Tuesday, February 26, 2013

first baptist redevelopment mixes church and community

View from Wayne Avenue and Fenton Street
Rendering of the proposed redevelopment of First Baptist Church. The new church is on the left.
Across the region, cash-strapped churches are taking advantage of their property's development potential. The latest congregation is the First Baptist Church of Silver Spring, whose plans to replace their aging sanctuary with apartments, shops and a new church will go before the Montgomery County Planning Board on Thursday.

First Baptist Church is located at the corner of Fenton Street and Wayne Avenue in downtown Silver Spring, four blocks from the Silver Spring Metro station and across the street from a future Purple Line stop. Built between 1927 and 1956, the church's buildings are showing their age and no longer fit the congregation's needs. It could cost $5 million to bring it up to code.

That's why they've partnered with developers Grosvenor Americas and LaKritz Adler, who propose replacing the church (PDF) with a 6-story, 259-unit apartment building with 18,650 square feet of ground-floor retail space and an underground parking garage. A new, 29,000-square-foot church, containing a sanctuary, classrooms and a day care center, would be built next door. Between them would be a mid-block pedestrian passage with landscaping and public art.

Redevelopment causes debate between congregations, preservationists

The Church at Clarendon.
Photo by Ron Cogswell on Flickr.
Whether due to declining attendance or growing ambitions, other area churches are doing the same thing, notably the Third Church of Christ, Scientist in downtown DC, which partnered with a developer to raze their architecturally significant sanctuary and replace it with a new church and office building.

In Arlington, the Church at Clarendon sold the air rights above their church so an apartment building could be built on top. Meanwhile, the First Baptist Church of Wheaton sold their property to an apartment developer so they could relocate to Olney.

These projects often pit congregations against preservationists, who argue that the churches are historically or architecturally significant and should be saved. The Silver Spring Historical Society fought to have the First Baptist Church designated as a historic landmark; in response, the church hired a historian to argue that the building was nothing special.

It's a "dime-a-dozen church," Pastor Duncan McIntosh told the Gazette in 2011.

The Montgomery County Planning Board chose not to designate the building, opening it up for redevelopment. However, stained glass windows from the old church may be used in the new one, according to Jerry McCoy, president of the historical society.

Proposed design provides transition between downtown and neighborhoods

Site Plan, First Baptist Church
Site plan of the proposed redevelopment. The apartment building is on the left and the church is on the right.

Whether or not the First Baptist Church of Silver Spring is historically significant, it plays an important role in the community. Ironically, tearing it down will allow the church to remain in the community by giving it much-needed income and a new sanctuary that better fits their needs. Not only that, but the proposed design will encourage the further revitalization of downtown Silver Spring while creating a nice transition to surrounding neighborhoods.

The apartment building, designed by SK+I Architects of Bethesda, will have ground-floor retail along Fenton Street between Wayne and Bonifant Street, filling a large gap between the core of downtown Silver Spring and Fenton Village. Along Wayne and Fenton, the building will be 6 stories tall and have a modern fa├žade with metal and concrete panels and large expanses of glass.

View from Bonifant and Fenton streets
Rendering of the building at Bonifant and Fenton streets.

In 2011, neighbors agreed to allow the building additional height along Fenton; in exchange, the developers have reduced its height to 4 stories along Bonifant, where it's adjacent to single-family houses. The exterior on that street is more traditional, with divided-light windows and brick cladding; instead of shops, there are ground-floor apartments with "real doors."

In response to concerns about through traffic, a chicane will be placed on Bonifant Street. It'll slow drivers down, but still allow them to pass through, making it a much better alternative than the "fake cul-de-sacs" placed in many areas around downtown Silver Spring that just dump more traffic on the main streets.

Public space mixes church and community

"Wingspire," Proposed Pubilc Art Piece
Rendering of the proposed "Wingspire" sculpture in the passage.

However, the most interesting part of the project might be its public open spaces, which take up two-fifths of an acre. It's here that apartment residents, shoppers and diners, and church parishioners will cross paths and mingle, creating an interesting mix.

The church's entrance on Wayne Avenue will face a small plaza, which also has tables and chairs for outdoor dining. On Bonifant Street is a playground for the church's day care center, which will be open to the public at set times. Connecting them is a mid-block passage between the apartments and the church, with benches and bioretention planters that hold and filter rainwater.

There will also be a 30-foot-tall public art piece dubbed "Wingspire." Frederick-based artist William Cochran designed a sculpture made of dichroic glass, which is embedded with thin layers of metal and can display a variety of colors. The glass will also be embedded in the passage's stone pavers, creating what Cochran calls a "river of light."

After years of debate, a design has emerged for the new First Baptist Church of Silver Spring that might make everyone happy. Not only does it allow a nearly century-old congregation to remain in place, but it allows downtown Silver Spring to continue growing while respecting adjacent neighborhoods. A church is often the heart of a community, but in a project like this, it's literal.

Check out this slideshow with more images of the First Baptist Church proposal.

Friday, February 22, 2013

more transportation funding means a stronger economy

In Traffic
Traffic on the Capital Beltway near Kensington. Photo by magandafille on Flickr.
Improving Maryland's transportation network isn't just about being "green," or even moving people and goods. It's about supporting our regional economy, and a small increase in the gas tax can go a long way.

Earlier this week, University of Maryland Diamondback columnist Andrew Do argued that increasing Maryland's gas tax would be a "burden" and a "punishment" on drivers. With gas prices nearing $4 a gallon, I'm sure many drivers feel the same way. But what a gas tax can accomplish is well worth it.

Forty years ago, the state of Maryland set up the Transportation Trust Fund, a dedicated funding source for the Maryland Department of Transportation. It gets money from a variety of sources, ranging from the gas tax to car registration fees and transit fares. In recent years, however, it has been depleted not by mismanagement, as Do suggests, but by falling revenues and rising costs.

The gas tax works because you pay for what you use. Those who drive more place more wear and tear on our roads, and they should pay to maintain them. Out-of-state drivers also use our roads, and the gas tax allows them to pay their fair share.

Currently, the gas tax is currently 23.5 cents per gallon, the same as it was in 1992. Meanwhile, construction costs for have doubled. At this rate, the Transportation Trust Fund will run out in 2018. That means no money for transit, no money for roads, and no money to even maintain what we already have.

Even if you don't use public transit, you reap the benefits of it. Each day, over 700,000 Marylanders take transit, including the Metro, the MTA, and local transit providers like Montgomery County's Ride On, to work, school and other activities.

Not only do they get an alternative to sitting in traffic, they reduce congestion for everyone else by not driving. A study of our regional transit network's benefits found that it saves us 148,000 hours a day from being lost to traffic congestion and 40.5 million gallons of fuel each year. If not for transit, we would need to build over 1,000 new lane-miles of highways, the equivalent of adding 15 lanes to the Capital Beltway.

On top of that, every dollar we invest in transit generates $6 in local economic activity. That means more jobs, stronger businesses, and more tax revenue to pay for transportation and other public services.

According to a recent study from the Texas Transportation Institute, DC area drivers already spend an average of 67 hours each year in traffic. That's wasted time, wasted gas and wasted money. As our state continues to grow, our transportation network needs to grow or it will only get worse.

That means building the Purple Line between Bethesda and New Carrollton, the Baltimore Red Line between Woodlawn and the city, and the Corridor Cities Transitway between Shady Grove and Clarksburg. It means expanding MARC commuter rail so it runs all day, every day. And it means investing in our existing roads and bridges, ensuring that they can handle current and future traffic.

Like many transportation projects around the country, these efforts may be partially funded by the federal government, but they need to know that Maryland has some skin in the game as well. If we don't find matching funds for crucial projects like the Purple Line and the Red Line this year when they come up for federal review, they may never get built.

Given, many people in Maryland do drive. Personally, I drive a 2003 Honda Civic, whose gas tank holds about 11 gallons. If our gas tax were raised 14.5 cents a gallon, which would bring it back to where it was in 1992 with inflation, it would cost me $1.59 extra to fill up.

Is that too much to ask? Some, like Do, might say yes. But it's a small price to pay for securing Maryland's economic future. I urge anyone who truly cares about our state's future to join Get Maryland Moving in the fight for more transportation funding now. You can visit our website, follow us on Facebook and Twitter, and sign our petition calling on Maryland legislators to act now.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

design, not height the issue with studio plaza

(2013) Bird's-Eye View
Bird's-eye view of Studio Plaza. All images courtesy of Fairfield Residential Company.

Neighbors in downtown Silver Spring say a proposed 11-story apartment building is too tall for the area. But as the project goes to the Montgomery County Planning Board, where it's recommended for approval, there are bigger issues about the building's design that are still unresolved.

In 2009, local developer Robert Hillerson proposed building a mixed-use complex with apartments, shops, offices and a hotel on most of a city block between Georgia, Thayer and Silver Spring avenues and Fenton Street.

Community members supported that plan, but they weren't as excited about a new design presented by Hillerson and national apartment developer Fairfield Residential Company last summer. As I wrote in October, what was originally a pair of buildings surrounding Mayor's Promenade, a planned pedestrian passage between Georgia Avenue and Fenton Street, has morphed into one monolithic, block-long building with an underpass through it.

On Thursday, the developers will present a revised design (PDF) to the Montgomery County Planning Board, which is also holding a public hearing on the project. Neighbors, civic groups and even County Councilmembers have written nearly 100 pages of letters to the Board, mostly in opposition. They're mainly worried about the project's height and density, which one resident feels could turn Silver Spring into Crystal City.

While some good changes have been made since the summer, this project still isn't ready to go. It's not the height or density, both of which are allowed by current zoning and are in line with the rest of downtown Silver Spring. The real issue is with its design.

Friday, February 15, 2013

massive overhaul of the blairs turns parking lot into parks

_Blair Park - Aerial
Today it's a parking lot, but this is what the Blairs could look like in the future. All images courtesy of Sasaki Associates.

With 1400 apartments, a strip mall and an office building around a huge parking lot, the Blairs are a suburban relic in the middle of downtown Silver Spring. Over the next 15 to 20 years, it could become a city in its own right, with new housing, commercial space, and a network of new streets and parks.

The Rockville-based Tower Companies showed me their long-term plan for the redevelopment of the 1960's-era 27-acre complex bounded by Colesville Road, East-West Highway, Blair Mill Road and Eastern Avenue on Wednesday before presenting it to the community that evening at the Silver Spring Civic Building.

The project, which could cost $625 million, would double the amount of housing and tripling the amount of commercial space there is today, which is already allowed under current zoning. The shopping center, office building, and older apartment buildings would be replaced with acres of new parks, courtyards and buildings with green roofs.

Canadian architect Bing Thom, who designed the new Arena Stage in Southwest DC, developed the plan with landscape architect Alan Ward of Boston-based Sasaki Associates, who designed Reston Town Center. "As an architect, it's such a joy to work with [Tower]," says Thom. "Here's a private property owner that says 'We want everyone to walk through our property!'"

Thursday, February 14, 2013

scaled-down BRT plans presented at transit forum

Bus Approaching, Reseda Station
BRT in Los Angeles. Photo by the author.
On the heels of a report suggesting Montgomery County's Bus Rapid Transit plans are too ambitious, county planners are recommending reducing the number of lines and having less of the system use dedicated lanes.

Planners discussed these recommendations last night at a forum hosted by the Coalition for Smarter Growth, "The Next Generation of Transit," which discussed how Montgomery County needs to expand its transit network.

Featured speaker Geoff Anderson from Smart Growth America talked about the social, economic and environmental benefits of public transit and compact, walkable development, while County Councilmember Roger Berliner discussed how transit is integral to attracting young people and entrepreneurs to the county. Mike Madden, project manager for the Maryland Transit Administration, offered a quick update on the Purple Line.

However, the biggest news came from Larry Cole, transportation planner with the Montgomery County Planning Department. Cole presented their latest recommendations for a countywide Bus Rapid Transit network, which would be included in a master plan for future transit expansion.

The county has been studying Bus Rapid Transit since 2008, though a recently-released study from the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, considered to be international experts on BRT, argues that it may not work in all parts of the county.

Planners looked at current land use and travel habits, along with changes proposed in the county's existing plans, and compared different scenarios for building BRT. They found that while a larger system would draw more riders and reduce driving, physical and economic constraints meant that a smaller network was more feasible.

The approximate corridors recommended by ITDP.

BRT corridors currently recommended by county planners. Click here to see their proposal from last November.

The current recommendation is for a 79-mile network, to be built in two phases, with 8 routes on Route 355, Colesville Road/Columbia Pike, Georgia Avenue, New Hampshire Avenue, Randolph Road, Veirs Mill Road, University Boulevard, and the North Bethesda Transitway. It's a smaller system than previous proposals, but it's still more than the 4-route system recommended by ITDP.

As proposed, buses would run in mixed traffic on many corridors just as they do today . Last November, Cole suggested that in order to give buses their own dedicated lanes, considered a must-have for successful BRT, space may need to be taken from cars.

Buses would have dedicated lanes in the median on all of Route 355 between Friendship Heights and Clarksburg, where it will support the redevelopment of White Flint and other areas along the corridor, along with portions of Georgia Avenue, New Hampshire Avenue, and Columbia Pike. Combined, these sections make up 31 miles of the system.

On other roads, like Veirs Mill Road and Randolph Road, buses would travel in a single-lane median that would change directions based on rush hour traffic, in "managed lanes" where buses would have some priority over other vehicles, or in mixed traffic.

Cole cited "difficult operational issues" for places where buses wouldn't get their own lanes, such as Columbia Pike and Colesville Road south of Lockwood Drive in Silver Spring. Though the corridor has six lanes and is home to some of the most heavily-used bus routes in suburban Maryland, homeowners in Four Corners have expressed opposition to taking away lanes from cars at several public meetings, including this one.

Instead, Lockwood Drive, a two-lane road roughly parallel to Columbia Pike and lined with apartment buildings, would be widened to give buses their own lanes, though it doesn't go all the way to downtown Silver Spring.

"Is the desire [for transit on Colesville and Columbia] there? Yes," said Cole. "Is the ridership high enough to justify taking a lane? Yes. When we looked at how that would actually work, we decided we needed additional study."

Colesville and Georgia

Though Montgomery County's Bus Rapid Transit plans are being trimmed down, they're moving in the right direction. ITDP recommended that the county focus on areas where transit use is already high, which the 8 routes as proposed do cover. It's also good to focus on the right solution for the right area, allowing limited resources to be spent where they're most needed.

At the same time, we can't fall prey to "BRT creep," or when BRT systems are watered down to the point where they don't work anymore. County planners need to take a stand for transit even when there's some opposition to it. It's good that they've stood by dedicated lanes on Route 355 even in areas like downtown Bethesda and White Flint where space may have be taken from cars, but it's disappointing that they've chosen not to endorse doing the same on equally constrained Georgia Avenue or Colesville Road in Silver Spring.

Transit is most effective when it can give riders a reliable commute, and buses simply can't do that when they're stuck in traffic with everyone else. And without reliable transit, our region's growth and prosperity is at risk.

Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, echoed these concerns. "We have to make some hard choices," he said. "We've got to figure out a better way to grow. If we do it without adding transit and without adding more walkable neighborhoods, we will just die in our traffic."

Planners are currently working on a draft of the Countywide Transit Corridors Functional Master Plan, which will be presented to the Planning Board in March. In May, the board will hold public hearings before taking a vote later this spring. If approved by the Planning Board and later the County Council, the county will start doing more detailed studies in addition to preliminary engineering for the Bus Rapid Transit network.

Monday, February 11, 2013

can new MoCo planning HQ catalyze wheaton?

The Fortress of Planning today. Photo by tracktwentynine on Flickr.

Downtown Silver Spring is anchored by the Civic Building. Rockville Town Center has its library. Wheaton, meanwhile, will have the Montgomery County Planning Department. If the revitalization of Wheaton is going to succeed, it'll need much more than a government office building.

Last month, the Park and Planning Commission made a nonbinding agreement with Montgomery County to build their new headquarters and a town square on Parking Lot 13 at the corner of Reedie Drive and Grandview Avenue, for which the County Council set aside $55 million last year.

A new headquarters would be a big improvement for the Planning Department and Department of Parks, whose current home in downtown Silver Spring is an aging, cobbled-together building I jokingly call the "Fortress of Planning." But the county's decision to locate it at the core of downtown Wheaton gives these agencies some pretty big shoes to fill.

Done well, the headquarters could be a catalyst, drawing people and investment to the area while serving as an example of everything Montgomery County stands for. Done poorly, it'll be a black hole, sucking the life out of Wheaton and hampering its redevelopment. How can we get this right? Here are a few suggestions:

1) Mix it up.

Arlington: Courthouse Farmers Market
Farmers' market at Arlington Courthouse Plaza. Photo by cliff1066™on Flickr.

The current concept is to build a 150,000-square-foot building that would contain the two departments' headquarters, a credit union, a day care center and an underground parking garage, while later a second building could be built behind it with apartments and ground-floor shops.

That seems a little backwards. After all, the headquarters would directly face the new town square, which would be a more desirable location for retail than further up the block as proposed. Restaurants and cafes with outdoor seating could help add life to the square, while putting offices there that close at 5pm would just create a dead spot.

Montgomery County should follow the lead of Arlington, whose Department of Community Planning, Housing and Development and other government agencies are located in Courthouse Plaza, a complex with ground-floor shops, restaurants, a movie theatre and a farmers' market surrounding a pedestrian mall. While the space isn't as robust or lively as Clarendon next door, it's active throughout the day and the week and serves as an anchor for the larger neighborhood.

2) Engage the public.

House of Sweden 2
The House of Sweden. Photo by afagen on Flickr.

Planning isn't the sexiest government agency. Little kids don't idolize zoning clerks the way they do fire fighters and police officers, and with one exception you won't find many television shows about planners. Nonetheless, planners play an important role in shaping our communities, and the new headquarters is an opportunity to tell that story.

One example of how to do that is the House of Sweden in Georgetown, which houses the embassies of both Sweden and Iceland, offices and a conference center. Designed to reflect the Swedish ideals of openness, transparency and democracy, the building is open to the public and hosts exhibitions, talks and concerts showcasing the nation's arts and culture.

The Planning Department already holds public events like last fall's open house or their annual speaker series. These events, usually held on weekends or during the evening, could help activate the building outside of the Planning Board's twice-weekly meetings. It would be cool if the building was designed to make those activities visible from the street, the same way that the House of Sweden's lobby opens to the Georgetown Waterfront. They could include a small gallery to showcase the latest projects, allowing residents to find out what's happening in their community while, say, going out for dinner.

3) Design for a statement.

Waterfront Station, 4th + M SW
Waterfront Station, housing the DC Office of Planning and other agencies. Photo by the author.

Most modern public buildings are unremarkable and undistinguished. For every gorgeous, inspiring edifice like the Civic Building there's a Transit Center that was designed for utility and little else. That's not acceptable for an agency committed to improving the the county's built and natural environment.

In 2011, the District of Columbia moved their Office of Planning and other agencies into Waterfront Station, a mixed-use project on the site of the former Waterside Mall in Southwest. Designed by renowned local architects Shalom Baranes Associates, Waterfront Station earned LEED Gold certification from the United States Green Building Council due to the use of energy-conserving features like a green roof and shading devices to reduce heat gain from sunlight.

Like in Arlington, there are shops and restaurants on the ground floor, including a Safeway. The Office of Planning itself doesn't necessarily engage the public, as it's located on the sixth floor and you have to go through security to reach it. However, placing this agency and others in this complex still makes a meaningful statement about the District's commitment to urban revitalization and environmentally sensitive development.

I've been skeptical in the past about the merits of relocating the Planning Department and Department of Parks to Wheaton, but now that it's basically a done deal, let's make this the best project we can. For decades, Montgomery County has been a leader in innovative planning, and now it's time for them to put their money where their mouth is.

Friday, February 8, 2013

what's up the pike: rising rents, falling buses

Bus Stuck In Rut, Silver Spring Metro

- The beleaguered Silver Spring Transit Center just can't catch a break: yesterday, a Metrobus got stuck in a hole outside the transit center on Colesville Road. Workers had been digging there on Wednesday and covered the hole with metal panels, which then gave way. According to commenters on JUTP's Facebook page, the bus was removed and the hole blocked to other traffic. (Also check out our Facebook page for commenters' hilarious responses to the incident.)

- The blog We Love DC has an interesting heat map showing rental rates across Greater Washington (at least, around the Capital Beltway.) Not surprisingly, the region's highest rents can be found in Northwest DC, Arlington and Bethesda, though it's interesting that even as rents increase in downtown Silver Spring, it's still cheaper than many other parts of the region - including Takoma Park, oddly enough.

- Our friends at BethesdaNow report that Montgomery County is putting together a "nighttime economy" initiative to encourage more evening activity in the area with the hopes it'll draw and retain more young adults. Nightlife has been an ongoing issue in Silver Spring, whether due to about crime or the viability of businesses that depend on evening traffic, and I'm glad the county's taking a look at it. (I also hear they're putting together a Nightlife Economy Task Force, and if they're looking for folks to sit on it, they know where to find me.)

- If you're interested in transit and development issues in Silver Spring, there are three big meetings next week, two of which are on the same night.

On Tuesday, the Action Committee for Transit hosts its monthly meeting with speaker Shyam Kannan, managing director of planning for WMATA. He'll be talking about Momentum, Metro's long-range plan for growth and investment. That meeting's at 7:30pm at the Silver Spring Civic Building, located at the corner of Ellsworth Drive and Fenton Street.

On Wednesday, the Coalition for Smarter Growth hosts a talk on Montgomery County's "Next Generation of Transit" with speakers Geoff Anderson of Smart Growth America and District 1 (that's Bethesda and Potomac) Councilmember Roger Berliner. That'll be from 6pm to 8pm, also at the Civic Building.

And when you're done with that, head across the hall to a presentation from the Tower Companies, owners of The Blairs, about their plans to redevelop the massive 1960's-era apartment complex and shopping center across the street from the Silver Spring Metro station. I've briefly spoken to representatives from the developer and have plans to meet with them next week, and the little I've heard suggests this project could be a very big deal. The presentation will be at 7:30pm at the Civic Building, because of course that's where it is.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

no answers, no accountability for silver spring transit center

Silver Spring Transit Center From Cameron Street Parking Garage
The Silver Spring Transit Center last year. Photo by the author.

Neither Montgomery County nor construction company Foulger-Pratt will take responsibility for ongoing delays at the Silver Spring Transit Center. And until outside consultants release their findings, which were supposed to come out last month, it's unclear what's wrong with it in the first place.

Last month, construction company Foulger-Pratt filed a claim against Montgomery County, saying that the county was responsible for delays in completing the Silver Spring Transit Center, a 3-story building which will have bus bays for Metrobuses, Ride On, commuter buses, UMD shuttles, intercity buses and more, along with space for a future Purple Line station.

The project has now been stalled for over a year due to concerns about the transit center's structural integrity, namely concrete that was poured too thin or too thick in certain areas.

"This transit center could have and should have been open months ago for the good of this community," said Bryant Foulger, managing principal at Foulger-Pratt, in a brief phone conversation. "We're not the only ones who's frustrated. We're all waiting."

The transit center was first proposed 20 years ago. Costs for the project have more than tripled since money was first set aside in 1999, to $112 million. Originally scheduled to open in 2009, the transit center should open this fall, according to Patrick Lacefield, spokesperson for County Executive Ike Leggett.

Montgomery County has hired KCE Structural Engineers to prepare a report on the status of the transit center, which was supposed to be delivered at the end of January. "They know we want to get started, but we asked them to give it a very good look," Lacefield said in another phone conversation.

Foulger says they offered to help fix the problem, but haven't received a response. The county hasn't allowed their engineers to meet with Foulger-Pratt's engineers.

In the meantime, Foulger-Pratt has filed 35 separate delay claims, some of which the county has acknowledged and paid for, said Judah Lifschitz, a lawyer representing Foulger-Pratt. He claims that the county has yet to pay for "millions of dollars" in changes they've had made to the transit center at their request. According to the Post, Foulger-Pratt says they're entitled to over $7,500 a day in payments if work is delayed after February 26.

Lacefield wasn't able to immediately confirm how much the county owed Foulger-Pratt, though Leggett recently proposed setting aside $7.5 million to pay for needed improvements.

"What we'd really like to do is sit down and let's discuss this," said Foulger. "We get the right people in the room, we get the right experts, and we move forward. That's how we do it in the private sector."

The county is waiting until the report is released to make any further statements. "We're not going to respond to that until we get the final report," said Lacefield. "Depending on those findings, we may be advancing claims of our own on the behalf of taxpayers."

Whenever the report does come out, Lacefield said there are no plans for a public forum on the transit center, as requested last month by Action Committee for Transit, a Montgomery County advocacy group. (Full disclosure: I sit on ACT's board.) "Great, let's have a forum, but let's have something to talk about" first, he said.

Until then, Foulger stands by the quality of their work. "The building's safe," said Foulger. "It's not a matter of safety. The only thing that's left is what you want done and you won't tell us what to do."

The county, meanwhile, is willing to take its time to ensure a good product. "Nobody wants to get this done quicker than we do," Lacefield said, "but we also want to get it done right."

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.