Wednesday, October 30, 2013

whither the flower theatre project?

The Flower Theatre today. Photo courtesy of Chip Py.
After being vacant for five years, the Flower Theatre will once again become a church. Owner Greg Fernebok of Bethesda-based Harvey Companies recently told the Voice that he's signed a 10-year lease with a congregation to occupy the long-shuttered Art Deco movie house in Long Branch.

While it's good to see the space occupied again, it's a setback for the Flower Theatre Project, an initiative to bring this long-vacant and underused space back to life. So it seems appropriate to look back of what we've done and what will happen next.

Back in April 2012, I was sitting in the living room of my friends Amanda and Lawrence Hurley, who were telling me about how they wanted more things to walk to in Long Branch. Unemployed and looking for a project, I proposed holding a charrette, or design workshop, to envision what the Flower Theatre could be.

In August, we brought 30 residents, businesspeople and community leaders together to offer their thoughts for what the space could be. We put together a report exploring the social and economic issues affecting the theatre, and laid out potential visions for what it could be.

And our ideas took root. Al Tetrault, a professor at the University of Maryland, had his economic development and historic preservation class look at ways to bring back the theatre that were financially possible. A music promoter in Los Angeles inquired about renovating it and booking shows there, but disappeared soon after.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

new wheaton apartments target millennials

The largest generation in American history, Millennials are having a big impact on both national and local housing trends. But does it make sense to build housing specifically for them, as one developer wants to do in Wheaton?

Park It
AVA H Street. All photos by the author.
There's been no shortage of writing about Millennials, or the generation of young adults between 20 and 34. On the one hand, they're flocking to places like the DC area for its strong job market and opportunities for urban living. On the other hand, they're often burdened with student loans and strapped for cash.

Nonetheless, developers are responding by building housing designed especially for them. Last month, AvalonBay presented early designs for a new apartment building at Georgia and Blueridge avenues in downtown Wheaton under its "AVA" brand, geared towards young, hip renters who want to live in urban areas.

Friday, October 25, 2013

bob fustero (1951-2013)

Bob Fustero (right) with Robin Ficker in 2006.
I met Bob Fustero for the first time in 2006, after a candidates' forum for county executive. I had only started Just Up The Pike a few weeks earlier; I was 18, and I was still trying to figure out what I wanted to do and to find my "voice." I didn't know a lot about the candidates, and I assumed they were all pretty important and unapproachable. 

Yet somehow, I ended up joking around with Bob and Robin Ficker, another perennial candidate, who told me about their long history together in county politics. That's when Bob asked me about, of all things, a post I'd written about the "emo kids" who hung out in downtown Silver Spring.

"At first, I didn't know what you were talking about," he said. "Brian Eno, the musician? Maybe these kids were followers of him? I didn't know. So I asked my niece, and she showed me one of those 'How To Become Emo' web sites. Now I'm really confused. I gotta find these emo kids." 

That's what I appreciated about Bob: he was known for strong opinions, but he also didn't take himself seriously, and he was willing to talk to anyone about almost anything. It's that humility and willingness to listen that got him 20% of the vote in the 2002 Democratic primary for governor despite a budget of just $600, very few campaign appearances, and a running-mate who was once homeless.

Bob was a frequent and prolific commenter on JUTP for several years. He reminisced about drinking from Sligo Creek as a kidgave restaurant recommendations in Wheaton, and talked about the difficulties of being poor or working class in an increasingly expensive county. We didn't always agree, but we were friendly towards one another, and I was always glad to read what he had to say.

I admired Bob's life story and his commitment to ensuring that everyone in Montgomery County, regardless of background or wealth, had access to the same opportunities he had. It's that passion that helped me become better at understanding and reaching out to people I disagreed with, realizing that what brought us all together was a shared love of our community.

In recent years, I didn't hear from Bob as much. I'm heartbroken to hear that he succumbed to lung disease this week, and I send my condolences to his family and loved ones. He was a good guy, and I'm sure he'll be deeply missed in our community.

As we parted that summer night in 2006, Bob told me something that has stuck with me ever since: "You're much nicer in person than you are online."

I realized how easy it was to let kindness and respect go when you're behind a keyboard. Bob inspired me to be a nicer person, even in the midst of disagreement. It can be hard, but I don't want to let him down.

Monday, October 21, 2013

notes from seattle: neighborhood greenways

I'm in Seattle this week for the Rail~Volution conference. Here's a look at things I'm seeing and doing.

Seattle residents were sick of speeding cut-through traffic on neighborhood streets. In response, the city is creating a network of "neighborhood greenways" designed to slow drivers and make it safer to get around by foot or bike.

Neighborhood Greenway, Eastern Ave N
A cyclist and a driver navigate a roundabout on a "neighborhood greenway" in Seattle's Wallingford neighborhood. All photos by the author.

Neighborhood greenways are sort of a carrot and stick approach: speed bumps, physical diverters and small roundabouts at each intersection slow drivers down, discouraging them from cutting through the neighborhood, or at least encouraging them to drive more carefully.

Meanwhile, improved sidewalks and marked crosswalks make it easier and safer to walk. Bike lanes and sharrows, or shared lanes, give cyclists a safer ride as well. And all of those roundabouts and bumpouts are great places for landscaping, putting the "green" in "neighborhood greenway."

Seattle first got the idea from Portland, which pioneered the neighborhood greenway a few years ago. The city has completed neighborhood greenways in two communities, including Wallingford, where I'm staying this week.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

work finally starts on chelsea heights townhouses

In 2010, local builder EYA made a deal with a private school to buy their Silver Spring campus and build townhouses there. After a three-year battle with the neighborhood association, construction has finally begun.

Chelsea Heights Sign, Georgia Avenue
Bus ad for the new Chelsea Heights development in downtown Silver Spring. All photos by the author.

Workers are busy clearing the five-acre site on Pershing Drive, four blocks from the Silver Spring Metro station. Eventually, there will be 63 townhomes, including 8 moderately-priced units for low-income households, and a restored, 150-year-old farmhouse, which will be sold as a single-family home.

Over the past week, ads for the new development, dubbed Chelsea Heights, appeared on bus stops around downtown Silver Spring. It's named for the Chelsea School, a special-needs institution that sold its home of 36 years and recently moved to Hyattsville. But getting here wasn't easy.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

a "skate plaza" could invigorate white oak

Montgomery County's newest skate park in White Oak doesn't have any skaters, due to poor design and an isolated location. A "skate plaza" in the center of the community could give skaters and non-skaters alike a better place to hang out.

Paine's Park July 10th-7
Paine's Park, a "skate plaza" in Philadelphia. Photo by JacGebhardt on Flickr.

The 6,000-square-foot White Oak skate spot, a sort of mini-skate park, is located at at the end of a cul-de-sac off of Lockwood Drive next to a new recreation center, both of which opened in the summer of 2012. Built by the county's Department of Recreation, the skate spot and rec center cost $22 million to build.

The recreation center is usually busy, along with the basketball courts and soccer fields. But I've dropped by the skate park at least dozen times this year, at different times of day, on different days of the week, in winter, spring, and summer. And I've never seen anyone using the skate spot.

"There's no flow"
28-year-old Mike Rious of Colesville visited the skate spot a few times, but he quickly got frustrated with it. Instead, he goes to the Woodside skate spot in Silver Spring or to skate parks in Prince George's County. "It seems as though no skatepark designers or anyone with knowledge of skateboarding was consulted before putting it together," he wrote in an email.