Tuesday, February 8, 2011

neighbors opposing chelsea school townhouses in the wrong fight (updated)

East County has seen its share of good and bad development. Sometimes, we can build something that respects its surroundings while adding something new. Other times, we can build something that looks unattractive and takes away from its context.

Rendering of EYA's proposed development at the former Chelsea School site from the Gazette.

Unfortunately, many people - particularly those running East County's civic associations, can't tell the difference. In Seven Oaks-Evanswood, blocks from downtown Silver Spring, residents are protesting the development of 76 new townhomes at the soon-to-be-former site of the Chelsea School on Pershing Drive:

"We all love our neighborhood," Spielberg said. "We all love that accessibility. But at the same time we have for many years wanted to protect our neighborhood as well from development that's just too dense."

It never ceases to frustrate me how much people only concentrate on the density of a project as if that's the only important feature. Density isn't destiny - it's how the buildings relate to each other, to the environment, to the neighborhood around it and to the people who use it that matters. If people in Seven Oaks-Evanswood actually looked at this project, and at the track record of developer EYA, who's proposing it, they'd feel better.


View Larger Map
Townhouses in Clarendon Park are designed to mimic the single-family homes across the street.

After all, EYA is probably one of the best homebuilders working in the D.C. area today, particularly in close-in areas like downtown Silver Spring, where they built the Cameron Hill townhouses in 1997. Not only does their work help create the kind of vibrant, walkable communities we want to make, but it does so while respecting existing neighborhoods, like at the National Park Seminary redevelopment in Forest Glen. My favorite EYA project is the Clarendon Park townhouses in Arlington, located between a busy shopping center and a single-family neighborhood. Their solution was to make the end townhomes look like their single-family neighbors, blending the two areas together.

In fact, EYA will be doing just that at the former Chelsea School site, in addition to a litany of other moves the firm's Bob Youngentob told the Gazette they're doing to make this project a positive addition to the neighborhood. The houses will be LEED certified, meaning they'll be energy-efficient; they'll all have their own garages and driveways, meaning there's no loss in off-street parking, and a historic house now used by the school will be restored as a private home.

On top of that, two acres will be set aside for a public park. You could argue that providing a park is too much, given that Ellsworth Park and the Silver Spring Library, which could become a new teen center, are already across the street.

Clarendon Park Townhomes
This public park is part of EYA's Clarendon Park development in Arlington.

Some residents of Seven Oaks-Evanswood understand the benefits of EYA's proposal. Last May, JUTP spoke to Liz Brent, a real estate agent who lives one block away from the Chelsea School. "Five acres right next to [Downtown Silver Spring] should be used for higher density," she said. "We'd be lucky to have them, in my opinion."

Certainly, you could build single-family homes on the Chelsea School site that look exactly like the other homes in Seven Oaks-Evanswood, as happened ten years ago in this development two blocks away. But that was before the Downtown Silver Spring complex opened and the area became as sought-after as it is today. Land is more expensive now, and detached houses don't make as much sense in this area, especially when homebuyers would happily take a townhouse in exchange for all of the amenities nearby.

Given these conditions, EYA's proposal is the kind of development neighborhoods should be fighting for, not against. They've shown that you can mix different housing types and make it look good. There are plenty of bad projects being built today, but this is by no means one of them.

31 comments:

jag2923 said...

I can't wait for these townhomes to come online. EYA is an amazing builder and high quality, beautiful, energy efficient infill is EXACTLY what DTSS needs.

I really don't know what the neighborhood association is doing...they can't possibly think EYA townhomes are going to do anything other than raise property values in the area. If they block construction, what do they expect will be built 10 years from now? I can guarantee the next builder to come along will A. not be as well-regarded as EYA and B. will look to build much higher density than a few dozen townhomes.

Look at Silver Spring Towers jetting up at Thayer & Fenton. Does this neighborhood want that as the "transition" to residential or do they want beautiful, high quality townhomes and a 2 acre park? Seriously, what are they thinking?

changingway.org said...

Density may sound bad, but is it worse than its opposite: sprawl?

Woodsider said...

My screen name is Woodsider but I'm actually on the East/South side of Colesville very close to this propsed development.

There are many, many of us in the neighborhood who do not agree with the official position of SOECA, (the neighborhood association), which opposes rezoning to allow the townhomes.

EYA's proposed development is EXACTLY what our neighborhood needs and is the perfect transition between the existing single family homes and the DTSS town center just a block away.

EYA has also modified their original plans to accomodate virtually every idea that (supporting) neighbors offered. The plan that will be presented to the county for rezoning is the best of all worlds from a developer who is a class act.

Dan you hit the nail on the head about what might go on the site if the rezoning is not passed--a 'wall' of 25 giant McMansions along Springvale Road (that's what the price of the land would demand). Another possibility is a new school that could have 400 students (compared to the 80 at the existing school).

There are two old expressions that apply perfectly to the NIMBY's who think 72 townhomes will destroy the earth as we know it:

1. Be careful what you wish for
2. Don't cut your nose to spite your face

Robert said...

quote: "JUTP spoke to Liz Brent, who lives one block away from the Chelsea School. "Five acres right next to [Downtown Silver Spring] should be used for higher density," she said. "We'd be lucky to have them, in my opinion."

I don't have a position on the proposed townhouses, but you should have pointed out that Liz Brent is a real estate agent. She could potentially profit from the development. For fairness, her comment needs to be considered in this context.

Alice said...

I live on Ellsworth Court and am very pleased with EYA's proposal for Chelsea Court. I think high quality townhomes are a perfect transition from the downtown density and the single family homes on the other side of Chelsea School's campus.

This seems to be a win-win solution. Although I live within the boundaries of the SOECA neighborhood association, I am opposed to the association's stance against EYA's proposal.

liz said...

Robert,

If you click on the link at my name, you will see that I am identified as an agent back in the original article. But to get to your point:
1. What affects the n'hood will affect me. If you knew anything about me, you'd know that what you just proposed about me - that I'd get behind this just hoping I might make a buck - is ridiculous. I've lived here in the same n'hood for 15 years. I've raised, and am raising my 3 kids here. They walk right by that spot all the time, as do I, on the way to DT SS. I am the number one volume agent in 20910 by a substantial amount. For many years running. My team is the number one is all of Silver Spring. I wouldn't have had the success I've had if I ran my business with the outlook that you seem to assume I have.
2. IF you knew anything about EYA and the way they work, you'd understand that they do not co op with agents. They have their own sales staff and they only list properties in the MLS when the projects are almost entirely sold, if at all.

Finally, if you are going to disparage my name, you ought to do so using your full name in the post.

I am happy to continue this conversation in a more productive manner off list if you like.

Liz Brent

jag2923 said...

Holy smokes, I didn't find Robert's post disparaging at all. I appreciate that the article was updated to include your background because it is certainly relevant. As you say, you are "the number one volume agent in 20910 by a substantial amount" - a claim that very much substantiates Robert's point that you could potentially profit from the future resale of 76 properties. His point is completely logical unless, of course, you anticipate no one wanting to use your services in the future. I feel like you must have misread Robert's comment - that's how over the top your reply comes off.

Anyway, what do people think are the odds the county listens to this association and rejects the plans? Slim to none?

David said...

The townhouses are a bit much development for me considering that 220 apartments are past the approval stage and less then one block away. Now that is density. I like FP but they originally proposed townhouses for that site.

CalI me a tree lover, but I would like to see the 100+ year old trees on the Chelsea high ground preserved. Those trees can be seen from across the downtown. This is one thing the developer did not revise when they considerd community concerns.

I have known Liz Brent for a long time and I am positive future sales are NOT her motivation for approving of this plan.

Brosnan said...

woody brosnan, former president of North Woodside Montgomery Hills Citizens Association, wrote,

I think you are being a little bit unfair to SOECA, which has some legitimate concerns about the number of townhouses,the configuration of the streets,and the overall impact on traffic. There are more choices besides single-family homes or the EYA proposal. The EYA project you cite at Forest Glen also went through discussions between the neighborhoods, the developer and the planning board.
I think sometimes people forget that were it not for the dedicated work of the of the Silver Spring civic associations and near-downtown homeowners that we would now have a grotesque mall in downtown Silver Spring instead of the mixed community that is now attracting developers like EYA. So maybe these conversations should start with a big thank you.

liz said...

JUTP thanks for the edit. Jag2923 and David, thanks for your comments. Jag2923, over the top? Maybe. Remind me never to run for public office. I wouldn't last a minute. Regarding your question about the possibility this will be rejected: I have to agree pretty slim. EYA has had one project turned down in 20 years. And a few years after EYA was turned down, another developer completed a similar development in the same spot.

Liz Brent

David said...

What are the chances of leaving the trees that are South of that access road? Those trees are on high ground and that elevation needs to be handled with some sort of wall; why not save those trees on the south edge of the property?

Cilla said...

EYA has an admirable track record for urban in-fill development in DC, MD and VA. We are fortunate to have them adding value to this area of DTSS.

Diane said...

I am another neighbor who leaves quite near the Chelsea school property, and I very much support development of this townhouse community. As some of the other posters have mentioned, EYA is a top-notch developer and I've been very impressed with their other communities.

Robert said...

Good Heavens! I didn't know it was disparaging to note that someone is a real estate agent and might profit from a new development. All I said was that the article should have identified Liz Brent as a real estate agent so readers could take that into consideration when evaluating her comment. I was identifying what I think is a failure of the article to place a comment in context. If the article had been about medicine and failed to identify a someone quoted as a physician or as a malpractice attorney if either of those were the case, I would have made the same kind of comment. My comment was in no way mean to disparage Ms. Brent or real estate agents in general. I am amazed that offense was taken.

Liz said...

I'm sorry to drag us back to an earlier topic but I have to correct a statement I made: EYA does coop with area brokers. They are in the MLS from the beginning of the project and while they do have their own sales staff, they do welcome other agents to sell in their projects. And I will mention as further verification that EYA is paying attention to the area and to what folks are saying, Bob Youngentob just called me directly to let me know of my error.

I just plain like these guys. I like their projects, I like their directness, I like that they are local and I like how they handle their business.

Liz Brent

Liz said...

To Robert - just saw your post. Thank you. Liz Brent

jag2923 said...

EYA is reading these comments? Hey, EYA, I love the layouts of the Brookland builds. I'd buy one on the Chelsea site the first day they go on sale (if you keep the pricing reasonable) without hesitation. Those roof decks are key and hope you don't do away with them (I haven't seen any in the renderings so far...).

Leslie said...

I am thrilled that EYA is hoping to build town homes on the Chelsea School site. As has been mentioned before, they have a stellar reputation. I love their exterior designs, floor plans and the roof decks. I strongly believe that this development, with its parks and landscaping, will be an asset to our community.

Jean said...

Thanks Woody, for the SOECA plug. I'm on the SOECA executive board, live in the 'hood, but don't live near the Chelsea School, don't want to buy or sell any EYA properties. I just want to point out, for the record, the participatory, lengthy and fair process our task force, consisting of volunteer citizens, went through to get to the final report and recommendations that inspired the 3 to 1 majority vote by SOECA residents which said: respect the Master Plan, we want to keep the zoning R60 (single family home).

EYA does beautiful work. Love the idea of "green" townhouses in a walkable community. The 2 car garages I don't get. But this wasn't about EYA. It was about the pact the County made with the people who bought houses in the neighborhood, the pact (Master Plan) that clearly delineates the borders of our single family home neighborhood and the SS CBD.

On behalf of a clear majority of our community, this is what we're asking our elected officials - County Councilmembers - and public and appointed employees - Planning Staff and Planning Board: respect the Master Plan. The Chelsea Property is zoned SFH.

As proud as I am of our civic and task force neighbors, I am less than impressed with the minority group in our neighborhood that's working with EYA, giving the developer the veneer of "community support" they've exploited in their expensive PR campaign and no doubt will use before the Council and others who will make the final decision.

Lastly, if anyone's still reading, just wanted to point out to Dan Reed, don't be fooled by the EYA literature. Don't conjure up for your readers the image of 2 acres of "park" in this development. Change the work "park" to "public space" and imagine it paved over because yes, it includes the roads and sidewalks that will crisscross this neighborhood, and will also include the piece of land required to be preserved as part of the historic home, which will no doubt be someone's private property.

Look at the big picture, Dan. Look at what's happening all around our neighborhoods and the impact it has on quality of life.

dan reed! said...

Jean,

Quality of life means different things to different people. To some people, it means having single-family houses across the street from your single-family house, even if those houses are prohibitively expensive to build - or, hell, why not leave it an empty lot so they can pretend they don't live in an urban area.

To me, it means having a choice of different types of housing, or being able to walk to shops, restaurants and public transit, or being able to stop (or at least slow down) sprawl, or providing more people to support the retailers in downtown Silver Spring, or having more "eyes on the street" for a safer neighborhood.

The "big picture" is understanding that the world consists of more than your street and your neighborhood and recognizing that one little development can mean a lot of good things for a lot of people.

Woodsider said...

I'm sure Jean's intentions are good, but her posting shows that she is by no means unbiased.

Jean said: for the record, the participatory, lengthy and fair process our task force...went through to get to the final report and recommendations that inspired the 3 to 1 majority vote by SOECA residents which said: respect the Master Plan, we want to keep the zoning R60 (single family home).

How was the survey conducted and what percentage of the 900+ SOECA homeowners responded? Those are crucial facts to know before understanding the actual percentage SOECA residents who oppose the rezoning vs. the percentage of those who participated in the survey.

As proud as I am of our civic and task force neighbors, I am less than impressed with the minority group in our neighborhood that's working with EYA, giving the developer the veneer of "community support" they've exploited in their expensive PR campaign and no doubt will use before the Council and others who will make the final decision.

It's interesting that your description of the SOECA survey uses positive words like "participatory" and "fair", but your description of those who do not share your view uses negative words like "less than impressed", "veneer of community support" and "exploited". Are these the words of a someone who is supposed to be participatory and valuing the opinons of all in the neighborhood? The "vocal minory"(your words)has every right to suppport the EYA development and counter SOECA's position becase WE ARE the community--it is not a veneer of support. I'm sorry you aren't willing to accept that there are many who disagree with you.


Don't conjure up for your readers the image of 2 acres of "park" in this development. Change the work "park" to "public space" and imagine it paved over because yes, it includes the roads and sidewalks that will crisscross this neighborhood, and will also include the piece of land required to be preserved as part of the historic home, which will no doubt be someone's private property.


From your comments, Jean, it appears that you cannot read plans or visualize what the development will look like when completed. Don't feel bad...many people can't, which is why they often perceive developments like this as having a far bigger impact than they actually will. Look at EYAs plans and you'll see there is no "paving over" of anything in the park areas other than sidewalks. There is one street that goes through the devleopement and no "criss-crossing". Jean, when you greatly exaggerate like this and continually portray the proposed development in every negative light possible, then the "fairness" of the neighborhood survey comes into question. How many of the citizen volunteers were truly neutral when describing it during the survey? If a member of the executive board can't, then why should we believe anyone else would be?

Look at the big picture, Dan. Look at what's happening all around our neighborhoods and the impact it has on quality of life

The big picture is that in the Washington area and across the country, walkable, denser neighborhoods with easy access to mass transit are what buyers want. Houses are getting smaller (compared to McMansions) and people are moving to places they can leave the car at home. This is the real big picture and this is the real "what's happening all around".

David said...

the master plan also calls for the library parcel to become park after its use is finished. The county real estate office seems interested in selling that property. Who among us will support the sale of the library property for development. Heck, maybe we should trash the whole plan. We can tear down my house, subdivide the property and put up three townhouses. No master plan to get in my way. Sounds good!

David said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jean said...

Yes, I realize I'm the minority opinion on the Chelsea property on this blog, but I do want to give a last gasp to this conversation and set some things straight.

First off, I'm a huge fan of walkable communities. That's why I live here! I totally buy the utopian vision Dan writes about. However, here we are, mired in the real world which, unfortunately, is complicated and messy.

I put my affiliation out there - member of SOECA executive board - so readers would know I am not unbiased. I don't pretend to be. The Exec Board is obligated to support and defend the decision of the majority of SOECA residents who voted to uphold the Master Plan R60 (SFH) zoning for Chelsea Property. Regarding the Chelsea issue, I stand by my the assertion that the community conducted fair, thorough, open and participatory
meetings and discussions on the issue. All 700+ households were kept informed through listserv, website and paper newsletter. Our vote was well publicized and like every opportunity to vote, only a representative sample shows up to vote - like last year's primary elections.

But we still respect the process and results, just like we did for that Democratic primary. For SOECA, of those who came to vote, three to one cast their vote in support of upholding the Master Plan R60 zoning. My question regarding process is, why does the County bother encouraging citizen participation, public hearings, etc. if they are not going to respect the opinion of the representative majority of the citizens? Why bother with zoning or master plans at all if the powers-that-make-decisions let the developers win when they promise flavor of the month "smart green growth."

The fact remains that in the Master Plan for North and West SS, Cedar remains the dividing line between R60 and CBD. Planners, in their wisdom and in support of transit-oriented development, have planned for high density living around the SS Metro. And that's wonderful, the way it should be. We do want the mix of different types of housing - its in the Master Plan! Walkable living - we got it! And more is planned in CBD!

Regarding EYA (and remember, the SOECA vote wasn't about EYA) you are right "woodsider," I'm not very sophisticated in deciphering site plans. But I do know what a two acre "public park" looks like in a drawing of a five acre parcel, and I still don't see it. I do see some circles of
green strategically placed on three corners of the pretty "proposed site plan," a set aside that is required by County zoning law. Would love to know if EYA will set aside more than the minimum requirement. If this development is approved.

And lastly, Dan, NIMBY is an easy label to pin on people who don't jump with both feet into the urban smart growth you are learning about in grad school. But like I said, real life is more complicated. I'm looking at the big picture, and I'm looking at the Planning Board's zoning rewrite, implementation of CR zones in new Master Plans throughout the County and the startling proposed density increases (sometimes proposing four to five times what currently exists). I'm trying to learn this stuff as fast as I can because, yes, I think this will badly impact quality of life for a lot of people, as well as our environment.

dan reed! said...

Jean,

I never called anyone a NIMBY. There's nothing utopian about living in a place where you can walk to things, or being able to afford to live in a place where you can walk to things. In fact, I'm glad the county's working to make that possible.

Density's just a number. At the end of the day, the number of homes per acre, or what zone something is, has absolutely no bearing on what kind of place you're making. I wish you could understand that.

Brent Roberts said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David said...

When you say...

"Density's just a number. At the end of the day, the number of homes per acre, or what zone something is, has absolutely no bearing on what kind of place you're making. I wish you could understand that"

Anything on the Chelsea site would have no effect on my quality of life in this single family house neighborhood on the edge of downtown?

What are you saying anyway: it is about the people, the amenities...what? Is density just a number like Oxygen is just an element?

Cedar is the line. 222 units of apartments will be built in the near term. Let us absorb that density and parking (as Mr. Roberts cautions) and see how that goes.

Woodsider said...

Jean, comparing the voters in the primary to the SOECA vote is like comparing apples to oranges.

As you stated, those who CHOSE to state an opinion voted three to one to oppose the rezoning.

You haven't said how many voted out of the 700 households. That's probably because it was a relatively low percentage. The MoCo planning board and county council know very well that if the majority of the neighborhood didn't even participate, then the majority of the neighborhood takes the position of either being in favor of the devleopement or not having an opinion. It is in this context that they evaluate the significance of the SOECA position.

One way or another this site will get developed whether the county re-zones the property or not. Either way the bucolic views of the field will go away. Either way, trees will be felled and there will be construction on the site for 18+ months. At the end of the day, if you compare what the alternatives are (and 'no development' isn't one of them) then what is the best scenario? 25 mega-mcmansions tightly lined up on Springvale? Or another school with up to 400 students and all that entails?

If you compare the three alternatives, the EYA townhome plan doesn't look so bad after all.

And a final note about master plans...they aren't set in stone for eternity. They require occasional review and modification as times change.

Big Bubba said...

Dan Reed Says:
Density's just a number. At the end of the day, the number of homes per acre, or what zone something is, has absolutely no bearing on what kind of place you're making. I wish you could understand that.

I've got no fight in this matter as I live a few blocks away and it will have relatively little affect on me. Although, I see some issues on the horizon coming to our neighborhood that is sure to increase our density.

I can't quite understand the thinking "density is just a number." Easy to say when you aren't directly affected.

Higher density means more traffic and makes streets less walkable, especially ones without sidewalks. More traffic slows you down. Parking can be more difficult. Schools have more students; which can lower the quality if adjustments aren't made in a timely manner. More police, mailmen, teachers, and so on are needed.

Density isn't just a number. It has real affects on lives and their standard of living.

Without that much information, I'm likely supportive of this development. But, I certainly can understand concerns of those living closeby and why they may oppose this proposition.

Leslie said...

I live on Ellsworth Drive near Chelsea School. EYA has an informative website for the Chelsea Court proposal, www.eyachelseacourt.com. If you want to be engaged in the planning process and receive updates, it is a great resource. You can add your information to the mailing list to receive updates or share your thoughts about the proposed town homes.

Buck Ecker said...

Greetings:
My wife Erin and I, along with our two young boys, bought our home on Wayne Avenue in 2004. During the past nine years, streets like Dale Ave (from Wayne to Colesville) have had proper cross walks installed that serve to protect pedestrians and improve the resident's quality of life. While Wayne Ave residents pay thousands in property taxes, our quality of life and our children's safety are deemed less deserving.
Now, to address the Chelsea school debate, many of us on Wayne Ave support two of the three petitions, but have a real problem with issue of "run-off" traffic. We are dues paying members of SOECA, yet the association board has not ever recognized that Wayne Ave has residents and families, not just their "main street" or the unquestioned destination for the traffic they deem "possible run-off" traffic.
Just once, could SOECA clearly state that Wayne Ave is a residential street, with many SOECA members, and propose/discuss our quality of life.
--Chris Johansson