Wednesday, May 27, 2009

housing, not parks best for land around police station

The new Third District police station would be on Milestone Drive in White Oak, near Route 29 and Stewart Lane. Right: the White Oak shopping center.

Last week's Gazette talks about MoCo's proposal to build housing around the new Third District police station, which will move from Sligo Avenue in Downtown Silver Spring by 2012. While County Executive Ike Leggett suggested building apartments on the roughly twelve-acre site on Milestone Drive in White Oak, community members say it's more development than the area can handle.

Right now, the site is completely wooded, and North White Oak Civic Association president Barry Wides would like to see a park there. But a park wouldn't be the highest and best use of the land. Maximizing the amount of housing you can put here would be pretty smart, because there are few places in East County where you can actually walk to places, and this is one of them. The New Hampshire Avenue/Route 29 interchange isn't the most pedestrian-friendly place now, but possibilities exist for making it safer and more attractive to walk.

An increase in auto traffic from this site is not inevitable with all of the amenities you can reach from it. Both the Northwest Branch and Paint Branch parks, stretching across East County, lie within a mile of the site. Martin Luther King, Jr. Park, with playgrounds, sports fields and a swim center, is nine-tenths of a mile away. The White Oak Library is literally next door.

Up New Hampshire Avenue, the adjacent campuses of Jackson Road Elementary School, White Oak Middle School and St. John the Baptist, a K-8 private school, are four-fifths of a mile away. That's too close to offer bus service, according to MCPS. The White Oak shopping center, with a Giant, CVS Pharmacy and a Sears, is two-fifths of a mile away, as is the soon-to-be-built White Oak Transit Center.

Nonetheless, townhouses would be the most appropriate use for this property given its context. To the north and east, the site is surrounded by single-family homes on lots ranging from a quarter-acre to several acres. To the south are several garden and high-rise apartment complexes, with buildings up to twenty stories high. Townhouses would provide a transition between each of those two extremes, stepping down from the height of the apartments to the south while putting people in a location where they can take advantage of the area's amenities.

Final plans for the police station - let alone any development associated with it - is a long way away. But it's worth it to see that this property, in a central location with easy access to schools, shopping and transit, gets put to the best use possible. Is this the most inviting place for pedestrians to walk around? Not yet, which should be taken in to consideration.

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