Friday, February 1, 2013

recapping last night's long branch sector plan public hearing

The auditorium at the Montgomery County Planning Department was packed last night for a public hearing on the draft Long Branch Sector Plan, which attempts to encourage the redevelopment of the neighborhood's business district at Flower Avenue and Piney Branch Road and surrounding areas. Issues ranged from parking to density to fears of gentrification and deportation if the Purple Line is built.

After the jump is a summary of my live-tweeting during the hearing. Below that, you'll find the testimony I gave. Hopefully, we'll take a more detailed look at the issues surrounding the Long Branch Sector Plan in the coming weeks.

My testimony:

My name is Dan Reed and I'm a recent graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, where I studied urban planning. I grew up in Silver Spring and I'd like to testify in support of the Long Branch Sector Plan.

I support the transformation of Long Branch's main streets, Flower, Piney Branch and University, into complete streets that welcome everyone, whether they're coming on foot, by bike, by transit, or even by car. I feel that by allowing some new development to occur in the business district, the CR zone will enrich local businesses by providing them more customers. And judging from the success of Veterans Plaza, I'm excited by the potential for a new urban gathering space as well.

I support these improvements because even though I don't currently live in Long Branch, I have a personal interest in reviving the Flower Theatre, where I watched a second-run showing of Beauty and the Beast when I was 4. Last summer, I co-founded the Flower Theatre Project, which seeks to find ways to bring the long-shuttered theatre back to life.

I believe that the Flower is integral to the neighborhood's identity and that it can be a destination and a catalyst for investment. Over the past six months, I've had the privilege of conversing and working with committed Long Branch residents, businesspeople and community leaders, along with Historic Preservation staff and the theatre's owner, who took our suggestion to turn the marquee on at night. Business owners say it's already had a positive impact on the neighborhood.

What we as the Flower Theatre Project have found is that all of these parties have valid and often contradictory interests and concerns, though we all share the goals of celebrating Long Branch's character and bringing investment to the area sooner rather than later. For the most part, the Sector Plan does this. What we're concerned about is the staff recommendation to preserve the entire Flower Shopping Center.

While the entire property has some historic merit, we feel that historic designation needs to be the outcome of a discussion that takes everyone's view into consideration, which doesn't seem to have occurred yet. As a result, we’ve decided not to take a position on designating the Flower Theatre and Shopping Center until there's agreement that it can be done in a way that doesn't unnecessarily complicate or delay the investment that Long Branch so sorely needs.

I believe that successful and well-loved places have a mix of old and new, which allow them to celebrate their history and culture while providing opportunities to create new history and culture. I've realized how important the health of Long Branch is to the Flower Theatre and vice versa, and while I support the Long Branch Sector Plan, there's still some work that needs to be done so it can ensure both. Thank you for your time.


Robert said...

re your tweet "Geren Road resident calls for "rejuvenation" of #longbranch, but no higher density. Again, one doesn't happen without the other."

Revitalization doesn't require higher density. Just look at most of the single family residential neighborhoods around downtown Silver Spring. They haven't had higher density but over the years they have had lots of additions and upgrades to the old 1920s through 1960s homes. These neighborhoods are stronger and better than ever without higher density changing their character.

Dan Reed said...


Your house and every other house in the neighborhoods around Silver Spring are worth more than they were 10 years ago because they're within close reach of millions of dollars of new retail and residential development. Woodside Park may not be any denser (though in the grand scheme of things, having homes on 1/3-acre lots less than a mile from one of the region's biggest job and transit centers doesn't make a lot of sense), but the area as a whole is.

If higher density wasn't necessary for revitalization, there wouldn't be so little recent investment in Long Branch - current zoning has restricted building heights in the business district to 30-50 feet, shorter than many buildings in the surrounding area. Developers felt it wasn't financially feasible to invest there, so they didn't.

adelphi_sky said...

There seems to always be a disconnect between improving quality of life and fear of displacement by less affluent populations. I live in Adelphi and I drive up and down University BLVD frequently. It resembles another country. It is like going through a worm hole and ending up in South America! I understand the need for affordable housing and I support that. On the other hand, to make that happen, are we to just let things be? After all, isn't it the goal of every immigrant or low-income individual to gain upward mobility and move on to bigger and better things? Should the Four Corners area be a clearing house for incoming immigrants on that journey forever remaining in the state it is in? What about the residents around University BLVD who chose to live in a place where they feel has upward potential? I agree that anything new or better invariably will be more expensive which will displace those still found at the beginning stages of upward mobility. I also agree that there are cycles with neighborhood revitalization that push certain groups out. For a lot of homeowners, the Purple Line will be that catalyst for redevelopment along University BLVD. And perhaps the transformation of Columbia Heights can be an example of the possibilities in the Four Corners area. With the Explosive growth and popularity of DC, the inner beltway suburbs are experiencing pressure to grow and change as well. I think this growth should be embraced and taken advantage of to improve all of our lives. Even those that may be displaced may benefit from affordable redeveloped enclaves.