershed. I wasn't able to make the meeting, but Burtonsville resident and children's songwriter Barry Louis Polisar, who lives near the proposed development, graciously offered to write a guest blog recounting what took place. Click here for Norris's response.

The developer for a new housing complex in Burtonsville met with local residents on Wednesday night at the Praisner Library to introduce plans to obtain a "Special Exception" to build five four-story buildings and a community center on 9.5 acres on Old Route 29 between Bell and Dustin Roads. This property is in the rural cluster agricultural area and is currently zoned for one home. It is now occupied by a farm and produce stand. The developers plan to build a High Density Condominium complex that could only be purchased by people who are either disabled or over 62 years of age. They intend to provide 156 paved parking spaces for residents, care-givers, and staff.

Despite little advance publicity about the presentation, the library meeting room was filled with area residents who voiced concerns about the impact this development would have on the nearby Patuxent River Watershed and on the local roads. There are currently about 90 single family homes in the corridor from Rt 198 to the Patuxent River and the developer and Ryland Homes have plans to build 86 mostly two bedroom units, which will effectively double the density overnight.

so much more AFTER THE JUMP . . .

The developer stressed the need for housing for an aging population in Montgomery County and stated that the County's Master Plan encourages this kind of development here, however some local residents at the meeting pointed out that the proposal being planned is effectively a Condominium development with restrictive covenants against anyone under 62 years of age.

The developer's proposal states that their development "will be in harmony with the general character of the neighborhood considering population, density, design, scale and bulk of any proposed new structures, intensity and character of activity, traffic and parking conditions." Many local residents strongly disagreed with this assessment.

Since there is no public bus service from Dustin Road, residents will need to drive their own vehicles to get to local shopping areas. While some senior residents might walk to shopping, many will not and local residents were concerned that not only does this put additional vehicles on Old Columbia Pike which has been designated a local access road, but all vehicles traveling south will have to first go north and maneuver around the recently installed traffic circle. There was additional concern voiced at the meeting that in order to facilitate this new housing complex, sewer and water would have to be brought onto the site along Rt 29--and would have the effect of opening up the entire Old Rt 29 Corridor to development.

None of the local residents attending the meeting voiced approval of these plans and at times the exchange became a little heated. Some residents suggested that concerned citizens write to the planning board to voice their disapproval and make plans to attend the upcoming zoning hearings scheduled for September.

Apart from density issues, the main concern voiced at the meeting is the impact this building will have on the Patuxent Watershed. Once again it seems that an environmentally sensitive area located in the last rural cluster in Eastern Montgomery County is being offered up for development--rather than acreage in an area that is already developed with sewer and water and already has a real public transportation system in place.

If you've got something to say, Just Up The Pike is always looking for guest bloggers. While I don't always agree with the statements made, guest blogs offer an opportunity for all sides to be heard on East County issues. Contact me at danreed at umd dot edu if you're interested in contributing.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

how the planning board prepares for august break

This site on Randolph Road west of New Hampshire will become a office and retail center. (My old house is at the far left.)

As July draws to a close, The Government prepares for its August break by tying up as many loose ends as possible. If there's one week in the year when your elected officials are taking care of business, it's this one. Here's a look at what the Planning Board's tackling this week:

- First, they'll record a plat for Randolph Plaza, a 22,000 square-foot office and retail center on Randolph Road west of New Hampshire Avenue. Randolph Plaza sits next door to Colesville Center, one of several shopping centers owned by Kramer Enterprises, a family company whose family members include Sen. Rona Kramer, Del. Ben Kramer and former Sen. Ida Ruben, for whom a nearby section of New Hampshire Avenue is dedicated.

Kramer Enterprises refused to give the development access to its shopping center, forcing developers Pioneer Hills, LLC to orient its parking lot to townhouses in the Morningside neighborhood, flanking the site to the west. Upset about potential light pollution at night, Morningside's homeowners' association asked delegate and chili maven Karen Montgomery, who serves in District 14 alongside Sen. Kramer, to intervene, but the plan was still approved last summer. Pending building permits, construction could begin at any time.

Elevation of the new Cresthaven Elementary School, as it will be seen from Cresthaven Drive.

- After that, they'll review plans for the new Cresthaven Elementary School on Cresthaven Drive in White Oak. The current facility is overcrowded and desperately needs updating. Built in 1960, Cresthaven has seventeen portable classrooms, the highest number of any public school in Montgomery County.

MCPS is seeking LEED Silver certification for the 77,000 square foot building, more than twice the size of the White Oak Recreation Center, another LEED rating system contender a few miles north. The new, three-story building will be built almost entirely behind the current school, set back nearly three hundred feet from the road to accomodate a staff parking lot and bus turnaround. Completion is anticipated for 2010, just in time for the school's fiftieth anniversary.

what's up the pike: my kitchen flooded . . .

Student-created artwork outside of the Newport School in Calverton, which is set to close this summer.

My kitchen flooded, and there's an unexpected increase of schoolwork and work work, meaning our series on Burtonsville Town Square will be on hold for a little. If you're as anxious as I am to see the plans for the new shopping center breaking ground this summer - which heretofore have only been seen by few outside of the East County Citizens Advisory Board - you'll want to come back later this week.

Meantimes: check out what Planning Board chair Royce Hanson has to say about the proposed Fillmore zoning changes; economic pressures force the Newport School, a private alternative school located in a Calverton office park, to close permanently; elsewhere in Calverton, a local promoter claims County police are using racial profiling as a reason to shut down weekend go-go concerts at the Hollywood Ballroom.

Monday, July 28, 2008

how the county council's preparing for august break

Plan for a proposed mixed-use development behind the Fillmore music hall on Colesville Road.

As July draws to a close, The Government prepares for its August break by tying up as many loose ends as possible. If there's one week in the year when your elected officials are taking care of business, it's this one. Here's a look at what the County Council's tackling this week:

- By day, he's a middle-school teacher and unstoppable blogger, but come Wednesday nights in the near future, Eric Luedtke will also sit on the East County Citizens Advisory Board, pending his appointment tomorrow morning. A Greencastle resident, Luedtke blogs on the statewide progressive site Free State Politics. Big on the environment but bigger on environmental justice, Luedtke may bring a new perspective to a board whose members admitted to never having ridden a bus before (scroll down to "East County Orientation Tour").

- Later in the day, the County Council will review two proposed zoning amendments intended for a mixed-use development attached to the Fillmore music hall in Downtown Silver Spring. Two weeks ago, the Planning Board rejected the changes, which were offered by County Executive Ike Leggett to the Lee Development Group, who owns the land behind the venue on Colesville Road and plans to build an office and hotel complex on it.

While the site has been planned for a music hall for seven years, the County only signed a letter of intent with international promoter Live Nation, who runs a chain of Fillmore-branded venues across the country, last September. Construction on the Fillmore is slated to begin in 2009.

ALSO: Barry Lou Polisar, Burtonsville resident and friend of Just Up The Pike, pointed us to a meeting for a proposed retirement community on Old Columbia Pike between Dustin and Bell roads. Set on nine acres, the complex will include eighty-six apartments in four buildings, with an additional building for recreational activities. Situated between the Burtonsville Village Center and the Patuxent River, the project would require the extension of water and sewer services. The meeting will be held at 7:30pm on Wednesday at the Praisner Library.

Friday, July 25, 2008

"the turf" (2005-2008)

Kids play football on "the Turf" in May 2007. Today, Montgomery County's throwing a "farewell party" for the plastic green, which will be replaced by a paved plaza and ice rink.

It was just shy of three years ago that "the Turf," Silver Spring's favorite fake-grass hangout, was rolled out at the corner of Ellsworth Drive and Fenton Street. Today, Downtown's surprise urban wonderland comes to an end with a bang, as Montgomery County throws it a going-away party featuring food and a live deejay. There'll also be an unveiling of an "Under Construction" sign for the Silver Spring Civic Building and Veterans Plaza, a paved square that will also include an ice rink during the colder months.

The subject of many jokes about Downtown's "fake" character, "the Turf" was either widely loved and deeply reviled by East County residents. Last May's "Turf Town Meeting," organized by the Silver Spring Citizens Advisory Board, spurred a lot of debate over whether the County should follow through with their existing plans for Veterans Plaza. Around the same time, the Silver Spring Youth Collective produced a video, "Finding Out Turf," including interviews from local teens about how much they enjoyed hanging out in the space.

But even marketing director Susan Hoffmann, who coordinated the Silver Spring Jazz Festival in the space four years in a row, had few nice things to say about the plastic green. "'The Turf' is filthy, it's disgusting," she told Just Up The Pike last summer. "It's a petri dish. People let their dogs pee on it."

As "the Turf" becomes a construction site for the next few years, it'll be interesting to see how the people who visited it and Downtown Silver Spring as a whole will adapt. Some may find alternate places to hang out, while others may stop coming altogether. Aside from Silver Plaza, the much smaller park on Ellsworth Drive, there's no comparable space in Downtown in terms of nearby amenities, though Park and Planning's "CBD Green Space Plan" may provide for new ones in the future.

The new Veterans Plaza will undoubtedly be a boon to Downtown, but there's no telling if it'll ever beat "the Turf" as - I've quoted this ad nauseam for the past two years, because it's just that true - "the venue for some of the best people-watching in the region, attracting a crowd with a better spread of ages and backgrounds than Dupont Circle, the Georgetown waterfront, Old Town Alexandria and Reston Town Center," according to Marc Fisher from the Post.

For more information on the County's "Sign of the Times" party, commemorating the end of "the Turf," check out Silver Spring, Singular or the MoCo website.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

sick of emo kids on ellsworth: a series on downtown silver spring's meeting place

For four years, Ellsworth Drive in Downtown Silver Spring has been the place to see and be seen in East County. Anchored by "the Turf," the plastic lawn dubbed "the venue for some of the best people-watching in the region" by the Post's Marc Fisher, Ellsworth has played host to a diverse group of people. But as the street - and the busy chain stores along it - have grown increasingly popular, many are beginning to wonder if its success is actually a curse.

Over the past few weeks, Just Up The Pike has tackled the issues surrounding Ellsworth Drive: how it became the way is, how it functions now and what lessons it teaches us. Check out this four-part (and counting) series on Downtown's gathering place:

"how to walk without driving downtown": A complaint about Ellsworth's "mall-like characteristics" and how gathering places can be created on a more localized scale by redeveloping MoCo's strip malls.

"how to grow an old town in no time": The people on Ellsworth may be real, but as a city street, it's a little contrived. What does it take to create more vibrant, diverse places within Downtown Silver Spring?

"learning from new rochelle": Residents in New Rochelle, New York wondered if their newly-revitalized downtown would be stifled after riots overtook a new shopping complex there. What could Downtown Silver Spring learn about this incident - and its implications for Ellsworth?

"seriously, don't go back to rockville": Fears of crime and rowdy teens on Ellsworth are sending many area residents to Rockville or Bethesda to spend time in their downtowns. A lengthy rant on whether this is really worth it, and how else we could deal with the issue.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

how to deal with thugs: seriously, don't go back to rockville

Bad behavior on Ellsworth Drive continues to be a hotbed of debate over at Silver Spring, Singular this week.

Here's my thesis: there are some dumb fucking kids on Ellsworth who like to cuss out your daughters, cat-call your wives and girlfriends, and overall rain on your parade, and you're fed up with it. That's a given. But rather than take your money and time to Rockville or Bethesda this weekend, why not stay in Silver Spring? The way I see it, more people as a whole mean that the kids who are acting out become a smaller and smaller minority. If the Fed-Ups continue to be Fed-Up on Ellsworth, the Act-Outs will learn there's no reward in Acting Out.

Continue reading as I make my case. (I warn you, there will be more cussing.)

I'm male, a college student, and a minority. I'm in Downtown Silver Spring quite frequently - three times this past week - and I've never been mugged there before. I have, however, been yelled at, called names, and once even circled by a group of kids for change two years ago. I don't have kids, but I have a nine-year-old brother, and I don't want to take him Downtown for a movie if I know he's gonna have to put up with that shit.

That being said, though, I'm aware I live in an urban area. I expect there to be a lot of people when I go Downtown; in fact, that's why I go there. My favorite pastime was (and continues to be) "Count the Emo Kids." If you're wearing skinny jeans and bangs, I'll notice you. But when I see thugs acting up on Ellsworth, I look the other way.

Why? Because I have selective attention. I come to a place expecting to see certain things. Kids know this and will take advantage. If they know acting out will scare off the families, they'll do it. I've done it myself. One evening two summers ago I was hanging out with some friends in front of the bowling alley at the White Oak Shopping Center. I don't normally go to White Oak, because everything people fear about Ellsworth Drive is already there: loud arguments, fights (armed and unarmed), men (of dubious residence) wandering around talking dirty to young women.

People will still come to the bowling alley, but reluctantly. Noticing the very uncomfortable-looking (and predominantly white) families crossing the parking lot to the bowling alley, one kid suggested trying to see how nervous we could make them. As the next minivan unloaded, we sang "Happy Birthday" to the family as they approached us. The father put his arm around his daughter and drew her close. She was older, probably someone I'd gone to high school with. They started walking faster. And when they were inside, we laughed our asses off.

White Oak Shopping Center.

Some say "this doesn't happen in Rockville or Bethesda," but that's not true. I've worked in Rockville Town Square for fourteen months now, and I see the same behavior from the same damn people. Rockville appears "safer" because the demographics seem different, but there are plenty of poor neighborhoods in East Rockville or Gaithersburg or Wheaton whose residents come there to hang out. To me, this could mean one of two things: either people are deluding themselves, or Rockville Town Square has better security.

This is a lesson for Downtown Silver Spring. So long as we rub elbows with Bethesda or Rockville, the burden is on us to keep up appearances. Sligo at Silver Spring, Singular makes a good point in saying that people have the choice of going to Bethesda. However, I say that is not an option. I am in no way defending the kids who act out on Ellsworth Drive, but I don't think they're the problem. We have no control over how they act and where they come from. But we can control how we react to it, and the appropriate reaction IS NOT to run away.

Keep going Downtown, for all it's worth. Stand your ground: this is our community, we fought to have this nice shopping center built, and we're going to protect it. Set the example. If something is wrong, complain about it to the people who can make a difference. Tell the management at the Majestic that they're not doing their job. Tell Peterson Companies they fucked up, because you know Milty Peterson doesn't want bad press. Tell Gary Stith at the Regional Services Center. Write letters. Write blog posts. Write to me and tell me how pig-headed I am.

Maryland Avenue in Rockville Town Square.

But the biggest changes will be made not with large measures made by corporations or government but by the personal decisions you and I make each day. When you decide to go to Rockville or Bethesda instead of Silver Spring, those kids we complain about win. They've learned that if you fuck with a white family, they'll respond. And who loses? Downtown Silver Spring. Fewer visitors mean fewer reasons for businesses and developers to consider investing in Silver Spring, and the revitalization will come to a grinding halt.

Sometimes, the best thing you can do is be pissed the hell off, which Silver Springers have shown quite clearly this past week. We need to make it clear that something has to change on Ellsworth soon - but you won't see anything get done if you're up in Rockville this weekend.

b'ville town square: controversy kills ambitious redevelopment proposal

Part ONE in a series on the new Burtonsville Town Square development: what could have been, what we're getting, and what other communities are doing.

A plan of the Burtonsville Town Square development as submitted to the Planning Board in 2005. Click here to see a larger version.

For decades, Burtonsville residents have bemoaned the loss of their community's small-town charm. Once a sleepy rural crossroads, Burtonsville became part and parcel of suburban Maryland as the sprawl reached north from Silver Spring, continuing onward to Howard County. Today, cars stream through the business district, centered on routes 198 and 29, and recent efforts to deal with the traffic - among them the Burtonsville Bypass, which re-routed Route 29 around the town - have caused existing businesses to suffer.

Four years ago, Bethesda-based developer Chris Jones of BMC Property Group offered a chance to put the 'ville' back in Burtonsville, on the site of its first large strip mall: the forty-year-old Burtonsville Shopping Center. With tenants like a CVS and the local post office, the shopping center wasn't ritzy, but it'd quietly served the community's needs in the shadow of larger, newer malls.

With neo-traditional architecture, wide sidewalks and a small plaza, the development - dubbed Burtonsville Town Square - sought to create the central gathering place East County never had before. Facing concerns about the environment and a community that had become increasingly wary of new development, Jones' ambitious plan was unable to get the support it needed to become a reality.

so much more AFTER THE JUMP . . .

The existing Burtonsville Shopping Center, built in 1965. Current tenants include a CVS pharmacy, the Burtonsville post office, and the Dutch Country Farmers Market.

The Town Square project would've been one of the largest shopping centers in East County, second only to the sprawling Orchard Center shopping center in Calverton and the Downtown Silver Spring redevelopment. Jones sought to make it a destination, dividing the site up into small blocks with internal streets. Store buildings would have four-sided, neo-traditional architecture, though few images of the design have surfaced online. The centerpiece would be an actual town square, located at the intersection of its two main roads.

Half of the Town Square's 260,000 square feet of retail space would go to an unnamed "big-box" anchor store, which Jones argued would be necessary to pay for the project's high-quality architecture. So as to not encroach on wooded areas and the nearby Patuxent Watershed, parking would go not in sprawling lots but in a four-story underground parking garage.

"Feedback has been enthusiastic for the most part," Jones told the Gazette in a 2004 article on the proposed shopping center. (Jones did not respond to requests for an interview in time for publication.) The community groups he'd shown the plans to seemed happy with them, though some were concerned about the size of the anchor store. "The only problem is, of course, when homeowners are thinking about big box, some candidates are more attractive than others," said Shelley Porter of the Burtonsville Umbrella Regional Team, a now-defunct civic organization.

Dense development in the Briggs Chaney and White Oak areas, built in anticipation of a rapid transit line that was never funded, made many East County residents wary of new construction.

By 2005 it seemed as if Burtonsville was slowly turning on the Town Square. Environmental groups were worried about the project's impacts on the watershed of the Patuxent River, barely a mile north of the site. Meanwhile, East County as a whole was wary of new development, having seen the construction of thousands of apartments in the Briggs Chaney and White Oak communities throughout the 1980's without the rapid transit planned to accompany them.

Conceived in response to overcrowded schools and insufferable traffic, the 1997 Fairland Master Plan down-zoned land up and down the Route 29 corridor. It proposed redeveloping the Burtonsville Shopping Center, but zoned all of the land immediately around it as "rural residential."

The Planning Board had approved a preliminary plan for the Town Square in July, but in order to build it, there'd have to be a rezoning, which would require a public hearing. Community support would be vital to the development's success, but it had already lost favor with one of East County's biggest land-use activists.

Stuart Rochester, who'd sat on the advisory committee for the Fairland Master Plan while it was being written, complained the Town Square proposal betrayed its recommendations to create a "small-town" feel in Burtonsville. "The plan [Jones] has unfortunately is massive and not particularly attractive," Rochester told the Gazette in January 2006. "It doesn’t really live up to the intent and expectation in the Master Plan — to create an attractively scaled 'Main Street' type of shopping village."

The current Route 198 corridor in Burtonsville, lined with strip malls and a hodgepodge of signs.

Seeking to send the Town Square back to the drawing board, Rochester and the Patuxent Watershed Protective Association teamed up. In July 2006, they both filed requests for the Planning Board to reconsider the project, which the board soundly rejected. Fearing that Jones would bring a discount store like Wal-Mart to Burtonsville, he demanded to see a tenant listing for the shopping center. Jones had reportedly signed a letter of intent with gourmet supermarket chain Wegmans, but with a plan that didn't even show how a layout of individual stores, he couldn't offer a list of vendors.

One operation definitely not in the tenant listing was the Dutch Country Farmers' Market, a local institution then located in the Burtonsville Shopping Center. For twenty years, the market had hosted dozens of small businesses from Pennsylvania selling everything from fresh produce to chicken wings and outbuildings. From the proposal's beginning, Chris Jones had made it clear that the so-called "Amish Market" wouldn't have a place in the Town Square, citing competition with his unnamed anchor tenant.

As the Amish Market's eviction made regional headlines, Jones began changing his plans for the Town Square, eager to duck to the controversy that had plagued him before. On Friday, we'll have an exclusive look at what he plans to build now.

Check out this plan, drafted by Just Up The Pike, of what the Burtonsville Town Square could have looked like.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

how to deal with thugs downtown, or learning from new rochelle

Stealing a cart on Ellsworth: Sure, crime happens in Downtown Silver Spring. But who's to blame - and what should we really do about it?
"Our biggest problem is the teenage kids. Nearly every teen, white, black or green can't seem to resist talking out loud with 'Fuck' being every other word . . . or 'Bitch' . . ."

"More PG County and DC (Georgia Ave.) trash causing trouble along the Hellsworth corridor. Shocker."

"It's only matter of time before a kid is going to pull out his Glock 9mm and start shooting someone who dis-respected him."

"Why don't they have these problems in DT Bethesda . . ."
Mention crime in Downtown Silver Spring and you'll rip open a pretty big wound of frustration and resentment, as Silver Spring, Singular revealed last week, getting eighty-seven comments in response to a one-line mention of a fight on Ellsworth Drive. While there were a few accounts of fights or harassment on the street, most of the posts blamed Ellsworth's problems on kids coming from Prince George's County and the District. A few even claimed that those visitors would eventually bring down Silver Spring's long-awaited revitalization.

What many think could happen in Silver Spring has already happened in New Rochelle, a suburb of New York City. Last Easter, it was rocked by a large riot at New Roc City, a nine-year-old entertainment complex that many credit for revitalizing its moribund downtown. The incident, in which one kid was stabbed and several others were arrested, had many in the community wondering if New Rochelle's rebirth had hit a major snag.

so much more AFTER THE JUMP . . .

New Roc City in New Rochelle, New York. Photo from the New York Times.

There are two major differences between the New Rochelle incident and what could happen in Silver Spring. The first is that unlike New Roc City, where most of its space is taken up by entertainment venues, the Downtown Silver Spring complex has a much wider retail mix. While the Majestic and fast-food restaurants like Potbelly Sandwich Works may attract young people, there are a number of high-end retail stores and sit-down restaurants that draw an older audience.

In other words, there's a more mature atmosphere in Silver Spring, because there are older people around to set an example for younger visitors. A riot could not happen on Ellsworth because the proportion of kids to the whole is considerably lower than that in New Roc City. And as the CBD redevelops, there will be more adult- or family-oriented venues that can further dilute the "high-school cafeteria" feel of Ellsworth without making it unwelcoming to the kids who visit.

The second difference, however, is the issue of taking responsibility, which goes in New Rochelle's favor. Rather than point fingers at the kids who flooded into the city from the Bronx, the complex's developers and community leaders made an effort to show how safe the area was. Deputy police commissioner Anthony Murphy insisted that the incident was "a combination of bad coincidences," pointing out that a few "hooligans" had overshadowed the "frightened teenagers who wanted to go home" but had gotten caught up in the melee.

Less than a week after the riot, hundreds of residents joined mayor Noam Bramson at New Roc City's movie theatre in a show of solidarity. The message was that they didn't need to close the city gates, because doing so would be a sign of defeat. If New Rochelle was as dangerous as people thought it was, why weren't they doing more to keep so-called "bad elements" out?

Crime may or may not be an issue on Ellsworth Drive, but the answer is not to point fingers. We should be glad that Silver Spring has become a regional destination for people across suburban Maryland and the District. While we need to ensure that our downtown is a safe place to be, it's important not to make anyone feel unwelcome. The last thing we want is for people to stop coming to Silver Spring like they already did thirty years ago.

Friday, July 18, 2008

next week on just up the pike . . .

Outside the Newport School in Calverton, where rising rents may force them to close up shop for good.

You've heard about it, read about it, even charretted about it, but you've probably never seen pictures of the Burtonsville Town Square. Next week, we'll be taking a look at the proposed shopping center - what could have been, what we're getting instead, and what's being built in similar communities across MoCo.

Come back next week and check it out!

what's up the pike: i hit somebody's car today

A reader asked me, "what's new with the Fillmore (pictured above)?" I didn't know. I'd kind of forgotten it was there. But now I know.

- The Fillmore hits a major snag as the Planning Board rejects zoning amendments County Executive Ike Leggett proposed for the proposed music hall on Colesville Road. Lee Development Group, which wants to build a mixed-use development behind the new venue, would be allowed to count it as a public space required under the current zoning code. In addition, they'd be allowed up to fifteen years to build the project, whereas most approved development plans have a five-year deadline for construction.

Most of the controversy over the Fillmore has come from its operator, Live Nation - an international concert promoter who has rebranded several existing music halls around the country as "Fillmores." In February, local writer Carol Bengle Gilbert attempted to draw attention to the County's deal with Lee Development, suggesting that the use of a privately-run (but publicly owned) venue as a public amenity was unethical. In two weeks, the County Council will consider the same legal changes.

- Richard Layman of Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space discusses last week's pair of posts, "sick of emo kids on ellsworth" and "how to grow an old town in no time," about Downtown Silver Spring. Definitely check it out.

so much more AFTER THE JUMP . . .

Rendering of how the Purple Line could look if built along Wayne Avenue east of Downtown Silver Spring.

- Local builder Winchester Homes is demanding the right to buy back 118 acres in Burtonsville seized by the state for construction of an InterCounty Connector route that was eventually eliminated. The property, at Route 198 and Peach Orchard Road, was being cleared and graded for the construction of 130 homes before being bought for the proposed highway's Northern Alignment, which would have paralleled Route 198. When the southern Master Plan Alignment was selected instead, the land was retained to fulfill EPA requirements that the ICC's environmental damage is mitigated.

The Montgomery County Circuit Court ruled that Winchester has the right to re-purchase the property, though the state is appealing that decision. Another Winchester project, Fairland View at Fairland Road and Route 29, was halved in size in order to accomodate a future interchange with the ICC's current routing.

- A week after one Purple Line opposition group was outed as a front for a country club, another organization has appeared, this time in East Silver Spring. This week's Gazette features the people behind the "No Train On Wayne" signs that have appeared along Wayne Avenue. Along with a route between Silver Spring and Thayer avenues, Wayne is one of a few alignments still on the table for the proposed transitway - which will eventually connect Bethesda and New Carrollton - east of Downtown Silver Spring Regardless of which side of the issue you're on, it's hard to deny: that's a catchy slogan.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

no more anonymous posting


Seriously. As I always say, "Spare the blog, spoil the commenter," or something like that. Gotta lay down the law.

For questions, see "the anonymous have to come out now," August 9, 2006.

essay time: the francis s. filbey building (updated)

Update 4/4/2014: It turns out that this building was originally built in the 1960's as a factory for manufacturing robots. Check out this post about its history on the Montgomery County Planning Department's blog.

An occasional look at the overlooked artifacts of East County's past and present.

Meadow slowly takes over the parking lot of the abandoned Filbey Building on Columbia Pike.

It all started with a trip to the bank last week. In the drive-through, I saw something I'd never seen before at the edge of the parking lot. There was a building, a one-story box not unlike many other one-story boxes that dot the office parks of East County. It was unremarkable, except that the parking lot was turning to meadow before my eyes. An abandoned building? Here? I didn't believe it. The building looked like a mirage in the midday sun.

I began to explore. Around the front of the building, there were piles of rubble lined up in neat rows over spaces marked "DIRECTOR" or "SECRETARY." Definitely an office building. The sign over the front door said "THE FRANCIS S. FILBEY BUILDING." Next to it, an address: 12345 NE COLUMB A PIKE.

I couldn't find anything about New Columbia Pike, except that the road we call Columbia Pike was completed in 1964 - nearly twenty years before the building was completed - and that no other building along Route 29 uses the "New" designation. Francis Filbey, meanwhile, was a more interesting find.

so much more AFTER THE JUMP . . .

Despite its prominent location at Route 29 and Industrial Parkway, few notice the Francis S. Filbey Building - or that it's been abandoned for years.

A Silver Spring resident, Filbey was a controversial figure, a veteran of the postal union mergers and a victim, it seems, of larger tensions within the new organization. Born in 1917, Francis Stuart Filbey grew up in Baltimore, becoming a postal clerk and quickly rising through the ranks of the National Federation of Post Office Clerks. In 1969, he was appointed president and immediately had to contend with a strike. By publicizing the federal government's role in the "low wages and intolerable conditions" postal clerks had to deal with, Filbey was able to reach a settlement with the Nixon administration that eventually yielded the U.S. Postal Service.

A series of mergers throughout the 1960's and 70's combined five national postal unions into one, the American Postal Workers Union, with over 285,000 members. Politics forbid them from kicking anyone out of a job, so the executive boards of each union were combined into one forty-nine-member mega-board. In a 1977 memo, Filbey - now president of the APWU - compared it to that of a "banana republic," complaining that the leadership was too top-heavy to be effective.

Newer development surrounds the Filbey Building on two sides, making it less conspicuous.

Filbey wasn't popular for his calls of attrition, especially at a time when postal workers' jobs were being threatened. By the time he died of cancer in May 1977, he was considered a "lame-duck president," and the union was in turmoil once again. His successor Emmet Andrews would face potential pay reductions and the possibility of cutting mail service to four days a week. Complaints - or "grievances" from union members were rising, and those in charge would be ill-equipped to address them.

The APWU moved into the building in 1981 and renamed it for Filbey The Francis S. Filbey Building was completed in 1981 as an office for the APWU's Health Plan division, though not long ago it was abandoned in favor of new offices in Glen Burnie. Much like Filbey's career, the building named for him has come to a quiet and ineffective end, less than thirty years old but already abandoned.

Other derelict buildings along Route 29 have already been bulldozed into oblivion; a warehouse directly across Industrial Parkway was razed several years ago with no plans for redevelopment, though the former printing press at Tech Road has been replaced with the WesTech Village Corner shopping center.

But the Filbey Building remains, almost invisible despite its prominent location on the Pike. Assessed at $8.7 million in 2006, it - and the six acres it sits on - would make great candidates for redevelopment, though so long as the APWU still owns it, that seems unlikely. I doubt anyone waiting for the Ride-On bus at 29 and Industrial Parkway even realizes it's abandoned. Perhaps that's the best way; a fake occupied building is better than an real empty one.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

silver spring library meetings start tonight

A suggestion of what the new Silver Spring Library at Bonifant and Fenton could look like.

Small, outdated and hidden behind the high-rises of Downtown, the Silver Spring Library is long due for an upgrade. Put in your two cents on how the new Silver Spring Library should look at tonight's open house, the first of three meetings scheduled by Montgomery County over the next few months. The meeting is from 7 to 9 at the current library on Colesville Road. Check out more information on the County's website.

maple lawn threatens burtonsville's "small-town" cred

Clean, sleek and master-planned: Howard County's Maple Lawn wants to give Burtonsville a run for its small-town status.

Ask anyone doing business in Burtonsville what their biggest threat is, and they'll probably name Maple Lawn, the sprawling mixed-use community rising just one exit north at routes 29 and 216 in Fulton. Saturday's Post Real Estate section covers the sprawling development, where the biggest selling point seems to be its so-called "urban" features - like homes named for established D.C. neighborhoods like Adams Morgan and Capitol Hill - among what one resident called "all this rural paradise" of Howard County.

It's ironic that Maple Lawn compares itself to a "small town" on its website, because there's a real small town just two miles south. With its porches, small yards and village green, it looks the part, but it doesn't play it very well. If you're looking for a taste of small-town life, Burtonsville comes a lot closer than anything a new neighborhood can contrive.

At only two homes an acre, Maple Lawn isn't much denser than many of Burtonsville's big-lawn single-family neighborhoods. An interactive map reveals that most homes are on very small lots - roughly an eighth of an acre - but the swaths of open space that are supposed to compensate for it aren't usable. They're pushed to the edges of the development or along the power line that divides Maple Lawn in half - a poor substitute for the Agricultural Reserve that skirts Burtonsville's northern boundary.

People in the article boast of being able to run into their neighbors while "walk[ing] their dogs at 1 o'clock in the morning," but you can't walk to school. Four schools literally sit in the middle of the development, but there are no pedestrian connections to them.

so much more AFTER THE JUMP . . .

Messy, cluttered and unplanned: Route 198 in Burtonsville is a triumph of the small-town business district.

And that might be okay, because you can drop the kids off on your way to running errands, most of which will still require getting in the car. There just isn't enough density to support "convenience retail" within walking distance, even before community backlash over the project's original size forced the developer to lop off over five hundred homes.

As a result, Maple Lawn's "Business District" has such upscale goodies as a tapas bar, lingerie store and a clothing store called Urban Chic that are geared less to locals and more to people scooting up 29 towards the Mall in Columbia. Residents admitted that they still head down to Burtonsville to shop for groceries at Giant, not to mention other "useful stores" like Zimmerman's hardware store or, of course, the Bedding Barn.

Those five hundred lost homes also means that Maple Lawn had to jack up its prices in order to remain economically feasible. Houses here are big - townhouses range up to 4,200 square feet - and expensive, running from the $300's for a condo to $1.7 million for an "estate home." When asked about the community's variety, one resident said "there are retired people whose children are gone, and there are married couples with no kids." The new homeowners are ethnically diverse, the article explains, but the economic mix is scant.

That isn't the case in Burtonsville; in its older sections, lots were developed individually, meaning that families could build as big or small as they had to; as houses turn over, they sell at a variety of prices. Newer developments - subdivisions like Briarcliff Manor or the apartments and townhouses on Blackburn Road - are segregated by income, but still they contribute to a more diverse whole. Almost anyone can afford to live in Burtonsville, meaning that you can and will be exposed to a variety of people. That will not happen in Maple Lawn.

At its best, a small town provides the best of urban and rural - everything you need to live, but with lots of wide-open spaces. Burtonsville can out-do Maple Lawn in both regards. In order to thrive alongside it, we need to start making a point of our "small town credibility," if you will. We may not lure any families or businesses away from Maple Lawn, but we can rub it in their faces when they come down to Giant.

Monday, July 14, 2008

now, don't do this at home, but . . .

You know how I feel about speed cameras. As much as I don't support vandalism of public property, I can't say I haven't driven past the county's new speed cameras without thinking up various ways I could put them "out of service," if you will. This photo (I don't know where it was taken yet) comes from - who else? - Chip Py, perhaps best known for leading a march on Downtown Silver Spring last summer in support of free speech for photograhpers.

what's up the pike: wine and whine

Columbia Country Club has been outed as the anonymous owner of a website for an anti-Purple Line group. The proposed transitway would run through the club's Chevy Chase golf course.

- Barely out of the gate, new anti-Purple Line group Alliance for Smart Transportation has been revealed as a front for Columbia Country Club, with a write-up in yesterday's Post. The Chevy Chase-based club, who's been fighting the proposed transitway that would slice their fairways in half for nearly two decades, sought to bankroll a "grass-roots campaign" opposing the Purple Line.

Purple Line supporters Action Committee for Transit, who discovered the connection between Columbia and the group, plans to hold a press conference outside of the club early this morning. The event will include a guided tour of the transitway's proposed route through the club and a wine tasting.

- Last week's Planning Board hearing to give Falkland Chase historical status went nowhere, says Silver Spring Scene. We won't find out the future of the New Deal-era apartment complex at 16th Street and East-West Highway until September, though the Planning Board is leaning towards a mix of preservation and redevelopment. Falkland owner Home Properties agreed to reconsider their earlier concept for redeveloping the complex's North Parcel, at 16th Street and East-West Highway, aiming for something closer to suggestions made by Planning staff.

Meanwhile, newly minted board member Joe Alfandre excoriates the project's architects for ignoring the precedents for Falkland Chase. "I don’t know where you guys are going with this, but I don’t appreciate the disrespect that you show the Garden City movement," said Alfandre, referring to the 19th-century planning movement that catalyzed modern-day suburban planning. Alfandre's best known as developer of the Kentlands in Gaithersburg. Currently, he's working on the Courts of Woodside, a small townhouse project a few blocks north of Planning Place on Georgia Avenue.

Friday, July 11, 2008

rapid bus routes could blanket east county by 2012

A map detailing the twenty-four new rapid bus routes proposed by WMATA. The first route in East County, along University Boulevard, could open within a few months.

Within four years, East County could be served by a number of rapid bus routes, part of a 100-mile network proposed by WMATA. The transit agency unveiled their plans to roll out the system, dubbed "MetroExtra," to the Action Committee for Transit earlier this week.

A handful of the new lines are already operating throughout the region, including Route 79, which runs along Georgia Avenue between the Silver Spring and Archives Metro stations. WMATA Board Chairman John Catoe derived the concept from the popular Metro Rapid routes he pioneered while heading the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transit Authority. Metro Rapid buses have seven "key attributes," among them easy-to-understand route layouts, fewer stops, more frequent service, and a system that gives buses priority at stoplights. Unlike Bus Rapid Transit (like what is proposed for the Purple Line), it doesn't use dedicated lanes or enclosed stations.

According to the WMATA proposal, routes along University Boulevard, Veirs Mill Road and East-West Highway could appear within the next several months; on New Hampshire Avenue between Fort Totten and White Oak in 2009; between Greenbelt and Twinbrook via University Boulevard and Randolph Road in 2010; on Georgia Avenue between Silver Spring and Olney in 2011; and along Route 29 between Silver Spring and Burtonsville in 2012.

so much more AFTER THE JUMP . . .

Boarding a Metrobus at Old Columbia Pike and Briggs Chaney Road.

While the Georgia Avenue and Route 29 corridors already have more daily ridership than University and New Hampshire, WMATA's chosen to given them a lower priority. (The Q2 bus on Veirs Mill Road, with 11,000 daily riders, is one of the heaviest-used routes in the entire system.) I was originally disappointed by that decision, but I soon realized it says a lot about the intentions of MetroExtra - who it's meant to serve and where it's best suited.

University, lower New Hampshire and Veirs Mill were largely built out during the 1950's, when it was still desirable to line a major street with houses. As a result, surrounding neighborhoods embrace all three roads with driveways and sidewalks. The speed limits are lower and there are frequent stoplights. Buses can get caught up very easily, and the potential MetroExtra improvements could make a big difference in travel time.

This isn't the case along Georgia and 29, where there are fewer stoplights, fewer cross-streets and no driveways. They were developed later, and the neighborhoods along them shy away from the road. The feel is like that of a freeway, and unsurprisingly so, given that's what Route 29 is eventually to become. As a result, average speeds are higher, and faster buses aren't as much of an issue. Several express routes already run along Route 29.

If the intention were simply to run faster buses, all of the new routes would run along the Beltway. But you'll only get so many riders from park-and-ride lots. People are more likely to walk along University Boulevard, whether or not it's actually safe to do so currently, because their neighborhoods are built around it. They may even be denser than their counterparts along Georgia or 29, making walking more practical and bus transit more efficient. Ridership may not be as high along University, but that only means more room to grow for MetroExtra.

East County's been waiting for rapid transit since planners first suggested running light-rail down the median of Route 29 in 1981. MetroExtra isn't as flashy, but it promises to improve the speed, reach and reliability of bus transit in East County, making it more attractive to users who'd rather drive or take Metro. After all, if it worked in Los Angeles, it can work anywhere.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

still sick: how to grow an old town in no time

"The Turf" in Downtown Silver Spring (shown in 2006): it may be plastic grass, but the crowd says it's a first-class urban space.

Last week, Henry from Silver Spring Scene and I had a lengthy comment-debate about the mall-like attributes of places like the Downtown Silver Spring complex or Rockville Town Square. I got hung out to dry for "Downtown Silver Spring-bashing," which is a common sport among anyone who feels the place is fake or merely disagrees with its approach to urban design.

I've spent many an evening on Ellsworth Drive in Downtown Silver Spring - and, over the past year, in Rockville Town Square - admiring how well both spaces nurture the diversity and vitality that urbanists like Jane Jacobs and William Whyte say a city deserves. The Post's Marc Fisher calls "the Turf" at Ellsworth and Fenton "the venue for some of the best people-watching in the region," while Dave Murphy over at Imagine, DC wrote about just how well Silver Plaza works as a gathering space a couple of weeks ago.

But while they may get people together, Ellsworth and projects like it can't replace all of the functions of a city. If you want a book, an expensive dress, or some makeup, Ellsworth has you set. But if you're looking for quirky little shops, exotic restaurants, and underground music, do you go to Ellsworth Drive? No. You go to Fenton Village, just south of the redevelopment area; to Takoma Park, where big chains are all but run out of town; or to Wheaton, whose ethnic restaurants have earned it the title of "MoCo's Adams Morgan."

so much more AFTER THE JUMP . . .

Wheaton: small parcels mean individual ownership, diverse businesses, and a high risk tolerance.

What is the difference? Ellsworth is the creation of one developer, The Peterson Companies, on one giant block of land, assembled by Montgomery County ten years ago for redevelopment. Fenton Village, Takoma Park and Wheaton are a collaborative effort, built over decades by multiple owners on multiple properties. People complain that Downtown Silver Spring looks "new." Well, duh, it is new. But Takoma Park isn't the way it is because it's old, either.

A diversity of buildings - large and small; new and old - offer spaces at all price ranges, meaning a variety of uses (short of large supermarkets or department stores) can set up shop there. And that diversity exists because Takoma Park's business district consists of small parcels of land, platted over a century ago, that were bought up by individuals who each built their own buildings. It's a tradition that continues today in Takoma Park, Wheaton and Fenton Village.

Small lots and small buildings are cheaper to build and maintain, and with the right support, a local business can get off the ground with considerably less financing than a major developer. If the market changes, they can also respond more easily than a developer can, and with less risk. Peterson threw a lot of money into Downtown Silver Spring, and they don't want a poor return-on-investment, so they must take as few risks as possible. This negates some of the diversity that a city ideally provides.

Last week, I suggested that our county's strip malls are ripe candidates for redevelopment into dense, mixed-use centers to serve our neighborhoods and downtowns. One way to encourage this redevelopment may be to break them up - whether by turning the existing buildings into condominiums and selling off each individual store, or by clearing the site and re-platting it with smaller lots. Mixed-use zoning would allow each owner to build as he or she chooses, creating a lively and varied streetscape. To ensure that development happens in a timely fashion, properties will be sold with a five-year deadline to start construction.

Bonifant Street in Fenton Village: Small businesses feel the heat from redevelopment.

In Burtonsville, we've seen how slow and arduous the Burtonsville Shopping Center redevelopment has been, and with little to show for it. More often than not, large developments are met with resistance or at least skepticism from the surrounding community. Splitting up the job might be more palatable to the neighbors. It'll guarantee the smaller-scale retail community groups call for, within the timeline of a larger project, but without the feeling that everything "went up overnight." This is a way to create a place like Takoma Park without waiting a century for the charm to come around.

That being said, those quirky shops and exotic restaurants aren't going to exist on their own. Takoma Park has a culture that attracts small-scale retail and repels big chains, often with force. But Wheaton's awesome restaurants are in large part buoyed by traffic (or at least name recognition) from Wheaton Plaza, whose chain stores are just as big an attraction. And despite the renaissance on Ellsworth Drive, many smaller businesses in Downtown Silver Spring are getting pushed out - so much so that a University of Maryland study recommended Montgomery County should do more to retain them.

It remains to be seen how small businesses will fare in Montgomery County's downtowns, where changing demographics and a newfound interest in city living has drawn people to make their lives here. When at their best, cities are able to handle these changes effectively - the key is to make sure that they have the tools to do so.

Special thanks to John Massengale of New York's Veritas et Venustas, whose post "The Best Way To Develop Atlantic Yards & Hudson Yards" was the main inspiration for this post.

big day at planning place . . .

A rendering of the proposed redevelopment for part of the Falkland Chase apartments at 16th Street and East-West Highway.

Today, the Board decides the fate of Falkland Chase, along with bike paths along the ICC and in Burtonsville. Check out the hearing schedule, staff reports - and what the Planning Board says - on their website.

Or, of course, you can make yourself heard and go to the hearing in person.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

what's up the pike: two bike paths diverged . . .

Simple and inexpensive, bike trails like the Capital Crescent Trail (pictured in Bethesda) offer an alternative to driving in an era of increasing gas prices and traffic. In actuality, bike paths get the short end of the stick. Here's a look at what's happening this week in trails:

For joggers and bikers in Silver Spring, the Purple Line may be the only way that the popular Capital Crescent Trail gets completed east of Rock Creek Park. As the MTA nears its decision on how and where to build the proposed transitway between Bethesda and New Carrollton, those on both sides have stepped up their game recently, from reaching high school students to launching a "grass-roots coalition" bankrolled by the exclusive Columbia Country Club.

While the contact page of new anti-Purple Line group Alliance For Smart Transportation lists an address in Silver Spring, suggesting a connection with the east side, their list of talking points focus on the Purple Line's effects on the trail in Bethesda, or a Town of Chevy Chase-funded study that was largely debunked by state Secretary of Transportation John Porcari.

You'd think that a so-called "Alliance" would move away from Bethesda and ally themselves with their anti-Purple Line counterparts in Silver Spring - SSTOP and the nascent "No Train on Wayne" group, some of whose members do support the project, if not in their backyards. It reminds me of my meetings last summer with activist Pam Browning, who admitted she didn't know about anything east of Silver Spring, or former Chevy Chase mayor Mier Wolf, who'd never really driven on congested East-West Highway (which parallels the proposed Purple Line route) before.

Not that I personally support the forming of a cross-county anti-Purple Line coalition, though it would be nice to see Silver Spring and Bethesda come together on something. I mean, think of all the lemonade that could come from it!

so much more AFTER THE JUMP . . .

A redevelopment of the Burtonsville Shopping Center could include a bike path along Route 29 between Route 198 and Dustin Road.

IN ADDITION:On Thursday, the Planning Board holds a hearing for the ICC Limited Functional Master Plan, which lays out how the InterCounty Connector, currently under construction, will accomodate bike paths and interchanges. Dismayed by the highway's potential effects on the environment, many anti-ICC groups - or groups seeking more alternatives to driving - saw the State Highway Administration's plan to include a bike path parallel to the ICC as a compromise. As The WashCycle explained in a two-part series last month, the state wasn't willing to meet bikers halfway.

In 2004, SHA deleted the trail, saying it would do even further harm to local parkland and streams by increasing the paved area. And while seven miles of the path were added back to the ICC in 2007, the new route follows local roads, like New Hampshire Avenue and Fairland Road, that add extra travel time. Not only that, says the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, but they may also be more unsafe for bikers than a path next to the highway.

FINALLY: Up The Pike, a bike path makes a minor hurdle for the long-awaited Burtonsville Shopping Center redevelopment. Also on Thursday, the Planning Board will decide whether Bethesda developer Chris Jones, whose BMC Property Group will be knocking down the forty-year-old strip mall later this summer, will be required to install a trail and landscaping along old Route 29 between Route 198 and Dustin Road. The project would require cooperation with other properties north of the shopping center, including a church, a garden center and several houses, and planning staff isn't entirely sure that it's feasible to do so.

While it does concern a bike trail, the report from Park and Planning has no images what the project make look like. After years of controversy over potential "big-box" stores in the new center, Jones has returned with a plan for what he calls one the most "environmentally friendly plaza" in the country. But for all the press the Burtonsville Shopping Center over the past year, few people - outside of an East County Citizens Advisory Board meeting last month - have actually seen it.

Friday, July 4, 2008

another vision for falkland's north parcel

HAPPY FOURTH OF JULY! We know you're probably out celebrating that sweet, sweet American independence. Don't forget your forefathers who gave you the right to barbeques, fireworks and the right to take pictures in Downtown Silver Spring.

A rendering of how Park and Planning envisions the redevelopment of a portion of the Falkland Chase apartments.

The debate over whether to preserve the Falkland Chase apartments at 16th Street and East-West Highway has raged for over two decades. It's a fight littered with successes for the pro-preservation camp (rulings in favor of saving the complex in 1985 and 2007) and the pro-development camp (a portion of the complex was demolished to build the Lenox Park Apartments in 1992). In recent months, everyone from the Post's Marc Fisher to Thayer Avenue has weighed in on what to do with the New Deal-era apartment complex.

On Thursday, the Planning Board will finally decide if Falkland Chase is eligible for historic preservation. If they say no, owner Home Properties can move forward with their plans to redevelop the North Parcel with a mix of apartments and retail, including a potential Harris Teeter supermarket.

What's the cost of bringing Harris Teeter to Downtown? And what else is the Planning Board looking at next week? so much more AFTER THE JUMP . . .

Home Properties' proposed Falkland North shies away from the street, discouraging pedestrian access to the site.

I've previously said that Home Properties' plans aren't very promising as they are now. With superblocks, sweeping driveways and little street presence, the proposed Falkland North tower discourages pedestrian activity on a site next to a Metro station. When the site was re-zoned for higher density in 1993, Park and Planning had no idea if redevelopment could even happen, but when the 2000 Silver Spring CBD Sector Plan came out, they made it clear that short blocks and a strong street wall were musts. In preparation for Thursday's hearing, Planning staff created the above rendering to show how the North Parcel was intended to look.

A current Falkland Chase resident who's been working with Home Properties has told me that the developer's largely revised their original plans for Falkland North, but the jury's still out on whether it'll be a positive contribution to the CBD. If the Planning Board chooses not to call the complex a historic landmark, hopefully whatever replaces it will be worth the years of contention that led to this point.

ALSO: The Planning Board will also review the Gene Lynch Urban Park, so named for the former Board commissioner who passed away last February. One of two parks intended to replace the current park above the Silver Spring Metro station, which will be redeveloped as the Paul Sarbanes Transit Center, the park will occupy the current bus turnaround behind the Discovery Building at Colesville Road and Wayne Avenue.

Notable features will include seating areas, a bike station, and a memorial to Lynch. His family wanted to commemorate Lynch's role in the revitalization of Downtown Silver Spring and, as a result, all of the below-the-Beltway neighborhoods who took part in the planning process will be listed on a plaque in the park.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

sick of emo kids on ellsworth: how to walk without driving downtown

UPDATE: Greater Greater Washington, as always, explains what I was getting at below in far fewer words.

Downtown Silver Spring: Why does "pedestrian-friendly" have to mean "shopping mall"?

Downtown Silver Spring is a nice place to be, and even nicer if you can walk there. And while the definition of "walkable" seems to be getting bigger (County Councilmember George Leventhal says he walks downtown from his home a mile away), Downtown still isn't walking distance for a lot of people. How can we create these kinds of pedestrian-friendly places outside of Montgomery County's major "downtowns"?

Thomas Hardman talks extensively about this in a string of comments following yesterday's post about Wheaton that could merit their own guest blog post - hell, its own blog. He makes several major points, among them: 1) that the County's "Downtowns" are only for those who can afford to live there, and everyone else just dreams they could too and 2) that a lot of people would gladly walk to their own neighborhood business district if they could, or if there was anything there.

At every single community event I've been to in the past two years, I've heard someone talk about "neighborhood scale," about the hardware shop and the corner grocery store. It seems like a nice idea to take those things and put them in a place you can walk to, so you can leave your car at home, if only once in a while. Say you don't always want to visit Wheaton or Silver Spring or Rockville when you want to walk, because you'll be bombarded by crowds and strangers and, of course, emo kids, if there are still any around in 2008.

So why do our "Downtowns" end up becoming malls? And how could we get the corner grocery store in our own neighborhood, within walking distance? I think I have an answer, though it's a lot more complicated than many people would like it to be.

so much more AFTER THE JUMP . . .

Rockville Town Square: a lack of foot traffic in the immediate neighborhood means high-end shops and big events (like Hometown Holidays, pictured) to attract customers from a wider area.

I work at a store in Rockville that sells four-dollar-a-scoop ice cream, across from a store that sells forty-dollar laundry hampers, and down the street from a store that sells four-hundred-dollar clothes. Rents in the apartments above push $1,800 for a one-bedroom; there are cheaper apartments, but they're heavily subsidized. The Rockville Town Square is a pretty, high-end shopping center, and it's tenanted the way it is to draw customers from a wide area - the standard for most malls is about 250,000 people within a fifteen-minute drive.

Densities push forty homes an acre in the complex, but the surrounding neighborhood is all single-family homes, and they won't be enough to sustain the shops here. So you have to make it like a mall, because people aren't going to drive fifteen minutes for a hardware store, and that means one thing: The Mall People.
The county in its "wisdom" has decided that it only supports The Mall People and their kin. Thus, you can't have walkability as they have it in almost every comparable jurisdiction; you're stuck with "centers". I do occasionally go to Wheaton to do some shopping and that's out of necessity alone. It takes me literally days or weeks to get over it. - Thomas Hardman
The "mall mentality" happens in neighborhood shopping centers as well, because miles and miles of single-family homes won't be enough to sustain them. The developer's still working on a smaller variation of the "250,000 people within fifteen minutes" rule, which means Super Fresh and Home Depot and Starbucks, and even they are barely hanging on in some areas. It happens in Aspen Hill, in Burtonsville, in Montgomery Hills, everywhere. You can make these places easier to walk to; you can build sidewalks and slow cars down, but you won't get that corner grocery or hardware store to move in.

The White Oak Shopping Center: a dense neighborhood means lots of people to walk around and support local retail.

Neither of those things exist at the White Oak Shopping Center, but there are a slew of locally-owned shops, including a clothing store, a bowling alley, and an ice cream store selling two-dollar-a-scoop ice cream. White Oak is surrounded by thousands of apartments, creating a base of shoppers who can all reach it by foot. It's an imperfect example - there's a Sears, which is both big and a chain; the demographics skew lower-income; and there are issues with crime - but it points us in the right direction.

If we're going to be at least partially reliant on pedestrian traffic, we need to increase the density at our neighborhood shopping centers. That means throwing in civic buildings, offices, and housing - ten, twenty, even forty homes an acre - that can sustain little shops pushed up against the sidewalk. Instead of talking about people within a fifteen-minute drive, you have people within a fifteen-minute walk. There are also people here at all times - office workers during the day, residents in the mornings and evenings - giving businesses a steady stream of customers.

Burtonsville: Practically invisible from Route 198, this Indian/Pakistani grocery is dependent on the Indian/Pakistani community for business. In a pedestrian-oriented center, sidewalk traffic would provide another source of customers.

There will be traffic, but also more alternatives to driving for those who wish to take advantage. At these densities, walking becomes viable, along with transit - real, usable transit, not just one bus every half-an-hour that goes twenty places you don't want to go before reaching your destination. A lot of people will drive here to walk, as these kinds of places are still a novelty in MoCo, or if you're disabled, for whom accessible parking suddenly becomes a serious issue.

From the looks of last month's charrette, it seems like Burtonsville has already answered this proposition with a resounding "hell, no. " It's clear that there are a lot of issues to deal with, like how to make sure that the complex isn't reliant on chains like Downtown Silver Spring, or how to prevent development from encroaching on surrounding residential neighborhoods. But the benefits are clear: stronger communities reinforced by local business; smaller-scale alternatives to so-called "town centers," and, of course, avoiding the Mall People.

Nobody likes the Mall People, but nobody said that sidewalks are only for the hip, either. But in many of our neighborhoods, it seems like we've already given them up.