Monday, November 30, 2009

fall colors from a green roof

A few weeks ago, I got a guided tour of Eastern Village Cohousing, an "intentional community" located in a converted office building at Eastern Avenue and 14th Street. Started in Denmark in the 1960's, cohousing is designed to give residents a stronger sense of community through shared facilities and shared responsibilities. At Eastern Village, residents share everything from tools to meals, which are served in a large common kitchen. (Of course, each household has its own apartment with a private kitchen.)

The community's also gained notoriety for its environmental awareness, not only reusing a 1950's-era building but installing energy-saving features like a green roof. Five stories up, Eastern Village's roof doesn't command the same views (or offer a supply of fresh sushi) as other buildings in Downtown Silver Spring. But it doesn't take long to realize this place is worlds away from most of the condos that have gone up here in recent years. Check out this photoset of Eastern Village's green roof.

what's up the pike: don't have a seasonally-appropriate photo today

I Like The Facade of 8525 Georgia
- Acha Kamara, the Sierra Leone Inspector General of Police, was honored last week at a dinner held in The Warwick, an apartment complex on University Boulevard . . .? The building's party room played host to the police chief, who was welcomed by "Sierra Leoneans who . . . came from all works of life like Vir­ginia, Dis­trict of Colum­bia, Philadel­phia and New Jer­sey" but were "all loy­al­ists to their coun­try." This isn't quite as cool as having a Ghananian king living in Silver Spring, though.

- Cyndy at Photo-Cyn-Thesis mourns the loss of Scenic Wheaton. Adele, whose poignant narratives about her life and work rehabilitating veterans at Walter Reed brought many a tear to my eye, shut down her blog sometime within the past month. "I loved the subtle humor that often accompanied her otherwise very earnest and thoughtful point of view," Cyndy writes. This brings the number of blogs based exclusively in Wheaton to zero.

- Tomorrow, the Silver Spring Transportation and Pedestrian Safety Committee holds its monthly meeting. They'll be talking about new development in Downtown Silver Spring - from the Fillmore to the new Silver Spring Library - and how to handle the increase in pedestrian traffic that will follow. Don Scheuerman and David Dise from the county's Department of General Service will be on hand to answer questions. The meeting's at 7:30pm in the Silver Spring Regional Services Center, located on 8435 Georgia Avenue at Wayne.

- And on Saturday, the Silver Spring Historical Society and Montgomery Preservation are holding an open house at the B&O Railroad Station. There will be tours of the restored train station, an exhibit on former station agent Robert Davis, a performance by the Seraphim Singers a cappella quartet ("Clad in Victorian Garb, they will also Croon 1940s songs!"). For the kids, Thomas the Tank Engine will be giving rides. The event's from 10am to 3pm at the station, 8100 Georgia Avenue at Sligo. For more information, visit Montgomery Preservation's website.

Friday, November 27, 2009

what's up the pike: i will never drink milk again

If you haven't noticed already, posting's been a little light this week because of the Thanksgiving weekend. JUTP will be back up to full speed Monday morning. Anyway:

- A proposed apartment complex will have more affordable units and less parking if the Planning Board approves changes (warning! PDF file.) to the Galaxy, to be built at Eastern Avenue and 13th Street, next Thursday. Of the development's 241 apartments, 101 would be County-subsidized moderately priced dwelling units, reports the DCmud blog, while the number of parking spaces would drop from 430 spaces to 368, about 1.5 spaces per apartment.

Back in 2005, RST Development had more ambitious ideas (scroll down) for the Galaxy, planning over 300 luxury condos in a trio of high-rise buildings. Silver Spring, Singular noted how hilariously outdated their advertising was. They downsized their plans after the market downturn in 2007. (Photo courtesy of Silver Spring Scene.)

- The Devouring DC blog, written by a Silver Spring resident (whose blogroll looks kind of empty, if you know what I mean) reviews Flippin' Pizza, which recently opened at Colesville and Ramsey next to Qdoba. "It's not the Italian, gourmet neapolitan style pizza like you would find at 2 Amy's," she writes, "but if you are looking for a simple New York style pizza this is a pretty good bet." Unfortunately, the blogger notes, Flippin' Pizza doesn't deliver.

- The Gazette recaps last week's trash cleanup in a popular student hangout next to Northwood High School, where students and local environmentalists hope to create a nature trail. Littered with everything from an unemptied purse to a bong (extracurricular activities, anyone?), the 15-acre woods was basically abandoned after plans for a road there connecting Route 29 and University Boulevard were shelved.

- The National Capital Trolley Museum says they're still planning to re-open tomorrow. Located on Bonifant Road in Layhill for forty years, the museum lost much of their collection of historic streetcars in a 2003 fire and was displaced by construction of the InterCounty Connector last year. The museum's new facility was designed by NS Architects of Rockville.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

the only photo I have of the thanksgiving parade

George Leventhal In Thanksgiving Parade

What are you thankful for this year? I've been trying to give this a lot of thought, assuming I'd have a killer post to write about it. Despite all of the privileges we may enjoy in life - a place to live, food to eat, Internet access - it's hard to comprehend all of the things we have to begin with, let alone which of them we appreciate most.

I was in last Saturday's Montgomery County Thanksgiving Parade, driving the official Councilmember Leventhal SUV Big Important Float, blasting Bruce Springsteen ("Nothing says 'America!' like Springsteen," George noted) and having a great time despite how corny the whole thing felt.

It's not cool at a young age to be happy or thankful and far, far easier to be irritated about someone or something because the pain - no matter how trivial - makes you feel like you've had something to struggle for. But I could feel the smile forming on my face as I drove down Georgia Avenue, surrounded by the small army of local kids the campaign had rounded up to walk alongside the car and, beyond that, the tens of thousands of people who'd come out to watch the parade, waving at George.

At Georgia and Bonifant I noticed someone waving at me and mouthing something. All I could hear was Bruce singing about Asbury Park, so I turned it down. "That's a great blog you write!" he yelled. Whoa. I don't know who you are, but you made my day. So that's something I'm really thankful for this year. It's cool to see something you do behind a computer screen yield something in real life - in a parade, no less.

Another thing I'm thankful for is this photo from the parade, taken by East Silver Spring resident and friend of JUTP Kathy Jentz. I didn't feel safe wielding my camera from inside the car as I did during the Burtonsville Day Parade (there were actually people in this one), so it's all I have.

But if that's not enough, check out these awesome photos from Flickr user Scattered. And have a happy Thanksgiving! Hopefully you're not reading this and are actually with people who love you.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

what's up the pike: next stop, turkey

- The National Capital Trolley Museum says they're still planning to re-open this Saturday. Located on Bonifant Road in Layhill for forty years, the museum lost much of their collection of historic streetcars in a 2003 fire and was displaced by construction of the InterCounty Connector last year. The museum's new, bricked-out facility (above) was designed by NS Architects of Rockville.

- If you like planning, could use an extra thirty grand a year, and aren't a Democrat, the Planning Board wants to hear from you. They're seeking applications to fill a seat vacated by former state Del. Jean Cryor, who passed away earlier this month. A majority of the five-person board are Democrats, meaning that the remaining seats must be filled by a Republican, independent, or member of another party.

- Park and Planning will delay construction of the proposed "skate spot" in Woodside Park after the Woodside Civic Association complained, reports friend of JUTP and middle-aged skater Skateboard Mom. The skate spot, which would have included modular ramps and jumps, was to be installed in January and made permanent pending feedback from the community.

- The bridge on Old Columbia Pike over the ICC should open this week just in time for Thanksgiving, says the Post. No word on whether the bridge will be dedicated to civic activist and Fairland resident Stuart Rochester, who passed away last July.

- The Archdiocese of Washington warns that two Catholic schools in East County could close due to decreasing enrollment. St. Catherine Labouré in Wheaton and St. Michael the Archangel in Downtown Silver Spring are two of fourteen schools in the District and Maryland targeted for closure or reorganization. Other private schools in East County have recently closed; last June, the Newport School in Calverton shut down due to dwindling finances.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

the case for a downtown skatepark (this time, with numbers) (updated)

UPDATE: The Woodside Civic Association, adjacent to the proposed "skate spot" in Woodside Park, asks Park and Planning to delay construction. It was supposed to open in January. (Thanks to Skateboard Mom for the heads-up.)

east of maui aerial 1998
Many kids who skate on and get chased from Downtown's plazas and pocket parks have no memory of East of Maui, the skatepark on Ellsworth Drive that operated temporarily in the 1990's before giving way to (Silver Plaza). It was a pretty big place, attracting people from across the region. And even though it's been gone for ten years, skating culture's never loosened its grip on Silver Spring.

So it's confusing that the Gazette says a new skate spot in Woodside Park "may clear downtown Silver Spring streets" of kids on four wheels. At 3,000 square feet, the skate spot could fit inside one of the bigger houses behind the park. As I've written before, it's a little out of the way for kids who hang out downtown, not to mention that it might not even accommodate everyone who tried to go there.

Frequent commenter and friend of JUTP Skateboard Mom pointed us to "10 Ways To Make A Great Skatepark," a really awesome presentation from Skaters for Public Skateparks, an organization patterned after Project for Public Spaces. It not only says what makes a great skatepark, but builds a case for them as a public amenity, which is necessary in communities where kids who skate are still considered a nuisance. The ten recommendations it makes are:
I don't know if Montgomery County has a process for determining how much space "Meets the Need" for skateparks. But SPS provides a formula to show how much skatepark a place might require, so I figured it might be worthwhile to do that for below-the-Beltway Silver Spring.
1) Service Area's 5-24 Population

The 2008 American Community Survey (basically a yearly Census) says there are 17,737 "youth" between 5 and 24 in Downtown Silver Spring and immediately surrounding neighborhoods.

2) divided by National Average of Youth That Skate (16%)

That means there are 2,838 potential skaters in the given area.

3) divided by Daily Skaters (33%)

These are kids who would be most likely to use and frequent a skatepark. Our total comes out to 936 people.

4) multiply by Minimum Footage (1500)

1500 square feet is the estimated amount of space a skater would need to do a trick, combined with areas for spectators, circulation, and so on. We're at 1,404,810 square feet. That's roughly the size of Wheaton Plaza. (That's a lot of shoe stores.)

5) divided by Concurrent Users (10)

We'll assume that ten kids are in a given space at any time, each taking turns doing a trick and being watched. That brings the square footage down to 140,481 square feet, about the size of a Target. If it were a square, it would have sides 375 feet long. If it were a block in Downtown Silver Spring, it would be the one bounded by Georgia, Wayne, Dixon and Bonifant.
This may never get built, but it shows one "skate spot" will not even begin to clear skaters from the CBD. You need many places to skate, from neighborhood parks to skateparks that attract people from across the region. Skating is an inherently social sport. You do tricks and spend as much time watching other people try them. That's half the reason why skaters end up in city plazas. And after they're done, they might even grab some food or watch a movie or even buy something from a local business.
Denver Skatepark and Flour Mill Lofts
Give these kids a prominent place in the community and they'll show it respect. Push them aside and they'll act out, as happens at the tucked-under-an-overpass Paranoid Park in the movie of the same name. (Rent it, it's really good.) When I visited Denver last winter I stumbled on the Denver Skatepark, right on the edge of downtown, next to a large riverfront park and some very expensive (by Midwestern standards) condos. Alternative sports are a big deal in Colorado, and it's natural that the city would celebrate them in a central, visible location.

But finding one acre, let alone three for a decent skatepark in Downtown Silver Spring sounds next to impossible. We had that amount of space for a skatepark on Fenton Street, but it's unclear what community support is there for it even after local youth made a documentary about the need for one in 2005.

At the meeting about the new Silver Spring Library two weeks ago, County officials noted that the five-story Wayne Avenue parking garage is never more than 70% full, meaning that at any given time an entire floor is never used. Sounds like that roof might be a nice place for a skatepark.

daily snapshot: dead street sign

Dead Street Sign, Ellsworth at Cedar

Yield couldn't take it anymore. Nobody listened to him, especially after they gave him the "No Left Turn" sign. What was scary about a traffic command that was so vague? I mean, who even knew what "Yield" meant, anyway? Now, Stop - people were scared of him. Stop was tough. He'd come down hard on you if you didn't pay attention.

When Yield got cut down in battle with an errant driver, he didn't cry. He took it like a man, lying in the middle of the street, waiting for death to come.

I saw Yield on the ground and blasted down Ellsworth Drive because no one told me I couldn't make a left there. It's a nice neighborhood back there, but I'd never seen it before. Hopefully I won't get caught the next time I cut through it, either.

This is on Ellsworth Drive near Cedar Street, behind the Silver Spring Library.

Monday, November 23, 2009

what's up the pike: they make trees see-through now

- It won't be finished for nearly two years, but check out these images of the new White Oak Community Recreation Center anyway. At 33,000 square feet, it'll be the largest such facility in the county. In addition to the standard fare (gym, game room, etc.), the rec center will have a skate spot and a nice big deck overlooking the woods and the Paint Branch for social events.

- Meanwhile, the Mid-County Community Recreation Center in Layhill should be done by New Year's, according to the page where these nice construction photos are found. Like the White Oak facility, it was designed by Calverton-based Grimm + Parker Architects and will be seeking LEED certification for its environmentally-sound construction. Speaking of which, Mid-County's parking lots are in back, making it more convenient for visitors coming by foot or bus.

- Park Hills Civic Association is holding a meeting tonight about the Purple Line and its controversial proposed stop at Wayne Avenue and Dale Drive. County and state elected officials will be there, along with the principals of nearby schools and Mike Madden from the MTA. The meeting will be at 7:30pm Monday at Silver Spring International Middle School, located at the corner of Wayne and Dale.

- From the listservs: residents in East Silver Spring say a pot dealer's moved in, with reports of cars "parked . . . with the engine on with no driver inside" and "increased activity" at the corner of Gist and Takoma avenues, where men in "dark jackets" have accosted young children. If you've got any tips, it never hurts to call the Police Department's 3rd District station on Sligo Avenue.

Friday, November 20, 2009

if there was a crosswalk, it wouldn't have been jaywalking

Crossing Ellsworth at Georgia
The death of a 63-year-old pedestrian in the circle at 16th and Colesville on Wednesday is a reminder of how dangerous the streets of Downtown Silver Spring are for pedestrians. Sligo at Silver Spring, Singular says that drivers are the true victims, forced to react when a jaywalker darts in front of their car, but I doubt Mike and Wendy Linde, Downtown's crosswalk crusaders, would feel sympathy for someone carrying two tons of steel with them.

Downtown streets like Georgia, Colesville and 16th are wide, befitting their status as state highways. But while they carry traffic from as far as Florida, they have a responsibility in the business district to prioritize local traffic. And more and more local traffic in Downtown Silver Spring means pedestrians. Barely half the people who live in below-the-Beltway Silver Spring drive to work alone. The rest either carpool, use transit, or walk and bike, and those are the people you'll see on our sidewalks.

Despite all of this, accommodations for pedestrians are rare or nonexistent. Sidewalks on many blocks, like on Colesville between Georgia and Ramsey - a major path for people going to and from the Metro - are barely wide enough for two people to pass each other. Most major intersections don't have fully striped crosswalks. At the circle where the man was killed, there are no crosswalks for 16th Street and Colesville Road. That's three lanes of traffic - even more if you count the wide turning radii at the corners - for someone to cross on foot.

Wayne Avenue
Fences like this one along Wayne Avenue may prevent jaywalking, but they don't discourage speeding, making it even more unsafe for pedestrians.

Sligo suggests fences along Colesville Road, but that's a false solution. Fences are useful if you want to annoy pedestrians, but they'll still look for the closest distance between two points and cross there. Just look at how many people walk along the fences installed on New Hampshire and University in Langley Park. Similarly, you'll never see a lot of people using the skybridges over Veirs Mill Road in Wheaton or East-West Highway in Hyattsville. It's too much of a hassle to go up and down several flights of stairs just to cross a street.

The real issue is that the blocks in Downtown are very long and that jaywalking doesn't feel any less safer than crossing at the corner where there may not be a crosswalk. The answer is to create more mid-block crossings that save walkers the hassle of going all the way to the corner while also making it clear to drivers where people will cross. The crossing at Georgia and Ellsworth (above) is an excellent example. The median is raised and nicely landscaped along Georgia, providing a visual barrier to jaywalking. Then, there's a huge crosswalk with a stoplight. Even when the light is green, drivers know to anticipate a pedestrian there.

Downtown businesses are increasingly reliant on foot traffic. Just look at Ellsworth. People don't spend exorbitant amounts of money to live in or near Downtown Silver Spring because it's easy to drive, and they don't shop there because it's easy to park. Even those who do drive downtown spend most of their time there on foot, and if it's not attractive for them to walk, they won't. The biggest reason why businesses away from the revitalized area could have trouble getting customers is because people feel like they're taking their life in their hands crossing Georgia or Colesville.

The problem is that drivers need to slow down in Downtown Silver Spring, and no fence or posted speed limit will make that happen. You have to put more pedestrians on the street and make a visual statement that higher speeds are not safe. To do that, you have to give walkers confidence to cross the street.

what's up the pike: into the woods

Tree Preservation Zone
- Of course, tomorrow is the annual Montgomery County Thanksgiving Parade in Downtown Silver Spring. (Hoping the mounted horses don't pee everywhere this time.) The parade kicks off at Georgia and Sligo at 9:30am and ends around 12pm. Once again, I'll be driving the Councilmember Leventhal SUV Big Important Float. Better grab some sidewalk early, or watch it live on Channel 8.

- On Sunday from 1pm to 4pm, students and local environmentalists will pick up trash on land next to Northwood High School left unmaintained after plans for a road there connecting Route 29 and University Boulevard were shelved. Northwood, along with the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club, Friends of Sligo Creek and Neighbors of Northwest Branch, received a grant to install a nature trail there. The school's at University Boulevard and Arcola Avenue. For more info, call Jennifer Chambers at 240/893-1347.

- A photography exhibit featuring the woods in Wheaton Regional Park (and called "Woods") premiered in the District last week. Post art critic Blake Gopnik likes the work but suggests it's too good for Wheaton. "The no-place-ness often bred by bad suburban planning somehow seems to infect the woods in this show," he complains. Remember, if it's not in D.C. (really New York), it's not art. See "Woods" through December 19 at Civilian Art Projects, located at 1019 7th St NW.

- From the listservs: the Park Hills Civic Association is holding a meeting about the Purple Line and its proposed stop at Wayne Avenue and Dale Drive, which has caused contention among neighbors. Several politicos from the county and state will be there, along with the principals of nearby Sligo Creek Elementary and Silver Spring International Middle School, and Mike Madden from the MTA. The meeting will be at 7:30pm Monday at the middle school, located at the corner of Wayne and Dale.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

daily snapshot(s): dragonfly

The Dragonfly, Ellsworth at Fenton (1)
Once the dragonfly fell to earth, it didn't have a chance. There was a sale at DSW Shoe Warehouse and the high heels were the first to go, clomping loudly and emphatically down Ellsworth. At least it'll be a quick death, he thought.

The Dragonfly, Ellsworth at Fenton

this is not a sears . . .

Repainting The White Oak Sears (4)
I know Sligo at Silver Spring, Singular likes his mid-century modernism, so this is for you. The Sears in White Oak (once the "largest Sears in America" according to Wonder Years creator Carol Black) is both a blast from the past and a sad reminder of suburban decay, looking much as it did in the 1960's.

The rest of the White Oak Shopping Center shed its concrete slabs and triangular column-things for some faux-Colonial trim in 1993. But Sears, which like most department stores owns its building and the land beneath it (making a much-needed redevelopment of this shopping center very difficult), held firm. That is, until just a couple of weeks ago when the store got a fresh coat of off-white paint. Nothing says "we are ready for the 21st century" like neutral colors.

Repainting The White Oak Sears (1)

They aren't done. Three weeks after I took this photo, they still aren't done with this wall.

Repainting The White Oak Sears

If you look closely enough, you'll notice that everywhere that has a "Sears" sign was at one time an entrance to the store. Not sure if it was changing store layouts, or a fear of the people living in the apartments that surround the store, but almost all of the openings have been sealed up.

Ceci N'est Pas Un Door

At least, most of them have. As Magritte would've said, "Ceci n'est pas un porte." (That's "this is not a door.")

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

percontee: too good to be true?

Green Roof
part SIX of a series about new development proposals in Calverton and Hyattsville by Percontee.

While nearby garden apartment complexes are just renovating their buildings, Percontee felt it more appropriate to do tabula rasa, clearing the site and starting over from scratch. The redevelopment would happen in phases, starting closest to the new Post Park apartments on East-West Highway and working its way east.

In an article in the Prince George's Sentinel from last May, he suggested that it was "less cost effective to make repairs" than to build new. "We don't feel it is the most responsible way to move forward by retrofitting . . . rather than by changing what is there," Genn says.

Unlike LifeSci Village, where community support for the project is high, neighbors of Belcrest Plaza are less enthused. Current apartment tenants seem ambivalent about redevelopment. “It doesn’t come as a surprise,” one resident told The Sentinel in May. “The owners and management have to stay up to date to compete.”

At a meeting in August, residents of the adjacent town of University Park complained about everything from pollution to the potential for gentrification. Current residents will be able to move to buildings on Toledo Place that will not be redeveloped. "We want to minimize dislocation as much as possible," says Genn.

While Lambert says there will be "some provisions" for affordable housing in the new complex, Prince George's County has no set requirement for how many units must be built. Percontee claims that the new Belcrest Plaza, with nearly four times as many homes as the original, could actually have fewer school-aged children because of its drastically different demographic make-up.

Perspective, Toledo Terrace
The redevelopment would turn Toledo Terrace into an urban boulevard.

There was also some skepticism about the success of previous upscale development in Hyattsville. University Town Center has had difficulty filling its retail space and selling apartments; a mile away, the Arts District Hyattsville development (which JUTP visited in 2007) has stalled due to the recession.

Despite its large size, Belcrest Plaza is racing towards becoming a reality. Percontee will submit a full site plan for approval by Prince George's County next spring, with construction to begin as early as 2012. Full build-out should take "ten to twelve years," Genn says.

"A lot of people have a general resistance to change," responds Genn. "We believe big in Hyattsville and its potential. We do think it can be like a Bethesda Row or some of the great exciting places to be in the DC area. We see it as helping to stimulate more investment in the area."

what's up the pike: cars and people, too

Ellsworth Drive Open, Nov. 2009 (1)
- What's wrong with the scene in this [blurry] photo, taken last Saturday night on Ellsworth Drive in Downtown Silver Spring? That's right: there are cars. Is not closing Ellsworth on weekends a regular thing now? Sounds okay with me. I kind of think dodging cars makes that block a little more exciting, and Richard Layman would probably argue that shopkeepers like it when motorists can pass their stores, even if they can't park out front.

- Tomorrow, the Planning Board reviews a project plan (warning! PDF file.) for a proposed building at 8621 Georgia Avenue (next to Eagle Bank) in Downtown Silver Spring. The thirteen-story tower will have 185,000 square feet of office space, about 6,000 square feet of retail or restaurant space, and a public art installation along Georgia. In addition to providing space for outdoor seating, the developer may also have to contribute money towards renovating the Fenton Gateway Park at Fenton Street and Philadelphia Avenue.

- A school in Kensington won't pay the town $2,000 a year to use a park its students were banned from using, says the Gazette. Parents of toddlers complained that students from the K-12 Brookewood School were hogging the playground at Reinhardt Park, resulting in the town placing a ban on children over 5 using it last September.

- On Sunday, students and local environmentalists will pick up trash on degraded land next to Northwood High School. The 15-acre wooded site was unmaintained and polluted after plans for a road there connecting Route 29 and University Boulevard were shelved. Northwood, along with the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club, Friends of Sligo Creek and Neighbors of Northwest Branch, received a $7,500 grant to restore the land and install a nature interpretive trail and meadow there.

The initial cleanup will take place from 1pm to 4pm next to Kaplan Stadium at Northwood High School, University Boulevard at Arcola Avenue. For more info, call Jennifer Chambers at 240/893-1347.

- Apparently, Just Up The Pike is the third most-read local blog in the State of Maryland, second only to Rockville Central and, of course, Maryland Politics Watch. Congratulations! I am glad that Maryland blog readers have such good blog reading taste.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

percontee: new heights in hyattsville

iconic building
part FIVE of a series about new development proposals in Calverton and Hyattsville by Percontee.

LifeSci Village, Percontee's proposed community of homes, shops and research facilities in Calverton, waits for Montgomery County to give the green light. In the meantime, they're turning to Hyattsville, where they've envisioned one of the most ambitious urban redevelopment projects in the region.

The existing Belcrest Plaza is a 1960's-era garden apartment community built by the Gudelsky family. Percontee seeks to redevelop most of the 783-unit complex, located behind the Mall at Prince George's on Belcrest Road, into an urban neighborhood that Genn compares to Reston Town Center or Bethesda Row.

The surrounding area, near the Prince George's Plaza metro station, has become a nationally-recognized example of Smart Growth. A case study of the adjacent University Town Center, a mixed-use development built around a forty-year-old office park, appears in the recently-published book Retrofitting Suburbia.

Two luxury apartment complexes flank the Belcrest Plaza site. Across East-West Highway, a new hotel and an office tower are planned, while a new shopping mall atop the Metro station has been completed.

Site Plan With Green Space
Site plan, Belcrest Plaza. The Mall at Prince George's is at the bottom.

At build-out, Belcrest Plaza would have 2,750 homes, 200,000 square feet of office space, 55,000 square feet of retail, along with space set aside for a new public library and recreation center. The thirty-five acre site would have a mix of townhomes and mid- and high-rise apartment buildings, ranging from five to seventeen stories. Toledo Terrace and Toledo Road would become tree-lined boulevards.

A thirty-three story "iconic building" would sit at the corner of Belcrest Road and Toledo Road. "We want something . . . to send the signal that this is a vibrant area," says Genn of the tower, which like the rest of the complex was designed by the Vienna-based Lessard Group. "The reason is to make a signature and a statement."

"The perspective up there could just be . . . awesome," Genn says. If completed the "iconic building" would be one of the tallest towers inside the Beltway, if not region-wide.

daily snapshot: apostrophe's

Too Many Apostrophe's
One little-known fact about Chick-Fil-A founder S. Truett Cathy (or, as he wrote it, 'S. Truett Cathy) is that he is an apostrophe fanatic, much to the chagrin of his friends, family and English teachers. The fast-food chain he started over sixty years ago was very nearly dubbed Chick'Fil'A, but market surveys revealed that the name's pronunciation was already foreign enough to people who weren't from the South.

Cathy tries to use apostrophe's in as many word's as he can, including day's of the week, except for Sunday, the Lords day. (He feels punctuation is a kind of work, making it an affront to God on the Sabbath.)

This sign is, of course, across from the only Chick-Fil-A in Silver Spring (for now!!!), at Fenton Street and Ellsworth Drive.

Monday, November 16, 2009

more progress on civic building

Civic Building, Nov. 2009 (3)
One month after the ice rink outside the new Silver Spring Civic Building was formed, we're seeing even more signs of progress. The supports for the super-modern, glowing canopy that'll go over the rink are already in place. Also, you can see the wood paneling creeping across the first floor of the building itself. There's actually more of it than shown in the original renderings, which is a welcome change.

Civic Building, Nov. 2009 (1)
The building under construction.

"Your Name Here"
The original rendering.

While I wasn't initially a fan of the new Civic Building's design (I believe "piece of Modernist crap" was the word I used back in '06), I think the wood adds much-needed warmth to what'll hopefully become a new public hearth for Silver Spring.

That "Your Name Here" is a reminder to all y'all readers out there who might have a potential namesake (or potential corporate sponsor, har har) for the Silver Spring Civic Building. Now that the Rockville Library's been handed over to our veterans, Doug Duncan's name is up for grabs, but my vote remains for the Dave Chappelle Civic Building.

what's up the pike: sister to the east?

- Over in College Park, the University of Maryland's cut their ties with development firm Foulger Pratt/Argo to which was going to build East Campus, a mixed-use development on Route 1 "twice the size of . . . downtown Silver Spring," which FP/Argo did five years ago. University officials still say they'll have the project's first phase underway "within the next three years." (Image courtesy of Rethink College Park.)

- Also: popular off-campus coffeehouse College Perk says they're still planning to re-open after a fire and eviction forced them to close last year. They're currently in talks with Prince George's County to open at the former 94th Aero Squadron restaurant, offering fine dining alongside the traditional coffeehouse atmosphere.

- Now that the Fillmore music hall deal has been put into writing, Montgomery County might want to get that sucker under construction fast. That's because they'll be compensating the Lee Development Group for any cost overruns, according to The Gazette. The venue, to be built in the former J.C. Penney building on Colesville Road, will anchor a new mixed-use project by the Lees that could go before the Planning Board pretty soon, says county economic director Steve Silverman.

- The Gazette profiles United Therapeutics, the pioneering biotech firm whose sexy headquarters complex in Downtown Silver Spring is nearing completion. What I didn't know before reading this is that the company's spent most of its existence researching and marketing a single drug, called Remodulin, for a disorder that causes continuously high blood pressure.

- The Harvest Collective, a new organization created by recently-graduated student activist/member of Lonely are the Brave/White Oak resident/friend of JUTP Davey Rogner, is kicking off a nationwide sustainability campaign called "Pick Up America." Rogner and the collective will walk from Assateague to San Francisco, picking up trash by day and holding potluck dinners by night. "We will leave a trail of clean roadsides and streams from the Atlantic to the Pacific," he writes on The Harvest Collective's new blog. You can also follow Rogner and the group on Twitter.

- And finally: some of y'all might have gotten a glimpse of Teen Sex, a documentary I made in high school, over the weekend. Unfortunately, I had to take it down due to a variety of, um . . . well, let's just say the record labels didn't think their slutty pop songs were an appropriate soundtrack to a video with no actual depictions of teenage sex. So, there's that. Hope you enjoyed it!

Friday, November 13, 2009

what's up the pike: whole lotta noise (updated)

Congratulations on getting your very own music hall, East County! Hopefully the wait (which continues, after all, the thing hasn't even been built yet) is well worth it. Anyway:

- Who is the woman in this photo, taken by awesome photographer/friend of JUTP Chip Py at last night's Town Hall Meeting with Ike Leggett at Takoma Park Middle School? I wasn't there, but I know some of you readers were. And no, just because I work for the county doesn't mean I know who this is. Special prizes to whomever can convince me that their guess is correct.

UPDATE! Evan Glass, president of the South Silver Spring Neighborhood Association, says it's Alisa Parenti from County Cable Montgomery. Fitting that she would host a televised town hall meeting. Evan's prize is, of course, the gratification of knowing that he was correct and by being mentioned on an official Internet weblog. Thanks!

- Those living near the InterCounty Connector where it crosses Route 29 say they're losing sleep over late-night highway construction. We aren't hearing many complaints from the Tanglewood side of The Pike, but they're probably just happy that "criminals" from Briggs Chaney can't walk into their neighborhood anymore.

- The Glenmont Metro's getting its long-awaited second parking garage, adding another seventeen hundred spaces for commutes heading into Downtown Silver Spring and the District. Neighbors are concerned it'll bring more crime to the area, but WMATA says their planned Park-and-Rob garage has yet to be funded.

- Park and Planning's embarking on a new land use and transpo plan for the Route 29 corridor all the way from Downtown Silver Spring to Burtonsville, with a special focus on LifeSci Village and associated development in White Oak. Patterned on the recently-completed Georgia Avenue Corridor Study and the 355/I-270 Corridor Study, it'll set out a new vision for Colesville Road and Columbia Pike with, we hope, serious talk about rapid transit along the corridor. Work on the study should begin in 2011 and be approved by 2014.

- A new theatre's opening in the former Cinema 'N' Drafthouse at Wheaton Plaza. The Montgomery Royal will play first-run and indie films and have its grand opening some time in December, according to our sources at Westfield, the mall's owner. But really I'm just saying that so you can participate in the super-fun comment thread that started from Wednesday's post.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

county finalizes fillmore deal with lees, live nation

The Fillmore, September 2007
If you haven't heard already . . .

Many years in the making, County Executive Ike Leggett has announced that Montgomery County's forged an arrangement with music promoter Live Nation to run a Fillmore music hall on Colesville Road. Once a former J.C. Penney department store, the fully-built venue will be donated by the Lee Development Group, which in turn will receive extra accommodations to build a mixed-use project on their property behind the hall.

If you're curious about the long history behind this project, click here to see every single JUTP post about the Fillmore over the past three years.

Leggett's press release follows:


County Gets Silver Spring Property Worth $3.5 Million For Free To Open Fillmore Music Hall

Montgomery County and the Lee Development Group today signed a final agreement permitting the construction of a Fillmore Music Hall on the property which formerly housed the J.C. Penney Company in downtown Silver Spring. After completion of the Music Hall, Lee Development Group will donate the land to the County.

Under the terms of the agreement, Montgomery County receives the $3.5 million property at no cost to create a dynamic new music, entertainment, and community use venue in downtown Silver Spring, a move that will bolster economic development and the music scene for that community and the County as a whole.

The new music hall, to be run under contract by Live Nation, will preserve the historic façade of the old J.C. Penney store site on Colesville Road owned by the Lee Development Group – a site vacant for 18 years -- and build a modern, new music and community use venue behind it. The State of Maryland and Montgomery County will contribute $4 million each – for a total $8 million in public investment -- toward the cost of building the facility, which will be owned by the County. The Music Hall requires no ongoing public subsidy.

An economic impact analysis done by the County’s Department of Finance shows an annual cost to the State and County on projected bond issues as approximately $355,000 and annual direct and indirect income to the State and County from sales, income, beverage, fuel, and other taxes, as well as rent, as approximately $1,067,000. This results in a net annual profit to the public of $712,000.

When the value of Live Nation’s improvements to the County-owned building and Live Nation’s ongoing and structural maintenance work are included – as well as the value of community use and Live Nation community contributions – the net benefit to the public increases by another $951,000 to a total net public benefit annually of about $1,663,000.

Under the terms of the agreement, the Lee Development Group would also provide for free management services for the construction of the facility, a $500,000 value.

The land donation is intended to serve as the required “public use space and public amenity” that is required for County development projects. Almost always such an amenity is provided in conjunction with a development project. In this case, however, the Lee Development Group is providing the amenity up-front – long before they have a development project on the property adjoining the former J.C. Penney site.

“The County’s vision is to bring a dynamic, first-class music, entertainment, and community use venue that will offer a wide range of musical choices to Silver Spring at the former J.C. Penney site,” said County Executive Ike Leggett. “That’s why the County approached the Lee Development Group with this innovative approach, asking them to donate this key property at the gateway to Silver Spring.

“We want to bring Silver Spring revitalization across Colesville Road and Georgia Avenue. We want more customers for Silver Spring businesses and restaurants.

This location will create a dynamic center of music and entertainment with the American Film Institute and the restored Silver Theater directly across the street.

“This is one more giant step toward delivering that vision,” said Department of Economic Development director Steve Silverman. “Now more than ever, we need to take Silver Spring revitalization to the next level.”

”This complex and groundbreaking agreement is finally signed. Now we look forward to working with the County Planning Department to move this project forward,” said Bruce H. Lee, President of Lee Development Group.

More information on the project is available at

Finally! (Kind of wondering if 9:30 Club owner Seth Hurwitz could have built and opened his competing music hall in the time this took to happen.) Here's hoping we'll see music in Downtown Silver Spring soon enough.

Fillmore Press Conference, September 2007
A young, strapping Ike Leggett signing a non-binding agreement with music promoter Live Nation to open a club on Colesville Road in September 2007.

Fillmore Site Plan
An early plan of Lee Development's mixed-use project behind the Fillmore.

percontee: seats at the table

LifeSci Village Residential
part FOUR of a series about new development proposals in Calverton and Hyattsville by Percontee.

Over the past five years, Percontee has been reaching out to the FDA and to the surrounding neighborhoods for input on the project. Response from the FDA has been positive. "We like to shop," Genn recalls them saying. "We like to visit nice restaurants, and we like to take our colleagues out."

Percontee has been meeting regularly with the Hillandale and Calverton civic associations and the advisory committees for the Fairland and White Oak master plans. "For years we've been meeting with the outside communities and doing surveys about what they think of our concept compared to what could be here." Percontee gave the neighbors disposable cameras, asking them to take photos of the kinds of buildings or amenities they'd like to see here.

The community has "literally had a seat at the table," says Lambert. "Stuart Rochester was here," says Genn, referring to the civic activist who passed away in July. He points where I'm sitting. "He sat right in that chair. He said traffic and congestion will happen no matter what is developed, and can we have the best thing possible. He thought this was a responsible vision for the area."

"That's not to say we can ignore the traffic issues," Genn adds. "That's part and parcel with what we're trying to do."

New Washington Adventist Hospital Rendering
Former Councilmember Marilyn Praisner was concerned about the traffic LifeSci Village would add along with other proposed developments like the new Washington Adventist Hospital.

Traffic was the main reason former County Councilmember Marilyn Praisner, who lived in Calverton for forty years, expressed skepticism about LifeSci Village. "Although at first glance the artist’s renderings of this proposal may seem appealing, a closer look raises a number of concerns," she wrote in a newsletter sent to her constituents in November 2007. "The amount of development proposed for the site would have a tremendous impact on traffic."

Councilmember Don Praisner, who succeeded his wife after her passing in 2008, complained that it wasn't "ideal for East County" and that mixed-use development was a fad. "A developer isn't going to build an office building if he can't fill it," he told JUTP in 2008. "You can't ignore the marketplace."

Despite its low profile, LifeSci Village has come up in countywide discussion lately due to its similarity to "Science City," a mixed-use community proposed by Johns Hopkins University west of Gaithersburg also aimed at encouraging scientific research. Skeptics of that project, from Greater Greater Washington to Councilmember Phil Andrews, have suggested that it will draw much-needed investment away from East County, though Percontee doesn't view it as competition.

"I see it as collaboration," Genn says. "We've already collaborated with Johns Hopkins University in trying to attract businesses and institutes to come and locate in Maryland and Montgomery County. We see that Montgomery County can become a real epicenter for life sciences." He notes that the Gudelskys owned the land that became the Shady Grove Life Sciences Center.

LifeSci Village Site Plan
Site plan of LifeSci Village.

Already five years in the making, LifeSci Village will have a while longer before it comes to fruition. Percontee and architects Torti Gallas and Partners won't even start work on the final design until next summer and after that, they'll be waiting for the Planning Department to draft a new sector plan for White Oak and the Route 29 corridor, scheduled to take place in 2013.

A groundbreaking is "regrettably not anytime soon," says Genn. "Five years ago, we were trying to get this moving, if not for forces beyond our control. The FDA employees are coming here now. It would've been great to have something for them."

The biggest delay for LifeSci Village, Genn laments, has been a de facto moratorium on new development in East County due to road improvements that haven't been completed or even funded. "They said we'll put in infrastructure," he says. "We put in overpasses, but we've had little to no investment in the 29 corridor. We made it very easy for Howard County development to come down 29, and they got the tax base increase at Maple Lawn, but congestion isn't better. We've devastated Burtonsville and now we have to figure out how to revitalize it."

Rather than push people away, Genn continues, we should give them more reasons to come here. "Unless we close off our borders," he says, "we can't stop people from coming through."

Check out this slideshow of LifeSci Village and Belcrest Plaza. All images courtesy of Percontee unless otherwise noted.

daily snapshot: don't get mad . . .

'Stephanie Doran,' Piney Branch at Flower

. . . put a sign defaming your ex-love on top of your car and drive around for all to see and judge him/her accordingly. This sign, spotted waiting at the light at Flower Avenue and Piney Branch Road, reads "STEPHANIE DORAN APPROPRIATES OTHER PEOPLE'S PROPERTY & DESTROYS OTHER PEOPLE'S BELONGINGS." The fellow inside looked happy as a clam because, indeed, revenge is best served on four wheels.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

movies return to former cinema 'n' drafthouse, but not booze

Montgomery Cinema And Drafthouse, Wheaton Plaza
JUTP reader and Wheaton resident Melanie alerted us to a sign advertising a new theatre opening at the former Cinema 'n' Drafthouse in Westfield Shoppingtown Westfield Wheaton Wheaton Plaza, which closed last December, less than two months after its much-heralded opening. "Montgomery Royal Theater Coming Soon" reads the sign, hanging from this very marquee (this picture, of course, was taken last year) that has been so integral to the movie-going existence in Wheaton that it was immortalized in young-adult fiction.

At first, all I could find about the new cinema was this vague entry on the mall's website, which of course simply says it's "coming soon." But a representative of Westfield informed us that the theatre will have a soft opening "on Black Friday" - that's November 27 - followed by a full grand opening in December.

The Montgomery Royal will be operated by a local company (details on which we don't know, seeing as they don't even come up in a Google search), giving them major Local First Wheaton cred. They intend to show a "mix of first-run and indie films," making it sound like a less-pretentious Bethesda Row Cinema. The 'Royal will not, unfortunately, have a full-service restaurant and bar like the Drafthouse - which, sad as it may sound, will probably reduce their overhead costs by a lot, hopefully keeping them in business for much longer than two months.

what's up the pike: reverence for life

- Happy Veterans' Day, East County. Today's a day to commemorate the sacrifices of those who serve our country. This year, we also note the execution of John Allen Muhammad - better known as the mastermind behind the Beltway sniper attacks seven years ago this fall - though it may provide little solace to those here and across the region whose lives were forever changed by his actions.

- Professional photographer/friend of JUTP Chip Py sent us these photos of the memorial to Beltway sniper victims in Brookside Gardens to victims of the sniper attacks. Engraved in the stone is the following unattributed statement: "Linger here and reflect on those lost to violence, hope for a more peaceful world, seek a reverence for life among all people."

- Slate magazine has a photo slideshow of each of the fourteen locations where the snipers struck, eight of which were in Montgomery County. Ordinarily, I'd make fun of the inaccurate locations (White Flint, Md.? Aspen Hill, Va.?), but that would be insensitive today.

- If you haven't already, check out our three brief posts on the new Silver Spring Library, which after years of discussion and frustration has finally yielded a finished product - or, at least, a bunch of pretty drawings.

- The Good Eatin' in Wheaton blog discovers that Nava Thai's recent nod from food critic Tom Sietsema has made the restaurant very popular. "Despite having lots of tables these days, it was packed, we had to wait a half hour before sitting down," the blogger writes. "Apparently Nava has become better known than I had realized."

- The county's Department of Transportation has some new photos (or, at least, what I think is a photo) of the White Oak covered bus shelter Transit Center, also under construction. Kinda bummed at how blah the new bus shelters look, especially compared to the recently-completed transit center in Germantown, where lowly bus riders get to wait at a place that looks not unlike the veranda at a Southern bed-and-breakfast. Sigh . . .

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

three brief posts on the silver spring library (part three)

Silver Spring Library - Proposed Pedestrian Bridge
Supporters of a pedestrian bridge between the Silver Spring Library and the Wayne Avenue Garage are holding out hope that it'll still get built.

Not surprisingly, parking and access were the biggest concerns local residents had about the new library. County Executive Ike Leggett insisted two weeks ago that a pedestrian bridge connecting the library to the adjacent Wayne Avenue Garage, heavily supported by the disabled community, would be built. But on Saturday, Scheuerman made it very clear that the connection across Wayne Avenue - already rejected by the County Council in July - wouldn't happen any time soon.

"There is no ability to build a bridge from the public garage to the public building," he says, because doing so would violate the Silver Spring Urban Renewal Plan, which forbids skybridges. Instead, additional handicapped parking spaces would be created in the garage. The library, meanwhile, would be built to accomodate a bridge if the restriction was lifted.

Those living south of the library in and near Fenton Village said the design was just another example of their neighborhood being ignored. "The whole point of this library was that it was supposed to bring the development down to Fenton Village," says Debbie Linn, member of the Silver Spring Citizens Advisory Board and an architect. "The whole point of urban development is defeated by putting in a bridge."

Silver Spring Library - Interior, Third Floor
A grand staircase will carry visitors from Fenton Street to the library on the third floor.

"I think they have ignored Fenton Village and given us a backdoor and a loading dock. This is facing Downtown, as usual," says East Silver Spring activist Karen Roper, who then walked out of the meeting.

But Marilyn Wisoff, vice president of the Friends of the Silver Spring Library, says easy access to parking is a necessity. "Truthfully, without the bridge I'm afraid that people will go elsewhere," she says. "We must pay attention to our present users."

Scheuerman noted that there will be ample parking in the Wayne Avenue Garage, whose nearly 1700 spaces are only about 70% used. "There will be weekends when you come to Silver Spring and find there are cars parked in the garage," he says. "Isn't it great? I remember being here when you didn't have that."

He did, however, encourage supporters of the bridge to make themselves heard by the County Council. "On the bridge . . . that's something y'all have to do," he says. "It's up to the citizenry."

Check out this slideshow of images from the Silver Spring Library, including exterior renderings, interior renderings and selected floor plans. For more images and information, visit the Department of General Services' web page for the project.

three brief posts on the silver spring library (part two)

Silver Spring Library - Site Plan

Seven stories high, the library complex throws together retail, offices, an art gallery, a coffee bar, a park and a Purple Line stop, with some books thrown in for good measure.

With 65,000 square feet of space used by the public, the new library at Wayne Avenue and Fenton Street would be the largest in the county and have an expected 1,125,000 users, based on the number of visitors to the smaller Rockville and Germantown libraries. It'll also include 10,000 square feet of offices for the county's Department of Health and Human Services and 22,000 square feet of retail. A second building, to be completed by private developers later, will contain 120,000 square feet of apartments and an additional 15,000 square feet of retail.

The library's layout, as described by Evans, Lukmire and Scheuerman, will look like this:

The ground floor will contain a public park between Fenton Street and the future Purple Line station, which will be built and programmed as a plaza before the transitway is completed. A drop-off point will be located on an alley just off Wayne Avenue. Inside, there are lobbies on Wayne Avenue and Fenton Street, an art gallery, and a coffee bar, dubbed "The Book Stops Here" on plans.

Specific details for the second floor have yet to be finalized, but there's been previous discussion that it will contain studios for local artists.

The library itself begins on the third floor, with a grand staircase leading up from Fenton Street. This floor will have a circulation desk and young adult books, though there have been hints of a teen area as well.

Silver Spring Library - Fourth Floor

On the fourth floor, there will be adult books, group and quiet study areas, and a computer lab.

The fifth floor will be devoted primarily to children's books, with a reading area and a roof garden facing Fenton Street.

The Department of Health and Human Services will have offices on the sixth floor, with space for health initiatives targeted at the black, Latino, and Asian American communities. There will also be common conference and copy rooms shared with library staff.

Silver Spring Library - Seventh Floor

Finally, the seventh floor will contain meeting rooms available to the public, opening onto a terrace wrapping three sides of the building with views of Wayne Avenue, Fenton Street and Bonifant Street.

Check out this slideshow of images from the Silver Spring Library, including exterior renderings, interior renderings and selected floor plans. For more images and information, visit the Department of General Services' web page for the project.