Thursday, December 31, 2009

aught-nine: the year that was in east county

Perhaps a decade in retrospective would be more appropriate, but this blog has only been around for a third of the 'aughts, so there wouldn't be much to show for the first six or so years. 2009 was for many a downer personally, but it was a rough year for East County as well. We lost many of our community leaders, several of our favorite gathering places closed or moved away, and the revitalization of Downtown Silver Spring faltered in more ways than one. But there's still a little bit of hope for 2010. I think. (Keep your fingers crossed.)

JANUARY

- The Planning Board and County Council both endorse the Purple Line as a light-rail transitway between New Carrollton and Bethesda.

- District 4 Councilmember Don Praisner passes away, almost a year to the day his wife, former Councilmember Marilyn Praisner, died.

FEBRUARY

- "All I Want Is You" by Burtonsville singer-songwriter Barry Louis Polisar appears on the Grammy-winning soundtrack to the 2008 movie Juno.

- School board and community leaders question the usefulness of the Downcounty and Northeast consortia, which give East County eighth-graders a choice of eight high schools offering different signature programs.

MARCH

- The first project in the country to receive funding under President Obama's stimulus plan is the repaving of New Hampshire Avenue in Colesville, which hadn't been done since 1992.

- Fights break out following a youth-organized "Stop the Violence" concert on Ellsworth Drive in Downtown Silver Spring, leading to 35 arrests.

APRIL

- In primary elections for the open District 4 Councilmember seat, Nancy Navarro wins the Democratic nomination and Robin Ficker wins the Republican nomination.

- Civic activist Wayne Goldstein dies of a heart attack. A longtime fixture at any County government meeting, he was on his way to a public hearing at the Board of Appeals.

MAY

- The first annual Silver Spring Blues Festival is held on Ellsworth with an afternoon of performances by blues greats including Memphis Gold.

- Nancy Navarro wins the District 4 Councilmember seat, becoming only the second person to represent East County since the district was created in 1990.

JUNE

- At a series of raucous community meetings, White Oak residents protest plans to build affordable housing next to the new 3rd District Police Station site near New Hampshire Avenue and Route 29.

- The County considers shutting down Sligo Creek Golf Course, causing an outcry among local golfers. A seventeen-member task force is created to devise ways to keep the course open.

JULY

- The Burtonsville Dutch Country Farmers Market, a local institution for over twenty years, announces that they'll finally be closing as the Burtonsville Shopping Center is razed and redeveloped.

- Civic activist and Fairland resident Stuart Rochester passes away after a long battle with melanoma.

AUGUST

- A black lesbian couple is kicked out of the Tastee Diner in Downtown Silver Spring for allegedly making out and stage a sit-in in protest.

- Governor Martin O'Malley endorses the Purple Line as a light-rail transitway between New Carrollton and Bethesda, joining the Montgomery and Prince George's county councils and countless other federal, state and local leaders.

SEPTEMBER

- The Fenton Street Market starts in East Silver Spring, seeking to draw visitors to the neighborhood with a roving flea market atop one of its many parking lots.

- Burtonsville holds its 19th annual Burtonsville Day festival, complete with a parade.

OCTOBER

- The County unveils images of the new Silver Spring Library, set to be built at Fenton Street and Wayne Avenue. When completed in 2012, the complex will hold shops, public meeting space, a Purple Line stop and an art gallery, in addition to books.

- A new pedestrian street opens in Downtown Wheaton that was formerly home to Barry's Magic Shop, a venerated local institution. It isn't long until local shopkeepers start complaining that the walkway is taken over by skater kids.

NOVEMBER

- The Burtonsville Dutch Country Farmers Market re-opens several miles away in Laurel.

- Over two years after first announcing plans to open a Fillmore music hall in Downtown Silver Spring, Montgomery County finally signs an agreement with the Lee Development Group and Live Nation, who will build and run the new venue on Colesville Road.

DECEMBER

- The new Wheaton CBD Sector Plan, which will guide growth in Downtown Wheaton over the next twenty years, taller buildings and a town square for the business district.

- This evening, Mayorga Coffee Roasters closes its flagship store, a gathering place in South Silver Spring for ten years and linchpin of the neighborhood's revitalization.

why we couldn't build chevy chase today

Chevy Chase - American Dream House
This is a new house for sale. It has four bedrooms, three bathrooms, a one-car garage, and a small but flat yard. It's located in an established community with well-kept homes and top-rated schools that look like something out of a movie. It is affluent, but middle-class by D.C. standards, and it's not very different from other D.C. suburbs with detached houses and lots of cars.

Yet this neighborhood has all the conveniences of a small city. There are two supermarkets within ten blocks. Six blocks to the Metro, bus routes, and a proposed light-rail line. Five blocks to Barnes & Noble, along with two movie theatres, three ice-cream shops, and dozens of restaurants. Four blocks to the high school. Two blocks to a trail leading to the Potomac River and Rock Creek Park.

When you have to drive, the car trips can be short. There are two shopping malls, a major university, premier research facilities, and even national parks within fifteen minutes. The traffic can be bad, but it's not always an issue because everything is so convenient.

Brookville Road, Martin's Additions
Current laws make it nearly impossible for small-scale retail to locate in residential neighborhoods, like this block of shops in Martin's Additions.

The best part is that you have choices. In this community, some people will travel by car, others by foot or bike, and still others by bus or train. Some will live in a detached house or a townhouse or an apartment. Some will shop at chain stores or independently-owned stores. Some will become involved in the community, while others will seek privacy. Some will choose not to live here at all.

But these choices are only available to those who can afford to live in a community like this. It could be North Woodside in Silver Spring, Del Ray in Alexandria, or Clarendon in Arlington. This house happens to be in the Town of Chevy Chase; over the summer, it was selling for two million dollars. There's so little supply of places like this, and so much demand, that they've become a luxury available only to those who can afford it.

But this lifestyle could be more affordable if it was available to more people within Chevy Chase or in White Flint, Wheaton, Langley Park, Gaithersburg or even in Calverton, where I live. We should be talking about the kind of community we want to live in - its built form, character, and lifestyle - and let those things determine how wide the roads are, the number of people or jobs, or the need for schools. Yet much if not all of the discussion I've witnessed on growth and development in Montgomery County over the past four years has done it the other way around.

Urbanism is not a numbers game. It's the collective result of individual choices made over a period of time. The kind of places we cherish in Montgomery County have largely happened by accident. The county's oldest neighborhoods - Takoma Park, Woodside, Kensington, and Chevy Chase - were created by individuals with ideas about how a place should be.

Bethesda Lane Bad Panorama
Do we prevent good development from happening by trying to legislate away bad development?

They weren't too different from a new planned community in Clarksburg or redeveloped neighborhood like Bethesda Row. But over time these communities could accommodate changes by other individuals with other ideas, giving them a unique, but unanticipated character.

You can't make that happen with formulas, figures and covenants. Nor can you preserve a great community in amber, as some of our civic leaders have tried. It's no surprise that we can't build Chevy Chase again. But it's disappointing that many people think we can by restricting the number of cars on a road, the number of kids in a school, or even the income of people who live there.

That's not to say that we should ignore the condition of our infrastructure. New development may not always cover the cost of new schools and roads, while existing neighborhoods may need public facilities but can't pay for them. Finding new ways to get the amenities we need while allowing our communities to grow and change - as they inevitably will - is the only way for us to move forward.

It doesn't always cost two million dollars to live in a safe, walkable neighborhood with good schools, convenient shopping and excellent transportation. But these kind of communities are often out of reach for many people in this area. If we can stop relying on numbers and let our communities evolve as they must in order to stay alive, they won't have to be.

Crossposted at Greater Greater Washington.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

hey, I'm in a magazine!

Fenton Street Market Banner
When I visited the first Fenton Street Market last fall, I'd set my sights on a restored fixed-gear bike, which I then rode (without knowing how to stop) in a big crooked ring around the block. But I walked out with a writing gig, thanks to Amanda Hurley, friend of market founder Hannah McCann. Their day jobs are as senior editor and editor-at-large, respectively, for Architect Magazine. And it's in their December education issue that you'll find a column written by yours truly detailing how I went from architecture school to county government.

I would've posted this a looong time ago - like at the beginning of the month - but in addition to graduate school applications, work, classes, this blog, and fighting over parking spaces at various local shopping malls, I wanted to find a hard copy of the magazine, which so far I have not. (We're talking about Architect Magazine, not to be confused with Architectural Record, Architectural Digest, or any of the other architecture-related magazines that the clerks at Borders and Barnes & Noble thought I was looking for.)

But of course, the best part about the Internet is that you don't have to go anywhere to do anything. So check out the online version of my column, titled "Design for (Public) Life." (Like me, the headline writer enjoys the gratuitous and always clever use of parentheses, which I appreciate.)

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

fixing holiday traffic along the other pike

Montrose Crossing Shopping Center, 2007


Reports of congestion near malls across the region this holiday season make it sound like the recession never even happened. They also raise questions about how we handle traffic throughout the year. Expanding public transit is important, but shopping often demands using a car, especially on pedestrian-hostile Rockville Pike, as I discovered a few summers ago.

Many strip malls along The Other Pike were built in the 1950's for local shoppers. Today, they've evolved into multi-story, multi-building campuses, drawing customers from across the region with a variety of high-end speciality goods. More shoppers means more cars, which has made Rockville Pike notorious for nasty traffic.

The solutions below are designed to be implemented in time for next year's holiday shopping season. They're meant to be completed with minimal public intervention, though they would require some cooperation among private developers. And they will reduce congestion within the parking lot, at the mall's entrances, and on The Pike itself.

- Raise awareness of all parking options. Each shopping center has a lot facing Rockville Pike, advertising to passing motorists that parking was available. But many shopping centers and even stand-alone stores and restaurants along Rockville Pike have additional parking areas that are often unknown to customers.

Half of Federal Plaza 's parking is in a rear lot facing East Jefferson Street. Congressional Plaza sets aside spaces in the garage of an adjacent apartment building. And Montrose Crossing (pictured above) has not one, but two parking garages. They all usually sit empty because visitors see the lot in front and assume it's the only one.

In a study of a Los Angeles neighborhood, UCLA professor Donald Shoup discovered that a lot of traffic comes from people looking for parking spaces. The same goes for parking lots along Rockville Pike. If motorists knew that were available in back or in a garage, they could go straight there rather than looking for a space in front.

- Drop the "walk-off" policy. It prevents nearby office workers or Metro commuters from taking up parking spaces. But it also means that someone visiting two adjacent shopping centers has to drive and park twice, creating congestion on the property and on Rockville Pike as well.

Last week, I went looking for a store in Congressional Plaza at Rockville Pike and Halpine Road. I then realized that the store was in the next block at The Shops at Congressional Village. Instead of getting back in the car, I walked two-fifths of a mile to the store, passing every other store in both shopping centers and stopping in a few of them.

Shopping centers could create a privatized version of Montgomery County's Parking Lot Districts in Silver Spring, Wheaton and Bethesda. Property owners may resist sharing parking and customers with other malls, but it could benefit them. Visitors would spend less time trying to park and more time spending money at a greater number of stores. Disabled shoppers or those with large packages may continue driving from place to another. But it would reduce traffic from those able and willing to walk the extra distance.

- Charge for the most convenient spaces. People will seek out free parking if they're using a space for hours at a time. But those in a hurry or running multiple errands will pay for the guarantee of open, easy-to-reach parking.

Install meters at (non-handicapped) spaces within the first few rows of store entrances, give customers thirty minutes to shop and charge fifty cents. These spaces will turn over quickly, meaning more shoppers can visit the center. Those staying longer can park in free spaces further out or in garages, which in many cases are just as close to the stores. Not only will people know about other parking options, but they have an incentive to use them.

Charging for all spaces could potentially backfire so long as a nearby shopping center still offers free parking. But it's a good way to ensure that parking spaces are available for customers. Both the City of Rockville and Providence, Rhode Island, which made public parking free during this year's holiday season, found that lots filled up with Metro commuters or office workers at the expense of shoppers who couldn't find a space.

Long-term plans call for turning Rockville Pike between Shady Grove and White Flint into a string of urban villages akin to those along the Orange Line in Arlington. This will deal with many of the current issues surrounding The Other Pike today as it becomes easier for people to live, work and shop along the corridor without a car. But until that happens, implementing creative ideas like those above could provide quick relief to frustrated shoppers come next Christmas.


View improving holiday traffic along rockville pike in a larger map

Monday, December 28, 2009

what's up the pike: california, here we come . . .

'Sup, y'all. If you're reading this, I'm currently in Los Angeles, the first leg of a tour up the West Coast. Over the next two weeks, I'll also be traveling to San Francisco, Portland, and Seattle. I've basically been planning this trip since I went to Denver, a year ago today.

Posting on Just Up The Pike will be lighter than usual, but I'll hopefully be throwing in photos and words about where I go. And if you've got any suggestions about where I should go, why not leave a comment. Anyway, here's some East County-based architecture news:

Montgomery College PAC, Georgia at Burlington
- I didn't know the Washington Times had an architecture critic, but apparently she reviewed the new Montgomery College Performing Arts Center at Georgia and Burlington in South Silver Spring. Writer Deborah Dietsch calls it "fresh and sophisticated," comparing it to the much-touted Sidney Harman Hall in Gallery Place, and lauds its "energetic, street-savvy architecture."

- Of course, Mayorga Coffee Roasters closes their flagship coffeehouse in South Silver Spring on Thursday. But we've heard they'll soon reopen at the former Savory Cafe in the District's Takoma neighborhood. The new, smaller location will be located at 314 Carroll Street NW. Better get your SmarTrip card out, because it's literally in front of the Takoma Metro and just like their Silver Spring store, you won't find much parking.

Also worth checking out is the Elevation 314 apartments, Mayorga's new home. Recognized for its green design features and lush garden, the complex is a great example of mixed-use, transit-oriented development, not to mention the completely illogical placement of windows on the front. (As was explained to me by its architects, a couple of whom taught studio at Maryland.)

- Silver Spring-based architect Chuck Witmer of SCALEhouse Design has proposed building a new clubhouse and restaurant for the Sligo Creek Golf Course. Their design exercise (scroll down!) replaces the endangered links' existing clubhouse with a barn-red box set into a hill. But unless you're a fan of the streamlined, Civic Building-and-new-Library school of public building design, SCALEhouse's proposal may not be for you.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

it's christmas eve in washington

For the past three years, I've posted the lyrics to "Christmas Eve in Washington" by Maura Sullivan, perhaps the corniest, most generally awful Christmas song in the history of ever. It is so saccharine that I can only listen to it once per annum lest my teeth rot out.

But is there no better way to commemorate Just Up The Pike's 1,000th post than with almost as many rousing renditions of this holiday classic? Take it away, YouTube! And thanks to everyone who's read, commented, guest-blogged for, e-mail-tipped, and job-offered JUTP over the years. This one's for you.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from Just Up The Pike!

It's snowing tonight in the Blue Ridge
There's a hush on the Ches'peake Bay
The chimneys are smoking in Georgetown
And tomorrow is Christmas Day

The Tidal Basin lies quiet
The tourists have found their way home
Mr. Jefferson's standing the mid-watch
And there's a star on the Capitol Dome

It's Christmas Eve in Washington
America's hometown
For it's here that freedom lives
And peace can stand her ground

It's Christmas Eve in Washington
Our joyous wish to you
Is for peace, love and laughter
to last the whole year through

Snowmen peeking through the windows
It's warm with love inside
'Round the tree the children gather
Awaiting Santa's midnight ride

Mom and Dad are counting their blessings
Reflecting on all they've done
So thankful for another
Christmas Eve in Washington

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

metrobus Q2 adds four new routes on sunday

Waiting For A Bus, Wayne at Dixon

On Sunday, Metrobus will reorganize service on the busy Q2 line, traveling between the Silver Spring (pictured above) and Shady Grove Metro stations. It's the first phase of a plan to speed up buses and reduce travel times between the Downcounty and Upcounty. But for those who use the Q2 on a regular basis, the new service - which includes four new, overlapping routes - could be confusing.

The Q2 is one of the region's most-ridden lines, with over 10,000 daily riders. It's also one of the few late-night routes in Montgomery County, running twenty-two hours a day. But because of its length and frequent stops, the Q2 is prone to bus bunching and other delays. Metro says splitting the line up will keep buses on schedule and increase service on the busiest part of the corridor, along Veirs Mill between Rockville and Wheaton. In addition, creating new routes that bypass Montgomery College's Rockville campus will make the trip faster for riders headed elsewhere.

The Metrobus Q2 between Silver Spring and Shady Grove will be split into five routes. See this brochure for more info.

The new set up is as follows:

The existing Q2 route between Shady Grove and Silver Spring will remain, except it'll only run during early mornings and late evenings. It'll be joined by the Q1, which has the same route and schedule but won't stop at Montgomery College in Rockville. A new Q5 route will run during the day between Shady Grove and Wheaton, also bypassing Montgomery College.

In addition, two new rush hour and midday services will be created. The Q4 route between Rockville and Silver Spring and the Q6 between Shady Grove and Wheaton will run every fifteen minutes during rush hour and every thirty minutes during the day.

Future plans include a limited-stop, express route running from Shady Grove to Silver Spring - similar to the Metrobus 79 and S9 between the District and Downtown Silver Spring - that was cut due to a lack of funding. Eventually, WMATA would like to see bus rapid transit along Georgia Avenue, Veirs Mill Road, Rockville Pike and University Boulevard, providing service to Langley Park and College Park as well.

Q2 users traveling the length of the route may now have to switch buses to go from end to end. East Silver Spring resident Kathy Jentz rides the Q2 to visit family in Germantown and testified at a public hearing last October about changes to the line. She says reducing service between Silver Spring and Wheaton would only shift the burden to the Red Line and the Y line Metrobus along Georgia Avenue. Despite the Q2's high ridership, only two people showed up to speak.

For more information, check out WMATA's website, details on the Metrobus Q2 study, a list of frequently asked questions on the project, and a brochure detailing the new service.

what's up the pike: happy christmas eve eve

new hampshire is van buren
- Colesville just can't catch a break. Over a month after it switched places with a town in Ohio on Google Maps, New Hampshire Avenue - which runs through Colesville - now appears as "East Van Buren Street" between the District line and Ednor Road in Ashton. Meanwhile, East Van Burens in Chicago and Phoenix were left untouched.

- Downtown-based biotech company United Therapeutics has appointed Tommy Thompson, former Secretary of Health and Human Services under President Bush, to their Board of Directors. You thought seeing Obama at Five Guys was cool? Wait until Tommy Thompson goes to Flippin' Pizza. United Therapeutics is currently building a new headquarters at Cameron and Spring streets, which should be completed in 2011.

- Historical Society president Jerry McCoy writes about Silver Spring Avenue between Fenton and Georgia, a formerly residential block that was basically leveled in the 1960's to build office buildings and a parking lot that remains today. Homes on this street sold for just $7,450 back in the day, Jerry says. Kinda wish I was around then to pick a few up and hold onto them for eighty years or so.

- The Blake Beat, the high school newspaper where yours truly got his start writing way back in 2004, won first place in the Maryland Scholastic Press Association's annual writing and editing contest. Much as I enjoy beating Blair High's Silver Chips, Blake's perennial rival for the #1 spot, I must concede that their website is a surprisingly good source for non-school related East County news. But you also can't read the Silver Chips print version on a computer screen.

- A Prince George's County church will move into an office building in Calverton formerly used by the Newport School, reports the Business Journal. The 8,000-member Reid Temple AME Church, which currently occupies this megasanctuary in Glenn Dale, wants to renovate the 55,000-square-foot space for using it, though for what we're not clear.

They won't be the only house of worship in the neighborhood: a Google search reveals four other churches operating out of converted office buildings on Tech Road and Industrial Parkway.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

the roads may be cleared, but sidewalks are another story

Adam over at Maryland Politics Watch says that East County and Downcounty aren't getting their streets cleared after last weekend's massive blizzard. This image from MoCo's "snow-clearning" map showed that much of the county east of Georgia Avenue and below the Beltway had yet to be plowed as of yesterday afternoon.

Randolph Road at Connecticut Avenue
Randolph Road at Connecticut Avenue.

(My neighborhood, and many others east of Route 29, met the snowplow twice by Sunday evening, so I have to give it to Adam and his un-cleared street for making me aware of this.)

The maps say that snowplows have now been to all streets in the county, which should hopefully stop the flood of e-mails from frustrated constituents in my work inbox. But left largely untouched two days into a new work week are our sidewalks, which in many places are completely covered after the streets are plowed. (That is, if there were ever sidewalks under all that snow to begin with.)

All along Randolph Road, which I take to work, the sides of the road are lined with soot-covered snowbanks that in some places are six feet high. Bus stops seem to have disappeared and walking to work or errands means either strapping on a pair of snowshoes or making your own sidewalk in the street.

Randolph Road at Georgia Avenue
And that's what I saw most people doing this morning near Kennedy and Wheaton high schools, which are now closed for the week but still have some students milling around, and at the Glenmont Metro station. I saw a woman holding a kid in one hand and pushing a stroller in another walking down Randolph at Glenallan as cars swerved out of her way.

This is almost acceptable in a residential neighborhood where traffic is light and cars are going slowly enough to see pedestrians. On a busy road like Randolph, where rush-hour traffic is going by at forty or fifty miles an hour, this is a dangerous situation.

I'm not totally sure what the policy on shoveling sidewalks is, though I'd assume the responsibility falls on the property owners fronting them. But I wouldn't fault the owner of a house or apartment building for not clearing a sidewalk when the sidewalks get deluged by snow cleared from the roads.

Here's hoping that for lack of a means to clear sidewalks, the snow melts in due time (which it won't so long as temperatures hover around the freezing mark) so that those who travel the county by foot can be as safe as their counterparts who drive.

politicos celebrate new street in south silver spring

The Ribbon-Cutting

Bottleworks Lane may only be a block long, but Congressman Chris Van Hollen still stopped by to dedicate the new street between East-West Highway and Kennett Street in South Silver Spring at a brief ceremony Friday afternoon.

Van Hollen was one of several public officials to cut a ribbon of plastic Canada Dry bottles - a nod to the nearby bottling plant-turned-condominium - including state Senator Jamie Raskin, County Executive Ike Leggett and Council President Nancy Floreen. Reemberto Rodriguez, director of the Silver Spring Regional Center, and Evan Glass, president of the South Silver Spring Neighborhood Association, also gave a few words.

"Happy holidays, South Silver Spring," said Council President Nancy Floreen. "We actually got you something."

First introduced in 2002 (PDF!), the $3.9 million Pedestrian Linkages (PDF!) project sought to break up the big blocks of South Silver Spring to improve circulation and foster redevelopment of the formerly industrial neighborhood. Van Hollen, who represents much of below-the-Beltway Silver Spring, noted the project's use of federal Community Development Block Grants. U.S. Senator Ben Cardin was scheduled to attend but sent a representative instead.

Not all of the proposed pedestrian lanes were fully funded, but the first phase - a former service lane behind East-West Highway called Arts Alley - opened in 2005. Bottleworks Lane is the only street in the project open to cars, with one lane for eastbound traffic and several parallel, metered parking spaces. A landscaped bioswale on the north side of the street will filter stormwater, preventing pollutants from running off into the sewers.

About twenty or so lookers-on, including staff from the offices of Councilmember Elrich and Leventhal (me) were in attendance. "It's funny," one man said, "I never knew this street was here before." "That's because it wasn't," a woman standing next to him replied.

Check out this slideshow of the Bottleworks Lane ribbon-cutting.

Monday, December 21, 2009

"i was told it never snowed here"

Cafe Starbucks
Apparently, visiting Canadians don't think there's any difference between D.C. and Florida in winter:
One Canadian visitor to the region was stunned on Sunday as he watched residents of a quiet neighbourhood in nearby Silver Spring, MD, digging out under sunny skies, some with garden spades rather than the snow shovels that are required possessions for any Canadian.

"I completely didn't expect anything like this when I came down here; I was kind of looking forward to getting out of the snow," Jono Cottingham, 19, a McGill University student, said Sunday.

"In Canada, we get this stuff a lot but comparatively, it shuts down completely, everything shuts down here. In Canada, we have salt and snow plows and stuff."

Cottingham had only Nike running shoes on his feet as he trudged through the hip-high snowbanks. He was heading to downtown D.C. to check out the some of the city's famed museums after the subway finally started running again.

His girlfriend wore rubber rain boots, assuming she had packed well for typical December weather in Washington.

"I was told it never snowed here," she said.
Silly Montrealers. (McGill is in Montreal, in case you didn't know.) Well, thanks for a spring break covered in eighteen inches of snow. I was just as surprised as you are. Y'all say you have "snow plows and stuff," but where were they to dig out your precious Cafe Starbucks?

what's up the pike: that's my brother, getting pelted with snow

Tyler and Eugene
- We hope you've managed to dig yourself out from this weekend's historic snowstorm. While most of us wisely stayed at home, one Colesville couple wouldn't let a foot of snow (as measured at JUTP headquarters) keep them from getting married, trudging over a mile in the snow to have their nuptials as planned at St. John the Baptist on New Hampshire Avenue. Now that's memorable. Anyway:

- The snow was too much for the salt dome on Cape May Road in Colesville, which collapsed late Saturday night atop a loading truck within, trapping the driver. Fortunately, he made it out okay, but there's no word on the condition of the dome or the salt inside.

- Georgian Confidential posts a letter from a long-term resident of Georgian Towers The Georgian who says they've had it with rent increases as the complex tries to rebrand itself as luxury apartments. "It is obvious from the amount of moving trucks outside the Georgian that trying to make The Georgian into a 'Rolls Royce' type of building during these economically challenged times is backfiring," writes the unidentified tenant.

- Tomorrow, the First Baptist Church of Silver Spring will present its plans to build housing and retail on their property, located at Wayne Avenue and Fenton Street. The cash-strapped congregation says profits from the development would help them stay in the neighborhood, but the neighbors themselves say it's too dense. The meeting's at 7:30pm Tuesday in the church.

- Would you like some gingerbread with your booze? A new blog called Silver Spring Sprinkles says a beer and wine shop is opening in a little old house on the corner of Fenwick Street and Second Avenue. It looks like they've got a pretty roomy parking lot - and a wheelchair ramp for our differently-abled drinkers.

Friday, December 18, 2009

could downtown nightlife be a crime deterrent?

Super Traffic, Ellsworth and Fenton

Residents living near the Majestic 20 at Ellsworth and Fenton are getting nervous about later showings at the movie theatre. Some say it'll bring more crime to their neighborhoods, while others see it as the next step in Downtown Silver Spring's evolution as an arts and entertainment center.

A listing of movie showtimes for tonight reveals no fewer than nineteen movies starting after 10pm. That includes two showings of the new Matt Damon/Morgan Freeman film Invictus, four showings of action movie Avatar, and for some reason, three showings of the new Disney movie Princess and the Frog. The latest movie is a 12:20am showing of Ninja Assassin, which ends around 2am.

Elaine Ellis, who's lived in neighboring Seven Oaks since 1983, is concerned about the kind of people coming to the Majestic's late movies. "You have to wonder if this helpful for a Safe Silver Spring?" she asked on her neighborhood listserv. "Do late shows bring more transients to our neighborhoods? Is there a link between late show transients and crime in our streets?"

Jennifer Nettles, marketing director for the Downtown Silver Spring complex, says Majestic's "been running later movies for a while now" and they haven't seen an increase in crime. "[We] are in constant communication with Majestic about security," she wrote us in an e-mail, noting that the area around Ellsworth and Fenton is patrolled 24 hours a day. "There have been other businesses also open within our property and City Place [Mall] during these same hours," Nettles adds.

Wayna at Expression Live!
Well-managed events, like this evening concert on Ellsworth in September, give people legitimate reasons to come Downtown.

Most local theatres do have late-night showings. The Majestic has more screenings than other Regal theatres including the Rockville Center 13 and Royale 14 in Hyattsville, which have eight and six late shows, respectively. But they're in neighborhoods with few other activities going on after 10pm, meaning there's little reason for the theatre to be open later.

But compared to theatres in areas with more evening activities, the Majestic isn't unusual. The United Artists Bethesda 10 has eight late shows, the Gallery Place 14 in the District has fourteen, and the Rio 18 in Gaithersburg has eighteen - still less than the Majestic, but it's the same proportion of movies relative to the number of screens.

There's no escaping the fact that Silver Spring has become a center for nightlife. There are a growing number of bars and nightclubs open after midnight. There are live performances at the Round House Theater and soon at the Montgomery College Performing Arts Center. And if we're lucky, we'll have a brand-new Fillmore music hall in a couple of years.

The Skater Mob, Ellsworth Drive
Offering a variety of activities could make Ellsworth more comfortable for older patrons.

On the listserv, resident James Ehrman wondered if there was an upside to more late-night activity in Downtown. "Do moviegoers attending these very-late evening showings -- once they exit and are on the street -- tend to be persons whose presence helps dissuade criminal activity," he wrote, "or do they tend to be younger and, possibly, intoxicated elements likelier to cause problems?"

Increasing the number of safe, legal things to do here after dark is the way to make Downtown safer. After all, giving people legitimate reasons to go Downtown mean there are fewer places for crimes to happen unseen. Not to mention that having more "adult" activities in Downtown like the Round House and the Performing Arts Center will draw a more mature crowd that'll set the example for younger people (younger people like me) who go to bars or movies at the Majestic.

Between the fights that broke out on Ellsworth Drive in March and a shooting outside City Place during rush hour last month, it's not surprising that people are nervous about crime in Downtown. But those events were the exception, not the rule. We should continue to encourage more evening activities, because empty streets can be more dangerous than busy ones. The party's already started in Silver Spring, and there's no stopping it now.

what's up the pike: this sign is now out of date

Fenton Street Market Sign
- You've probably already heard that Fenton Street Market will be coming back next spring, and every Saturday, no less. The parking lot-turned-flea market/future site of condos, started by East Silver Spring resident/writer for Architect magazine Hannah McCann, returns April 17, 2010, so mark your calendars, already.

- Today at 1pm, County Executive Ike Leggett cuts the ribbon on Bottleworks Lane, the last segment of the South Silver Spring Pedestrian Linkages project (warning! PDF file.), which aims to break up the neighborhood's big blocks to improve circulation. Bottleworks Lane, which will also carry one-way auto traffic, is located between East-West Highway and Kennett Street adjacent to the Gramax Apartments.

- After that, head up to Local First Wheaton's Holiday Fiesta. From 6 to 8pm, enjoy live music, wine and hors d'oeuvres, and gifts from your local Wheaton businesses. The party's at 2405 Price Avenue, one block from Georgia and the Wheaton Metro station. For more info or to RSVP, check out Local First Wheaton's website.

- Next week, the First Baptist Church of Silver Spring will present its plans to build housing and retail on their property, located at Wayne Avenue and Fenton Street. The cash-strapped congregation says profits from the development - modeled after a similar project at a church in Clarendon - would help them stay in the neighborhood, but the neighbors themselves say it's too dense. The meeting's at 7:30pm Tuesday in the church.

- SoCo Eats reports that a restaurant could open up in the building under renovation at Georgia and Ripley. The 1920's-era edifice is being transformed into the headquarters of translation company ALC, who will occupy the upper floors.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

daily snapshot: marvel cleaners

Marvel Cleaners, Colesville

Here's another one for Silver Spring, Singular's Googie file: Marvel Cleaners, located in this 1960's-era Mid-Century Modern building at New Hampshire and Randolph in Colesville. (Why is it that dry cleaners are always the most architecturally adventurous?) My family's been going here since we originally moved Up The Pike in 1998, and even then I was always puzzled by this strange building.

There are a lot of things I love about it today: the giant neon letters running across the front (which are still lit at night) and the three hexagonal signs below. The floor-to-ceiling windows (though look closely at the bottom and you'll see most of the louvers have either fallen out or gotten stuck) and the four lamps on the left side that draw the eye to an otherwise blank wall. The asymmetrical composition of the entire building, which directs customers to the door without having to put it on the front.

This place has definitely seen better days, though if Marvel were ever to leave it, I'd hope to see it fixed up. The suburban roadside buildings we put up fifty years ago are no less cheaper than the ones we build today, but when done right they look so much classier than the crap that followed.

south silver spring then and now

south silver spring in 2002
Perhaps no part of Silver Spring has seen as many changes in the past five years as South Silver Spring, the neighborhood between the Red Line tracks and Eastern Avenue. It is our Williamsburg, a mess of parking lots, auto shops and warehouses that has rapidly given way to high-end condo towers and well, more high-end condo towers, but the annual Block Party gets better every year.

The photo above comes from this 2002 presentation (warning! PDF file.) on the Pedestrian Linkages in South Silver Spring, the last phase of which will be dedicated tomorrow. In it, the Red Line is running across diagonally, Downtown Silver Spring is to the right of the shot, and in the middle is the intersection of Georgia, East-West, Burlington and 13th Street.

hese photos were taken by Evan Glass, resident and president of the South Silver Spring Neighborhood Association (whose blogroll looks conspicuously empty, if you catch my drift) on a plane ride over MoCo last October.

You can see that most of East-West Highway has filled in with apartment buildings like the Bennington (2006), the Veridian (2009) and 1200 East West, which will open next year. Towards the bottom, there's the new Montgomery College Health Services Building (2004), the School of Art and Design (2007), and the Performing Arts Center (2009).

There's still room to grow, however. South Silver Spring is hurting for retail and could use a greater presence on Georgia Avenue, where local institution Mayorga Coffee Roasters will bite the dust in just two weeks. But it's exciting to see the combined result of little changes that we might not notice on a day-to-day basis.



Wednesday, December 16, 2009

remember, most people like trees


It's 1972, and you're desperately trying to unload houses in Wheaton Aspen Hill some place in Montgomery County. How are you going to get people to buy? If you're Bill Levitt, it's with references to back-alley deals and pleas to nascent environmentalists, of course.

In the 1950's Levitt became famous for building the Levittowns, city-sized planned communities in Long Guyland, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. His identical two-bedroom cottages spawned quite a few copycats in his time, but the only thing he built in MoCo was Strathmore at Bel Pre, which opened in 1968 on Bel Pre Road near Layhill Road.

Levitt called the location "the preferred manor club area of Montgomery County," which never quite stuck. With only a few hundred lots, Strathmore was considerably smaller than the Levittowns, but its homes (selling for as little as $38,990, or $253,000 in today's dollars) were known for groovy features like sunken conversation pits and entry courtyards.

Part of the property lay across Bel Pre Creek and the now-defunct Outer Beltway and could never be physically connected to the rest of the neighborhood, so it was spun off into a new subdivision, called Parc Bel Pre, located along Georgia Avenue. To sell the last few lots so he could get out of MoCo once and for all, Levitt ran a full-page ad in the Washington Post.

a shady deal you can be proud of!" it screams. (I miss a time when text in all-lowercase letters was not only encouraged but mandatory.) "Announcing a NEW SECTION at Parc Bel Pre."

The copy reads (emphasis theirs):
It isn't every day that we open a new section on such a lovely piece of property.

If you like trees, you'll want to come out early and pick your shady spot before all the choice locations are gone. But remember-most people like trees-and this section is bound to go fast. Hurry before all the early birds buy it all up!

What a deal! Three, four and five bedroom homes - right here in preferred Montgomery County, with every comfort and convenience, plus fine shopping and excellent schools, priced from $38,990! Air conditioning and appliances included, of course.

And that's not the whole story. This new shady section is close to the Parc Bel Pre residents' swim and racquet club. Make your own "shady deal" today, and be proud of it, right here at Parc Bel Pre."
Such friendly advertising compared to today. Off-hand drug references. A friendly nudge to the environmental movement. ("'Most people like trees?' Honey, I thought this wasn't Takoma Park," groans the exasperated spouse.) Simpler times when all you needed was A/C and a dishwasher, not to mention a healthy dose of wood paneling - standard. When Westfield Shoppingtown Wheaton Wheaton Plaza was still called "Wheaton Plaza, one of the finest shopping centers in the East."

Today, Strathmore and its sibling Parc Bel Pre are established neighborhoods, though their residents - many of whom are the original owners - are getting older. The latest issue of the HOA newsletter (warning! PDF file.) has news from the "50+ Club" and "A Special Note for Adult Caregivers." There's even a link on the Strathmore website to the now-defunct slow-growth organization NeighborsPAC, for residents who "want to know what's really going on in the county."

After all, nothing says 1970's like conspiracy theories.

Thanks to Kevin from LevittownBeyond.com for the info and images.

what's up the pike: transpo and book reviews

Arts Alley

- On Friday at 1pm, County Executive Ike Leggett cuts the ribbon on Bottleworks Lane, the last segment of the South Silver Spring Pedestrian Linkages project (warning! PDF file.), which aims to break up the neighborhood's big blocks to improve circulation. Bottleworks Lane, which will also carry one-way auto traffic, is located between East-West Highway and Kennett Street adjacent to the Gramax Apartments.

Earlier phases of the Pedestrian Linkages project include Arts Alley (above), a former service lane behind the soon-to-be-former Mayorga Coffee Roasters. A presentation (warning! PDF file.) from way back in 2002 shows additional new streets in South Silver Spring that have yet to be funded.

- If you live on Easley Street, rejoice: Debbie at The Silver Bee reports that a house left half-built for over two years is finally nearing completion. The house was condemned by Montgomery County last summer before work resumed again.

- Washington Post literary critic Michael Dirda, dubbed the "sexiest man alive" by my high school English teacher, will be at the White Oak Library tonight to discuss his new book, Classics for Pleasure. You can see him at 7pm at the library, located on 11701 New Hampshire Avenue at Heartfields Drive. (Thanks to ComicsDC for the heads-up.)

- The Post's Dr. Gridlock talks about the Silver Spring Transit Center, where a year of moving dirt might give way to actual construction by this spring. You can check out renderings of the transpo hub, which will open in 2011, here.

- Laurel-area transit provider Connect-A-Ride may end its D bus route running between Old Town Laurel and the Burtonsville park-and-ride. Prince George's County wasn't able to put up the $100,000 needed to continue the service. Judging from Connect-A-Ride's website (or lack of one), they need all the money they can get.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

daily snapshot: germantown skate spot

Germantown Skate Spot
While neighborhood opposition to a much-needed skate spot in Woodside Park's got Silver Spring skaters sidelined, their compadres in Germantown have been shredding the light fantastic.

Three weeks ago, the Upcounty Drop-In Skate Spot opened in Germantown Town Center - in the parking lot of Montgomery County's 5th District Police Station. The facility literally cost $1,000 to make and was built by the police officers themselves with metal supports and wooden boards. Concrete barriers are used to cordon the skate spot off from the rest of the parking lot, making it look very temporary. And it might just be if a permanent skatepark in Germantown gets the green light.

While the experts at Skaters for Public Skateparks would disagree with non-professionals designing and assembling a place where a somewhat-dangerous sport is practiced, it shows that once in a while MoCo can actually get shit done, and fast. And that should be an inspiration to everyone.

I stopped by the Upcounty Drop-In Skate Spot (only in Montgomery County can we come up with names like this) the Sunday after Thanksgiving, and there were easily twenty or thirty kids tearing it up there. Like Downtown Silver Spring, Germantown Town Center has had its share of tension over skaters in the business district, and a facility this small is unlikely to meet the local demand. But the skate spot is definitely a step in the right direction, and I'm looking forward to seeing one somewhere in Silver Spring.

Monday, December 14, 2009

four scenarios for revitalizing wheaton, from new paint to tabula rasa

part THREE in a series on the decades-long fight to revitalize Downtown Wheaton. check out part ONE | part TWO | and later part FOUR, in which I outline my vision for the Wheaton CBD.

new wheaton plaza entrance
2004 proposals for Wheaton included adding a new entrance to Wheaton Plaza connecting it to the rest of Downtown.

Eight years ago, Montgomery County brought in design consultants to hold a "Visual Preference Survey," examining what Wheaton residents would like to see in their community. In 2004, they followed up with a charrette, or design workshop, to turn those suggestions into a vision for the community. The county teamed up with the National Main Street Center, Baltimore-based architecture firm Allison Platt & Associates, and staff from the Planning Department to develop four concepts for how Wheaton's downtown could be redeveloped.

Like last summer's charrette in Burtonsville, the Wheaton charrette resulted in four scenarios - outlined in this PowerPoint presentation - for how the CBD could be improved. They ranged from making minor cosmetic changes to basically leveling the Downtown core and starting over again. Nonetheless, all four proposals had a few solutions in common, including:

- Turning all or part of Parking Lot 13, located at Grandview Avenue and Reedie Drive, into a public green.

- Streetscape improvements, especially along Georgia, Veirs Mill and University, including wider sidewalks, trees, and additional landscaping.

- Re-routing Ennalls Avenue between Grandview and Georgia to improve traffic circulation and create more regularly-shaped blocks for easier redevelopment.

- Visually and physically connecting "Wheaton Plaza" (the plan pre-dates the mall's purchase and renaming by Westfield) to the rest of the CBD to encourage shoppers to circulate between Downtown and the mall.

fixerupper-render
The "Fixer Upper" scenario sought to retain Wheaton's "eclectic image," focusing on existing businesses and making "small scale improvements." Surface parking would be added throughout the downtown, though some vacant lots could be used for infill development. Lot 13 would still be used for parking, but a site plan suggests using special pavers that could allow it to double as a plaza on special occasions. The strip malls along Georgia Avenue, shown above, would receive new fa├žades but little else.

entertainment-render
The "Entertainment District" scenario recasts Wheaton as a "center for music entertainment, equipment and production," building on the renown of Chuck Levin's Washington Music Center on Veirs Mill Road. Space would be set aside for recording studios and artist housing. A cluster of night clubs would be created. Much of the downtown core would be leveled; Lot 13 would be completely closed to auto traffic and turned into an outdoor performance hall, shown above.

residential-render
The "Residential Village" scenario seeks to form Wheaton as a neighborhood center, not a regional destination. Vacant properties would be developed as townhomes and mid-rise apartments or condominiums. Retail would be mainly local-serving, like supermarkets, though this scheme still proposes redeveloping the strip mall between Georgia and Triangle Lane, shown above. Lot 13 would become a leafy "village green" with a civic building and a playground.

office-render
The "Office Town Center" scenario focuses on bringing jobs to Wheaton, clustering office uses around the Metro station. High-rise buildings would be encouraged along Georgia Avenue at Reedie Drive, shown above, and a site plan proposes razing all of the Downtown core for parking garages and new buildings. Big-box stores would be built around Wheaton Plaza Westfield Wheaton mall. Of the four proposals, this seems to provide the least amount of open space, turning only part of Lot 13 into a plaza.

None of these four scenarios could really "fix" Wheaton by themselves, but each contains smaller ideas that can and will be combined to create a solid revitalization plan. While some proposals seem pretty outrageous - turning Downtown into a mini-Merriweather Post Pavilion, for instance - they'll be a better gauge of public opinion while encouraging unorthodox solutions for improving the CBD.

Some of the things first outlined in the charrette, like the walkway connecting Georgia Avenue and Triangle Lane, have already been done. Others, like expanding Wheaton Plaza, happened in ways not anticipated by these plans. But they did represent yet another step in the decades-long push to revitalize Downtown Wheaton, one that would eventually culminate in the Wheaton CBD Sector Plan that we'll see early next year.

Visit the Mid-County Regional Services Center's website (and scroll all the way down) to see this and other documents on the Wheaton revitalization, or check out this slideshow of proposals from the 2004 charrette.

what's up the pike: no reunification until 3:15

Parent Reunification Site (copy)
- Tonight, parents at Oakland Terrace Elementary School can learn more about plans to place kindergartners in empty classrooms at Sligo Middle School. With over 900 students estimated to attend Oakland Terrace in coming years, school officials are scrambling to find more space. The meeting's at 7:30pm at Sligo, located at 1401 Dennis Avenue.

- Washington Post literary critic Michael Dirda, dubbed the "sexiest man alive" by my high school English teacher, will be at the White Oak Library this week to discuss his new book, Classics for Pleasure. You can see him at 7pm Wednesday at the library, located on 11701 New Hampshire Avenue at Heartfields Drive. (Thanks to ComicsDC for the heads-up.)

- Sligo at Silver Spring, Singular reports that the Hollywood Video on Fenton Street has closed, leaving another big retail gap in Downtown Silver Spring. Maybe a certain closing coffee shop looking to relocate would be interested?

- Bier Magazine reviews Piratz Tavern, everyone's favorite pirate-themed bar at Georgia and Bonifant. "There are bars that draw a crowd with ambience, and then there are those that flog you over the head with it," says the review. "But who’s to say that’s a bad thing?" Being a publication about beer, however, the magazine give Piratz 3 out of 5 stars for their "limited beer selection."

Friday, December 11, 2009

kindergartners at overcrowded elementary could be sent to middle school

Call it an early promotion: kindergarteners at the notoriously-overcrowded Oakland Terrace Elementary School in Wheaton will soon be bused to empty classrooms at Sligo Middle School due to a lack of space. Both on and off the blog, I've heard from concerned parents who say Montgomery County Public Schools' latest proposal could put their kids at risk.

Oakland Terrace Street View
Oakland Terrace Elementary School. Photo from Google Street View.

Oakland Terrace is located in a 1940's-era neighborhood where few new homes have been built but many have recently sold to families with young children. Nearby McKenney Hills Elementary, which closed decades ago and became an alternative school, is scheduled to reopen (warning! PDF file.) in three years. But it'll be too late for Oakland Terrace, which was renovated in 1993 to hold 456 students, has 792 kids this year, and by 2012 could have as many as 964 enrolled.

In this presentation given to parents earlier this week, MCPS officials propose that next year's kindergarten class be sent to a "satellite school" at Sligo, located on Dennis Avenue one and a half miles away. That school has space for 963 students, but as many as 440 of those spaces will be empty for years to come, according to enrollment projections.

Oakland Terrace Bird's Eye
Oakland Terrace already has six portable classrooms and room for no more.

Ten classrooms in the basement sit empty, giving kindergarten classes almost an entire floor to themselves, save for a couple of science labs. The wee ones would have to share bathrooms with middle-school students, which doesn't sit well with Oakland Terrace parents. (And I can understand after reading this story about tweenaged sisters who made a pact to get pregnant together.)

Given the circumstances, the idea of putting some Oakland Terrace students in empty classrooms at another school sounds like a practical short-term solution. But my first reaction to this story was, "Why aren't we putting older students there?" It would make sense to put fifth graders at Sligo Middle School.

My brother is currently a fifth-grader at the 744-student Galway Elementary School. From what he tells me between extended video-game sessions, his schedule sounds like a middle-schooler's: different teachers for each subject and skill level and students who move from one classroom to another throughout the day. Fifth-grade students are obviously closest in age and maturity to their middle school counterparts.

Oakland and Sligo Enrollment
Current and projected enrollment at Oakland Terrace Elementary and Sligo Middle School.

Putting fifth-grade students at Sligo could be a big help to the gifted-and-talented. Providing advanced instruction in elementary school either means busing kids to magnet schools far away (as I was at that age) or hiring additional teachers. With this arrangement, the advanced students could just take sixth- or seventh-grade classes at Sligo.

Unfortunately, the bulk of Oakland Terrace's student growth is coming from the lower grades. This year's 173-member kindergarten class is nearly twice the size of the 91-member fifth grade, and the classes to follow are just as large. Putting just fifth graders in Sligo's ten empty classrooms wouldn't be a good use of space and it wouldn't help Oakland Terrace much either.

So why not put the entire fourth and fifth grade classes there? With about 210 students between them - and an average class size of 25 students, according to this fact sheet - you'd fill the empty space at Sligo, clear even more students out of an overcrowded Oakland Terrace, and help acclimate older kids to a middle school they'll be attending anyway in a year or two.

New McKenney Hills Elementary School
The new McKenney Hills Elementary School could open in 2012. Image courtesy of Grimm + Parker.

A lot of questions remain about this proposal. For instance, how will elementary students at Sligo take art, music or gym classes? Where will they go to the library? Will they need to shuttle back and forth between the two schools? But I think it's a clever solution to a problem that'll hopefully be solved in a few years when McKenney Hills re-opens. Nonetheless, MCPS must reassure Oakland Terrace parents that their kids will get a safe learning environment, whether at their own school or at Sligo.

Concerned parents can learn more about the Oakland Terrace-Sligo proposal at the next meeting of the Overcrowding Workgroup, set for this Monday, December 14 at Sligo Middle School, 1401 Dennis Avenue. (We'll let you know what time it is.) In the meantime, check out this packet on the proposal and this one about the new McKenney Hills Elementary, set to open in 2012.