Wednesday, October 5, 2016

let's keep silver spring affordable by building housing at the old library

UPDATE: Sign our petition in support of affordable housing at the old library.

Montgomery County wants to turn the former Silver Spring library into affordable housing. Now neighbors are circulating a petition to make it a park instead, even though there's already a park next door.

The former Silver Spring Library. Photo from Google Street View.

Even before the Silver Spring Library moved to a new building last summer, Montgomery County has been trying to figure out what to do with its 1950's-era building and parking lot on Colesville Road.

In the past, Parks Department officials said they want to make it a recreation center. But that may not be necessary if the county goes with a proposal to build a bigger recreation center and aquatic center in a new apartment building a few blocks away.

This summer, county officials floated the idea of replacing the old library with affordable apartments for seniors and a childcare center. But some neighbors insist that the library become a recreation center and park, and are circulating a petition claiming that downtown Silver Spring has "no open space," that Silver Spring has enough housing, and that a park is the "green" solution.

Aerial of the former library site. Image from Google Maps altered by the author.

This isn't the first time some residents have raised these arguments, particularly when there's a proposal to build new homes. But Montgomery County has the right idea in using the old library for affordable housing.

You'd be surprised how much open space Silver Spring has

Would you believe me if I told you downtown Silver Spring had 38 acres of open space, or more than seven Dupont Circles? That's what the Montgomery County Planning Department found in a 2008 study of downtown green space.

Current and proposed "public use spaces" in downtown Silver Spring. Map from the Planning Department.

That number includes public parks, like the 14-acre Jesup Blair Park. But it also includes the open spaces Montgomery County requires developers to include in their projects, which has resulted in dozens of pocket parks and plazas, and even playgrounds around downtown.

Some of them are great, while others poorly designed and underused. But even the bad parks represent an opportunity to reclaim open space in downtown.

As a result of that 2008 study, county planners have encouraged developers to provide bigger parks, and now Silver Spring is poised to get them. A new, one-acre park will soon open at the Blairs as a placeholder for an even bigger set of parks. The Studio Plaza redevelopment off of Georgia Avenue will have a 13,000 square foot park.

There are also several public parks right next to downtown that are getting renovated or expanded, including Ellsworth Park and Woodside Park, or Fenton Street Park. Meanwhile, major regional parks like Rock Creek Park and Sligo Creek Park are two miles of downtown, giving urban dwellers easy access to nature.

Silver Spring still needs more new housing

Thousands of new homes have been built around downtown Silver Spring in recent years, and thousands more will come soon. That includes some buildings dedicated to affordable housing, including The Bonifant, which just opened this year.

But housing prices are already out of reach for many people and continue to rise. New two-bedroom apartments in Silver Spring can rent for upwards of $3,000 per month, while in the surrounding neighborhoods, some homes have quadrupled in value over the past 20 years.

Silver Spring has become an increasingly desirable area over the past 20 years. Even as new homes get built, they don't meet the demand from people who want to live here, so prices continue to go up. As a recent study from George Washington University notes, Silver Spring has remained diverse in spite of revitalization. That's partly because we do build new housing here, preventing the area from becoming even more unaffordable.

Building in downtown is the "green" solution

Today, the old Silver Spring Library is surrounded by a driveway and parking lots. Building here, on an already paved-over site, makes much more sense than paving over farms or forests. And building new homes here, in the middle of downtown Silver Spring, means that more people will be able to walk to shops and jobs and transit instead of driving long distances. Turning this site exclusively into green space means that existing green space somewhere else gets paved over.

Corner of Springvale Road and Ellsworth Heights Drive
New townhomes in downtown Silver Spring. Photo by the author.

Silver Spring prides itself on its progressive politics and embrace of diversity. But fighting all new development is not progressive and ultimately makes our community less diverse. As President Obama said last week, communities that fight new housing become more expensive, less equal, and lose tremendous amounts of economic productivity.

That's not to say that the old library should become housing with no open space. The site is shaped like an "L," meaning that county officials could decide that part of it becomes housing and the rest becomes an extension of Ellsworth Park. That could meet some neighbors' concerns about open space, while meeting the very real demand for affordable housing.

If you agree, we have a petition of our own that we'll send to the Montgomery County Council and County Executive Ike Leggett, asking them to support housing on the former library site.

1 comment:

tony hausner said...

I have asked county government to supply data on the current supply and need for: affordable housing for both seniors and all populations, park land, recreation space, and child day care. Are there other needs that should be studied. I have asked this for the county as a whole and for the Silver Spring Regional Center area. I hope that the county will supply this in a timely basis so that we can as a community can make an informed decision on the cost benefits of the decision as to the best use of this valuable space.