Wednesday, July 10, 2013

debate over preservation, progress at long branch hearing

The Flower Theatre in Long Branch. Photo courtesy of Chip Py.

The County Council auditorium in Rockville was mostly empty last night as residents, community leaders and business owners offered comments on the Long Branch Sector Plan, which would encourage new housing and commercial development in the neighborhood's beleaguered business district in anticipation of the Purple Line, which could serve the area starting in 2020. Here's a Storify recap of what happened, followed by my testimony.

My name is Dan Reed and I live in Silver Spring. I’m an urban planner by training and I work as a blogger and planning consultant. I'd like to testify in support of the Long Branch Sector Plan. Thank you for letting me speak this evening.

I grew up not far from Long Branch and went to movies at the Flower Theatre as a little kid. I’m so excited by what it is and what it could be. That’s why I got involved last year by co-founding the Flower Theatre Project, which sought to find ways to bring it back to life. I helped publicize the Long Branch Super Block Party in May; when I went, the diversity of the crowd, the liveliness of the streets, and the feeling of community blew me away.

I’ve gotten to meet and work with residents, business owners, community leaders and landowners. What I’ve found is that while they have often contradictory interests and concerns, we all want to see investment to the area sooner rather than later. I believe the plan gives Long Branch the ability to celebrate its existing culture and history while allowing it to grow and evolve, as any place should.

This plan will ensure a supply of affordable housing with 15% MPDU requirements, so long as the zoning has the teeth to make it happen. Higher-density buildings will provide more market-rate housing, giving people of all income levels a place in Long Branch. New transit, businesses and housing will improve economic mobility by giving residents more access to jobs and local businesses more access to a wider range of customers.

This plan will transform Long Branch's main streets, Flower, Piney Branch and University, into complete streets for people coming on foot, by bike, by transit, or by car. Meanwhile, new pedestrian and street connections will improve local traffic circulation and relieve pressure from the main streets.

This plan will also preserve the façade and shoulders of the Flower Theatre, a local icon. The Flower Theatre Project didn’t take a position on this in January because we wanted the planners and property owners to reach a compromise. But I’m hopeful that this recommendation will allow the community and the owners to look at a variety of potential futures for this space rather than limiting it to what’s already on the ground.

Montgomery County’s strength is its diversity, which is embodied in places like Long Branch. But we can’t assume that the status quo is either sustainable nor the most ideal situation for everyone. I want to see a Long Branch where people of all backgrounds and income levels are welcome, safe, and able to grow and prosper. This plan can help make that a reality.

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