Thursday, May 28, 2009

studio plaza proposal picks up downtown revival

The proposed Studio Plaza development will include two new streets and a public green. For more images, check out this photoset.

Today, the Planning Board is set to approve a development in Fenton Village that could pick up where the revitalized Ellsworth Drive corridor left off five years ago. But some issues remain, including the abandonment of a public alley on the site that could harm two local businesses and outcry from adjacent residents about the project’s scale.

Studio Plaza, a project proposed by developer Robert Hillerson, would take up most of the block bounded by Thayer Avenue, Fenton Street, Silver Spring Avenue and Georgia Avenue, including the current County Parking Lot 3. The five-acre site would contain over 620,000 square feet of “residential, retail, office, and/or hotel uses” in four high-rise buildings, according to the Planning Board. It's a considerably larger project than one he submitted three years ago, which featured just two buildings. The incorporation of Parking Lot 3 comes alongside the adoption of the Silver Spring CBD Green Space Plan, which proposed redeveloping the lot to include a square.

A new, private street roughly forty feet wide - the same width as the recently-built Bethesda Lane in Bethesda (at left) - would connect Thayer and Silver Spring avenues. Meanwhile, the Mayor’s Promenade, a short walkway east of Georgia Avenue where the bust of “Mayor” Norman Lane is located, would be extended to Fenton Street. The two streets would intersect at a new public green which, at roughly 16,000 square feet, would be half the size of “the Turf.”

The exact amount of apartments, retail and office space, and hotel rooms that’ll be in the project isn’t released in the staff report, but a Gazette article from earlier this year says there’ll be approximately 600 apartments, 60,000 square feet of retail and 170,000 square feet of office space. Because of the proposal’s complicated and evolving program, Planning Board staff chose to save comments on how and what uses are in the project until later on in the approval process.

What are local residents and business owners saying about the project? so much more AFTER THE JUMP . . .

The submitted site plan of Studio Plaza.

In the meantime, they’re reviewing the proposed abandonment of an alley that lies in the middle of Parking Lot 3. First dedicated in 1904, the alley provides access to the Gerecht property, currently home to a hair salon and publishing company, and the Kalivas property, both on Fenton Street. While both of the businesses on the Gerecht property are cooperating with the Planning Department, Athena Kalivas is more skeptical, having hired an attorney. She claims the project would inevitably block rear access to the Thai market on her property, forcing it out of business.

Residents from the adjacent East Silver Spring neighborhood have also voiced complaints about the project, saying it’ll hurt small businesses and bring crime to the area. “The developer excludes current businesses from his retail design, yet creates a private road to access his chosen businesses,” writes resident P. Giroux in an e-mail to the Planning Department. Jane Gorbaty of Grove Street complains that Hillerson’s site plan is too insular, calling it a “self sufficient block” and a “secret court yard” that “does not integrate into the community.” The proposed underground parking will be unsafe, she writes, stating that “I could not find any woman that would favor parking in an underground lot verses the above ground parking lot 3.”

Studio Plaza from across Fenton Street, adjacent to the Adele, an already approved apartment building.

But local business owners, whose employees and customers use parking lot 3, say that the project will be a benefit, citing improved safety and increased foot traffic. They submitted thirty pages of letters to the Planning Department in support of Studio Plaza. "The presence of new businesses and residents . . . will benefit the existing community," writes Carol Warden, president of Dale Music, also on Georgia. "The area will be safer with this additional activity, both day and night."

Hillerson has even proposed to clean up Mayor Lane (at right), putting utility poles underground and installing a common trash and recycling area for businesses. The alley's current state "has been a deterrent for prospective shoppers and diners that want to come frequent the area," writes Roberto Pietrobono, who owns Olazzo Restaurant on Georgia Avenue. "My female employees feel unsafe walking to their cars at night . . . my back door which opens out to Mayor lane has been used as a restroom and a target for graffiti vandals several times."

If the project plan is approved, the next steps will be for Hillerson to submit preliminary and site plans for the Planning Board to review. Those will provide in further detail information about Studio Plaza's mix of uses and the size and programming of the public green.

1 comment:

Thayer-D said...

This project is a winner all around. There are some fine tuning issues ofr sure, but from a "smart growth" perspective, this is exactly what should be built in Fenton Village. As a resident of East Silver Spring, I can say that all the neighbors I've spoken to are in favor of this project, they're just too busy with kids to go around to all the meetings. Silver Spring is evolving into a vibrant town, and projects like these are essential towards that end.