The Washington, DC region is great >> and it can be greater.

Posts by Dan Reed

Dan Reed is an urban planner at Nelson\Nygaard. He writes his own blog, Just Up the Pike, and serves as the Land Use Chair for the Action Committee for Transit. He lives in downtown Silver Spring. All opinions are his own. 


Join us in Navy Yard for our holiday party

We're having a holiday party to celebrate another year of writing about the people and places that make the DC area great. Join us next month in Navy Yard to celebrate!

Skating in Canal Park. Photo by Azeez Bakare on Flickr.

On Monday, December 12 from 6 to 8 pm, we'll be at Il Parco, the new Italian restaurant inside Canal Park. Meet contributors and readers, enjoy drinks and Il Parco's famous Neapolitan-style pizza, and watch the action in the adjacent ice skating rink. (Maybe Matt' Johnson will show us some moves!) If you plan on coming, please RSVP here.

Il Parco is located at 200 M Street SE, one block from the Navy Yard Metro station (Green Line). The DC Circulator Navy Yard-Union Station line stops one block away at M Street and New Jersey Avenue, Metrobus routes A9, P6, and V4 stop across the street, and the W9 is a few blocks away on South Capitol Street. There's also a Capital Bikeshare station at M Street and New Jersey Avenue.

This year, we've held happy hours in Chinatown, Court House, Mount Rainier, 14th Street, Silver Spring, Edgewood, H Street NE, and Adams Morgan. Where should we go next year? Let us know.

Once you've got our happy hour on your calendar, plan ahead for a few other great events coming up!

Tuesday, November 29: Lee Highway in Arlington is getting a face lift. Take part in the planning process at one of two meetings next week, a daytime meeting at 12:30 pm at 1920 North Highland Street and a nighttime meeting at 6 pm at 5722 Lee Highway.

Wednesday, November 30: Did you know that virtually all of Greater Greater Washington's posts come from volunteer writers? Blogging is a powerful way to share what you know, and we want to teach you how to do it! We're running a blogging workshop to teach you the basic fundamentals any post should have, how to pick an engaging topic, and more! It's from 6:30-8:30 pm at Arlington Central Library (1015 North Quincy Street). Please RSVP here!

Wednesday and Thursday, November 30 and December 1: Planners behind the Purple Line are working hard to involve local artists to help make stations unique. Have an idea to share with the artists? You can meet and talk to them next week! The meeting in Montgomery County is next Wednesday at 51 University Boulevard East and the one in Prince George's County is next Thursday at 5051 Pierce Avenue in College Park. Both meetings are at 6:30 pm.

Thursday, December 1: Do you live in Ward 6, and do you want to celebrate it? Join Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen for the 10th Annual Ward 6 Brickie Awards at The Apollo (600 H Street NE) at 6 pm, where he will honor the people, places, and organizations that make Ward 6 unique. RSVP here.

Friday, December 2 through Tuesday, December 6: The Four Mile Run Valley in Arlington is taking the time to envision its future. There are four opportunities to weigh in on the design, the first being this Friday, December 2, from 7 pm to 9 pm at 3939 Campbell Avenue. There is also a design workshop on Saturday from 9 am to 1 pm at 3500 23rd Street South, open studio sessions from Sunday through Tuesday at 2700 Quincy Street, and a closing event on Tuesday from 7 pm to 9 pm at at 3500 23rd Street South.

Calendar: Beyond what we've highlighted here, there are many other worthwhile events across the region. Check out more great events in our events calendar:

Do you know of an upcoming event that may be interesting, relevant, or important to Greater Greater Washington readers that should go to our events calendar? Send it to us at

Public Spaces

Student protests in Montgomery County show why public space matters

Suburban communities designed for cars don't always have obvious places for people to gather and assemble. So when students at several Montgomery County high schools and Montgomery College walked out of class in protest this week, they headed onto highways and into shopping malls—and their community supported them.

Suburban protesters make space to assemble where they can

Over five days last week, students in Montgomery County, Prince George's County, and the District protested the election of Donald Trump and his hateful rhetoric towards minorities and immigrants. In DC, student protesters marched downtown on Pennsylvania Avenue, a street lined with major buildings of both local and national significance. But as a large, mostly-suburban county, Montgomery County doesn't have an obvious "main street" or downtown for public assembly.

When people have a message or a cause, whether it's a religious meeting, a sports club, a writing workshop, or a huge protest, they need a place to gather. In Montgomery County, student protesters gravitated to whatever large, visible spaces they could find. That mostly meant big suburban highways not designed for lots of pedestrians; being there often put protesters on foot at odds with angry drivers.

In Germantown, students at Seneca Valley and Northwest high schools kept to the sidewalks of Great Seneca Highway, a 50-mile-an-hour road. In East County, students at Blake High School (where I went) marched down one lane of Norwood Road, a rural road with no sidewalks at all.

Blake High School students protest on Norwood Road. Photo from NBC4.

Some protests took place at malls and in town centers, which were built and conceived as places for shopping and entertainment, and maybe some public events like concerts and festivals. Though many of them are privately owned and the right to free speech there is murky, their prominence makes them good places to have political actions.

Student protesters at Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville marched on Maryland Avenue through Rockville Town Square, a lifestyle center built in 2007. The town square is officially a public space, but it uses private security who haven't always respected First Amendment rights.

In downtown Silver Spring, protesters at Blair, Einstein, and Northwood High schools marched through Ellsworth Drive, a public street that the county leases to a private company who manages it. Ten years ago, photographer Chip Py was nearly arrested for taking a picture, and the protests that followed resulted in the county defending the right to free speech there.

Students protesting outside the old Montgomery County courthouse. Photo by Dan Hoffman.

Community leaders made the space for protests to happen

What made these student protests successful is that the "mental space" existed for them; community leaders trusted and supported students. School officials allowed the students to leave campus largely unsupervised (though MCPS superintendent Jack Smith says they won't be given excused absences) and county police provided escorts and blocked off roads. Other adults lent a hand to guide the protesters without dictating to them.

During the first protest on Monday, protesters at Montgomery Blair, Northwood, and Einstein high schools walked out of class and headed down University Boulevard, a state highway. Community organizer and MCPS parent Jeffrey Thames joined the group, estimated at a thousand protesters.

Montgomery County police blocked the road, allegedly worried for the students' safety after a driver flashed a gun at protesters and drove through the crowd. He asked the students where they wanted to go, and one of the leaders said, "Take us to Wheaton Plaza."

Student protesters in downtown Silver Spring. Photo by the author.

With a police escort, he led them to the mall, where students peacefully gathered on a parking garage, waving signs and yelling chants. Owner Westfield allowed the demonstration to proceed, and the police blocked Georgia Avenue to allow the protesters to march to Silver Spring. Some students wanted to go onto the Capital Beltway and block traffic, as protesters have done in several other cities, but Thames coaxed them away.

Instead, he led the marchers to Veterans Plaza in Silver Spring, a fully public space. It and the adjacent Silver Spring Civic Building is where county residents go to vote, for public meetings, and to meet with government officials. "That's my comfortable place. That's where we have the freedom to demonstrate," says Thames. "You show up in force, you make the officials making the decisions aware that you are there and you are participating."

What do these protests mean?

The teens who walked out of class this week were making a statement against bigotry and hate and for love and compassion, and with one unfortunate exception the five days of protest were peaceful. The students also made a statement about the importance of public space and free speech in their community, and the adults around them affirmed it.

Over the past few years, Americans across the political spectrum have confronted the social and economic inequality that persists in our country, which have often resulted in civil unrest. Now, more than ever, we need our streets, downtowns, and squares for people to speak out and be heard. In Montgomery County, teens and adults alike are working to make sure those spaces are there.


Silver Spring's most prominent corner could get a new hotel

For decades, Silver Spring's most prominent intersection has been home to a gas station and a giant blank wall. Soon, a new hotel could fill this hole in the urban fabric.

Looking at the proposed hotel from above. Images from the Montgomery County Planning Department unless noted.

County planners are currently reviewing a proposal to build a 173-room hotel at the corner of Georgia Avenue and Colesville Road, two blocks from the Silver Spring Metro station. The hotel is geared towards long-term travelers, containing studio apartments with kitchens and a handful of one- and two-bedroom suites.

The proposal includes some features that would be available to the public, including conference rooms, a rooftop deck and bar, and 4,000 square feet of ground-floor retail space, including a coffeeshop. The sidewalks around the hotel, which today are narrow and have lots of curb cuts for the gas station, would become wider and gain street trees, and there would only be a single curb cut on Colesville Road.

The corner today. Photo by the author.

Together, wider sidewalks and new retail will bring more street life to this stretch of Colesville, which is centrally located between the Metro and the AFI Silver Theatre, but has few reasons for people to stop.

The hotel will also have fewer parking spaces than the county requires, with 28 spaces instead of 89. Guests would instead have to park in one of the nearby public parking garages; in Montgomery County, developers can provide less parking if they pay a fee to the Silver Spring Parking Lot District. This allows hotel guests to use the parking that already exists in Silver Spring, as over 40% of downtown public parking spaces are empty at any given time.

Compared to the thousands of apartments that have risen in downtown Silver Spring over the past few years, a new hotel is a surprising twist. There are several hotels in the neighborhood, but the only apartment-style hotel is the Homewood Suites on Colesville Road. This could provide a new option for long-term travelers, like the visiting families of veterans recuperating at Walter Reed Hospital in Bethesda.

The proposed hotel seen from the corner of Georgia and Colesville.

We don't know who will operate the hotel, though Starr Capital's renderings look very similar to a Hyatt Place hotel that opened last year in southwest DC. However, the developer claims that the hotel design was inspired by the actual "silver spring" that town founder Francis Preston Blair discovered in 1840, with metal and glass panels that "[recall] the changing patterns of the shimmering rocks of the spring," they told the Planning Department.

The new hotel will cover up the 15-story blank wall of its neighbor, an apartment complex called Twin Towers best known for its funky, 1960s-era sign. But it'll create a new blank wall on its south side, where the adjacent building is just two stories tall. The developer proposes placing a large mural there, giving people walking up Colesville from the Metro something to look at.


Proponents of term limits in Montgomery hope they'd mean more Republicans and less development. Both are unlikely.

A broad coalition of people who are frustrated with Montgomery County government have thrown their support behind giving elected officials term limits, which will be on the ballot next month. The people behind the effort tend to be conservative and anti-development, but Montgomery is unlikely to become those things even if term limits happen.

Photo by Thomas Hawk on Flickr.

Earlier this year, local activist Robin Ficker successfully collected the 10,000 signatures needed to have a vote on whether the county council and county executive should be limited to three terms, known as Question B. The cause has attracted a wide variety of supporters, from Republicans unhappy with the county's openness to immigrants to civic groups who oppose new development in the county. These groups hope that they can get rid of sitting councilmembers and, in 2018, vote in ones who agree with them.

Robin Ficker after I interviewed him at a McDonalds in 2009. Photo by the author.

Montgomery County Democrats seem worried that this will actually happen. They have dubbed term limits an "attack on progressive government," as all nine County Councilmembers are Democrats. The campaign to stop Question B is mostly funded by sitting councilmembers, even though four of the five who would lose their seats probably aren't going to run for reelection anyway.

But much to the disappointment of supporters (and the relief of opponents), Question B's success won't change who Montgomery County's voters are.

Term limits aren't going to turn Montgomery red

For starters, two-thirds of Montgomery voters are Democrats, and as political strategist Adam Pagnucco notes, Question B is anticipated to pass due to their support. And the county Republican Party has fielded some pretty weak candidates who don't seem to know they're running in a majority-minority jurisdiction.

In 2014, the county GOP had to pull support from County Council hopeful Jim Kirkland after he made anti-Semitic statements. Current school board candidate (and former congressional candidate) Brandon Rippeon is a birther. Republican Dan Cox, currently running for Congress in District 8, sprayed his own campaign signs with smelly liquids so people wouldn't steal them. (Of course, it doesn't help that the Republican Party's standard-bearer this year is basically a white supremacist.)

Term limits aren't going to stop growth, either

Term limits don't bode well for the anti-growth faction, either. Development simply isn't a wedge issue the way it used to be, as Montgomery County is growing more slowly than it was in the 1980s and 1990s.

The Civic Federation, which is sometimes anti-development and endorsed term limits, is losing members. And a Silver Spring resident who may be angry at the County Council for allowing townhouses to be built in her neighborhood, won't convince someone in Germantown to vote for term limits because of it.

In fact, many neighbors actually want more development in town centers like Wheaton. That's why elected officials who won on slow-growth platforms 10 years ago, like county executive Ike Leggett and councilmember Roger Berliner have championed the redevelopment of White Flint or building bus rapid transit. Marc Elrich has remained the lone anti-development voice on the council, even after a strong (but unsuccessful) council campaign from Beth Daly in 2014.

Voters have other reasons for supporting term limits

That's not to say that Montgomery County voters aren't upset. Voters may choose term limits because they're unhappy about taxes or school overcrowding or traffic or Metro delays or liquor control, or all of those things. They might feel that Question B, which would limit elected officials to twelve years, gives politicians an ample amount of time to do what they promise.

If term limits pass, several seats on the County Council will open up (which may happen anyway, even if if term limits don't come to be). And in 2018, a bunch of progressive, generally pro-growth Democrats will run, and some of them will get elected. The risk is that those new councilmembers will be less experienced than their predecessors, and may be more prone to influence from lobbyists.

But one thing won't change: the voters who put them into office. If you want to see a dramatic change in the direction Montgomery County is going, you'll have to get rid of them, not the politicians.

Public Spaces

The difference between Maryland and Virginia in one photo

If you've ever flown out of National Airport, you might try to pick out the geographic landmarks you recognize: the Washington Monument, Rock Creek Park, or the Potomac River. Next time you're heading west, keep an eye on the river as it passes through Maryland and Virginia, and you'll notice one big difference between each state.

Virginia sprawl on the left, Maryland farms on the right. Photos by the author.

This is a photo I took Sunday morning when I flew to San Francisco. On the Virginia side, in Fairfax and Loudoun counties, there are all the typical signs of suburban sprawl: subdivisions, freeways, and shopping centers. On the Maryland side, in Montgomery County, there's...not very much.

That's because for over fifty years, Montgomery County has aggressively tried to protect its open space. In 1964, the county's General Plan said that growth should cluster along major highway and rail corridors leading from the District, and that the spaces in between should be preserved.

In 1980, the county made it official with the 93,000-acre Agricultural Reserve, which covers one-third of the county will remain farmland and nature forever. (Combine that with the county's 34,000-acre park system, and nearly half of the county is open space.)

That decision has lasting effects today. Montgomery County residents benefit from an abundance of open space for recreation, enjoying nature, and of course, keeping our air and water clean.

In order to preserve this open space, we have to accommodate growth elsewhere in the county, particularly in our town centers like Silver Spring, Bethesda, and Rockville. People who try to stop development in their close-in communities may not feel they benefit from open space 30 miles away. But the urban and suburban parts of our region benefit from the Ag Reserve too.

Allowing inside-the-Beltway communities like Bethesda and Silver Spring to grow lets us preserve open space.

Maryland has an abundance of green space thanks to dense urban development

By focusing growth and investment in existing communities, we get thriving downtowns that support local businesses and local culture, and less traffic as people who live closer in can drive less or not at all. We also spend less money building public infrastructure, like roads and utility lines, to far-flung areas, while generating tax revenue to support the infrastructure we do need. (And obviously, those places can and will have open space.)

This is the path Maryland, and Montgomery County, chose over 50 years ago. So far, it's working pretty well. And you don't have to get in a plane to see it.


Some Silver Spring residents want a park instead of affordable housing

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.

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.


Join us for happy hour in Chinatown!

It's time for our next happy hour! This month, we'll be in Chinatown to celebrate the great ideas riders generated through the MetroGreater contest and hear about progress toward implementing the winning idea.

Our August happy hour in Mount Rainier. Photo by Dan Reed.

This summer, more than 1,000 people shared ideas for small, quick fixes to improve Metro through MetroGreater. Come out to RFD DC on Tuesday, October 25th to continue the conversation with Greater Greater Washington readers and contributors, as well as staff from the Coalition for Smarter Growth and WMATA, who collaborated with us on this project. We'll hear from WMATA about the next steps toward implementing the winning project: compass rose decals at station exits. And, we'll recognize the folks who submitted the finalist ideas to the MetroGreater contest.

Join us Tuesday, October 25 from 6 to 8 pm at RFD, located at 810 7th Street NW. RSVP today!

RFD is one block from the Gallery Place-Chinatown station (Red, Green, and Yellow lines), and a few blocks from Metro Center (Red, Blue, Orange, and Silver lines). If you're coming by bus, Metrobus 70/79 stops on 7th and 9th streets, while the X2/X9 stops on H Street NW. There's also a Capital Bikeshare station at 8th and H streets NW.

On the way, you can take a stroll through the Barnes Dance intersection at 7th and H.

In the past few months, we've been to Arlington, Mount Rainier, 14th Street, Silver Spring, and Edgewood for happy hours. Where would you like us to go next?

Once you've got the happy hour on your calendar, plan ahead for a few other great events coming up in October.

Friday, October 14: Hear how planning and transportation have been hacked at the latest Transportation Techies meet-up. Metro Planning staff will talk about their new tool to predict ridership based on transit-oriented development and DDOT will present its new webtool to monitor system performance. Doors open at 6 pm and the presentations start at 6:30 pm.

Saturday, October 15: Check out the latest in Silver Spring, one of the most dynamic and diverse urban centers in our region, at a Coalition for Smarter Growth walking tour. You'll see thriving small businesses, new development, and the future Purple Line corridor, and you'll learn about housing affordability and community efforts to make the area safer for walking and bicycling. The tour will begin at 10 am. RSVP for more details.

Saturday, October 15: Metro wants help putting its trove of data to use. The agency's Office of Planning is hosting a day-long idea session next month at 600 5th Street NW to talk about how to use existing data to find solutions to rider needs. For example, a developer could help customers plan a trip that that only that requires station entrances with elevators. Attending is free, but make sure to RSVP!

Tuesday, October 18: Local beer. Tasty treats. Fun prizes. Good conversation. Supporting more walkable, transit-oriented places. What's not to love? Join Coalition for Smarter Growth on Tuesday, October 18, at 6:30 pm at the North Hall of Eastern Market (225 7th Street NE) for the Smart Growth Social. You don't want to miss this party! Grab your spot now.

Calendar: Beyond what we've highlighted here, there are many other worthwhile events across the region. Check out more great events in our events calendar:

Do you know of an upcoming event that may be interesting, relevant, or important to Greater Greater Washington readers that should go on our events calendar? Send it to us at


Scarred by urban renewal, Silver Spring's Lyttonsville neighborhood gets a second chance

Silver Spring's Lyttonsville neighborhood has a rich history, but urban renewal nearly destroyed it. With the Purple Line coming, this historically-black community could get a second chance, but not everybody looks forward to it.

Urban renewal nearly destroyed Lyttonsville in the 1970s. Photo by Alan Bowser.

Located west of the Red Line tracks from downtown Silver Spring, Lyttonsville is one of Montgomery County's oldest neighborhoods, founded in 1853 by freed slave Samuel Lytton. The area could soon be home to a Purple Line station if the light-rail line between Bethesda and New Carrollton opens as scheduled in 2022.

Over the past two years, Montgomery County planners crafted a vision for a small town center around the future Lyttonsville station, bringing affordable housing and retail options the community lacks. Some residents are deeply skeptical of what's called the Greater Lyttonsville Sector Plan, though it could restore the town center Lyttonsville lost long ago.

A rough history

During the early 20th century, a thriving main street developed along Brookville Road, including schools, churches, and a cemetery. As surrounding areas became suburban neighborhoods exclusively for white residents, the black Lyttonsville community lacked public services like running water and paved roads. For decades, its only connection to Silver Spring was a wooden, one-lane bridge that remains today.

In the 1970s, the county seized much of the area, destroying Lyttonsville's main street and replacing much of it with an industrial park, a Ride On bus lot, and storage for the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission. Many of the older homes were replaced with large garden apartment complexes.

This wooden bridge was once the only way in and out of Lyttonsville. Photo by the author.

Today, Lyttonsville is a racially diverse community, and sought-after for its location between Silver Spring and Bethesda and being in the vaunted Bethesda-Chevy Chase school catchment. But one out of ten residents lives in poverty, compared to 6.9% of residents countywide. Lyttonsville is hard to access by any form of transportation, isolating its residents from nearby jobs.

Some residents claim the county's plan will continue a legacy of destructive planning decisions. They're worried about traffic and density, about getting redistricted out of the B-CC cluster, and that the area's affordable apartments could get replaced with luxury housing. Others are wary of the Purple Line after fighting off plans to locate a storage yard in the neighborhood.

Charlotte Coffield, who grew up in Lyttonsville during segregation and whose sister Gwendolyn fought to bring services to the area (the local community center is named for her), has emerged as one of the biggest critics. "All [Purple Line] stations do not need to be town centers," she wrote in a letter to the county planning board. "The proposed density would destroy the stable character and balance of our ethnically diverse neighborhood." Last week, the Lyttonsville Community Civic Association, where she is president, voted to accept no more than 400 new homes in the area.

New development in Lyttonsville

Bethesda-based developer EYA, which is currently building townhomes next to the future Chevy Chase Lake Purple Line station, has an alternate proposal for Lyttonsville that could address residents' concerns. The biggest land parcels in the area are owned by several different property owners, including multiple government agencies, each with their own plans. Some want to build lots of new homes, while WSSC has a large site that they intend to leave alone.

EYA's vision for Lyttonsville.

EYA has reached out to several landowners about coordinating, allowing development on a combined 33-acre site to happen together. First, they would partner with WSSC to build several hundred affordable apartments and townhomes on their property. Residents of existing apartments could move there first without getting displaced. Then, EYA would partner with the two non-profits who own the affordable apartments to redevelop them with market-rate townhomes. The county would restrict building heights to 70 feet.

Next to the Lyttonsville station itself, EYA envisions a plaza surrounded by market-rate apartments, 30,000 square feet of retail space (about half the size of a Giant supermarket), and a small business incubator modeled on Baltimore's Open Works that would offer job training to local residents.

Public art would promote the area's history, while Rosemary Hills Park would get a small addition. Local streets where drivers speed today would get traffic calming and new pedestrian and bicycle connections.

The $500 million proposal addresses most of the neighbors' concerns. EYA seeks to build 1200 new homes on the land, compared to the nearly 1700 the county would allow there. (What Montgomery County wants to allow in Lyttonsville is still less dense than plans for other Purple Line stations, including Long Branch and Chevy Chase Lake.) One-third of the new homes would be set aside for low-income households, and every existing affordable apartment would be replaced.

Lyttonsville's future Purple Line station. Image from MTA.

"The county can leave a legacy for how you can build Smart Growth," says Evan Goldman, VP of Land Acquisition and Development at EYA, stressing that the private development could help pay for the public amenities neighbors want. "There's only so much [public benefits] this can afford," he adds. "If you reduce the units so you can't pay for the benefits, the public benefits won't come."

Can the proposal actually work?

Residents I've spoken to like EYA's proposal, but are skeptical if it can happen. This project could have a transformative effect on Lyttonsville, but only if all of these partners agree to it. Recent experience in Shady Grove suggests finding new locations for the Ride On bus lot or WSSC's facility may be difficult.

"If EYA can execute its plan, there are more upsides," says resident Abe Saffer, "but since they don't have any letters of intent or partnerships firmly in place, I remain nervous."

The Montgomery County Council will hold two public hearings on the Lyttonsville Sector Plan next week in Rockville. Here's where you can sign up. If the plan is approved, the county would then have to approve EYA's proposal, which could then start construction in 2020 and take 10 to 15 years to get built.


Join us for happy hour on Tuesday!

It's happy hour time again! Tuesday night, from 6 to 8 pm, we'll be enjoying local beer and pizza at Fire Works, located at 2350 Clarendon Boulevard in Arlington. And after you get the details on that, check out other chances to get involved in your community offline!

Photo by beyrouth on Flickr.

We're hosting this happy hour in collaboration with the Association for Commuter Transportation Chesapeake Chapter, an international trade association that advocates for commuter transportation options. You can meet some of their board and members and learn how they're helping to improve transportation in our region.

Fire Works is just two blocks from the Court House Metro station (Orange and Silver lines), though you can also take Metrobus 38B or ART routes 41, 45, or 77. The nearest Capital Bikeshare stations are at the Court House Metro station and at Wilson Boulevard and North Barton Street, two blocks away.

Will we see you there? Click here to RSVP.

Can't make it? Check out these other great events this week, including a status update from WMATA General Manager Paul Wiedefeld and transit experts.

Tuesday, September 20: Paul Wiedefeld has been the General Manager of WMATA for almost 12 months. If you can't make it out to GGWash's happy hour in Arlington, consider joining Coalition for Smarter Growth at 6:00 pm (doors at 5:30) at 640 Massachusetts Avenue for a special progress check with him. What is happening at Metro? Where do we go from here? RSVP now, space is limited. This event is co-sponsored by Georgetown University's School of Urban and Regional Planning.

Wednesday, September 21: Brookland residents once led a successful fight against destructive urban highways. Today, the community is fiercely debating transit-oriented development. Join Coalition for Smarter Growth at 6:00 pm this Wednesday to take a closer look at this neighborhood's approach to change. RSVP for more details.

Thursday, September 22: Join the worldwide movement to go car-free by taking part in Car-Free Day this Thursday. Car-free day is an annual movement to get commuters out of their cars and onto transit, bikes, and sidewalks. Think you can do it? Take the pledge today (carpooling is allowed)!

Thursday, September 22: In December, DC took a big step towards dedicated bus lanes on 16th Street NW. Head over to the latest public meeting at 6:30 pm at the Mt. Pleasant Neighborhood Library (3160 16th Street NW) to get an update on the status of the project and share your thoughts.

Next Monday, September 26: Little River Turnpike runs between City of Fairfax and Alexandria. The Fairfax Department of Transportation wants to improve bicycling on the corridor. Share your thoughts at a meeting next Monday at 6:30 pm at Annandale High School (4700 Medford Drive).

Saturday, October 15: Metro wants help putting its trove of data to use; for example, a developer could help customers plan a trip that only went to station entrances with elevators. The agency's Office of Planning is hosting a day-long idea session next month at 600 5th Street NW to talk about what data there is and what needs riders might have, and to work on potential solutions. Attending is free, but make sure to RSVP!

Calendar: Beyond what we've highlighted here, there are many other worthwhile events across the region. Check out more great events in our events calendar:

Do you know of an upcoming event that may be interesting, relevant, or important to Greater Greater Washington readers that should go on our events calendar? Send it to us at


Silver Spring doesn't have actual boundaries. So we asked residents what they were.

As an unincorporated place, Silver Spring's boundaries aren't really defined. So I asked people what their Silver Spring looks like.

What Silver Spring residents say are Silver Spring's boundaries. The darkergreen areas are where people agree. Image by Christy Batta.

Since its founding in the 1840s, Silver Spring has been an unincorporated community, meaning it's not a town or city with official boundaries and local government. As a result, there's disagreement over where the boundaries are. Some only include downtown and neighborhoods inside the Beltway, or what I call "Little Silver Spring." Others have a broader definition that covers much of eastern Montgomery County, or what I call "Big Silver Spring."

Two years ago, local graphic designer Christy Batta and I, working with local marketing company Silver Spring Inc, created this map, which represents all of the Silver Spring zip codes assigned by the US Postal Service. We went to different community events across the area, from Fenton Street Market to a food truck event in Wheaton, and asked people to mark up the map with their personal definition.

We received 66 responses, and Christy merged all of them together to create the image above. (Here's a folder with all of the individual responses.) The darker areas are where more people agree on the boundaries. Most responses fell into four camps:

23 people defined Silver Spring as being entirely inside the Beltway, which includes downtown and adjacent neighborhoods like Woodside Park and East Silver Spring. Some people included Long Branch and Lyttonsville, which are both inside the Beltway but across major barriers like Sligo Creek Park and the Red Line. Others included part or all of the City of Takoma Park. This is basically the Census Bureau's definition of Silver Spring, and includes the oldest parts of the area, built before World War II.

Another 15 people defined Silver Spring as everything south of University Boulevard, which adds Four Corners, Forest Glen, and Wheaton.

A third group of 13 people included everything south of Randolph Road, which includes Glenmont, Kemp Mill, Colesville, and White Oak.

A final group of 15 people basically colored in all of East County, out to the Prince George's County and Howard County lines, including semi-rural places like Burtonsville and Cloverly. A few of these people threw in parts of surrounding counties and even DC.

The maps suggest a couple of different themes. One is that people use major roads or natural features like Sligo Creek and Northwest Branch as "mental" boundaries. Another boundary might be changes in the built environment. North of University Boulevard, Silver Spring becomes much more suburban and spread-out in nature, which looks and feels very different than the older, more urban neighborhoods closer in. You can feel it driving north on Colesville Road, which goes from a downtown main street to basically a freeway in just a few miles.

These places are 15 miles apart and very different, but some say they're both Silver Spring. Photos by the author.

A place isn't necessarily defined by what's on a map

Even where places have official boundaries, our idea of that place varies. British researcher Alasdair Rae asked people to draw the boundaries of several cities around the world and found very different interpretations, like maps of New York City that include huge chunks of New Jersey's urban areas.

Of course, New York has actual boundaries. But places like Jersey City or Hoboken might feel "enough" like New York that people include them in their "conception" of New York. Likewise, Silver Spring residents define their boundaries based on what they "see" as their community, whether it's based on physical barriers, look and feel, people, preferred hangouts, or anything else.

How would you define Silver Spring's boundaries?

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