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South Silver Spring needs better parks, not just more

Citing a lack of open space, some South Silver Spring residents oppose a planned condominium apartment building. But the problem isn't that there aren't enough parks, but that existing parks aren't being used.


Should this be condos, or a park? Photo from Google Street View.

Reston-based Comstock Homes seeks to build a 7-story, 200-unit building with ground-floor shops on a 1-acre property at the corner of Newell Street and Eastern Avenue currently home to a self-storage facility. Dubbed the Boulevard on Newell, the building would be allowed under current zoning and could start construction in 2014.

While the South Silver Spring Neighborhood Association hasn't taken an official position on it, some residents living in the two buildings bordering the site, 8045 Newell Street and Eastern Village Cohousing, worried that the building could draw crime, block their sunlight and add more traffic to the area.

"The community is overdeveloped and there's too much density," says Brian Holland, an HR consultant who lives at 8045 Newell, in a phone interview. "The community is beginning to say no. Enough."

Holland and his neighbors recently formed Park Now for South Silver Spring, which wants Montgomery County to buy the $2.8 million property and turn it into a park. "We request that our interests be prioritized over those of real estate developers," reads this petition, which as of Sunday night had 153 signatures.

South Silver Spring Apartment Buildings
New and old apartments in South Silver Spring, seen from the roof garden of Eastern Village. Photo by the author.

Mostly warehouses and auto shops just ten years ago, South Silver Spring has sprouted several apartment and condominium buildings and is now one of the county's most densely populated neighborhoods, as members of Park Now are quick to note. It's not surprising that residents want open space.

At the same time, the property at Newell and Eastern is a short walk from the Silver Spring Transit Center, shopping centers and some of the region's largest employers. It's also literally across the street from the District of Columbia. This is an urban neighborhood, and people who choose to live there should be realistic about what kind of development will happen in their backyard.

That said, before spending millions of taxpayer dollars to acquire and build a new park in South Silver Spring, it's worth taking a look at the parks that already exist there.

Older apartment complexes like Rock Creek Springs have tree-filled courtyards, though they're only open to people who live there. However, newer buildings like 8045 Newell are required by the county to have a Public Use Space, usually in the form of a pocket park. 37 Public Use Spaces have been built in downtown Silver Spring in recent decades, and no fewer than 5 can be found within a block of Newell and Eastern, along with Acorn Park, a public park home to the original Silver Spring.

Veridian Plaza
A pocket park outside the Veridian, a new apartment building in South Silver Spring. Photo by the author.

Holland says those spaces don't count. "Those parks do not have any green. They are asphalt," he says, adding, "Many residents have no place to put their doggies. They basically defecate on the little strip [of grass] right by East-West Highway."

Many of the neighborhood's pocket parks are poorly designed and seldom used. However, it's worth exploring how they could be redesigned or reprogrammed to meet residents' needs. There's no reason why these pocket parks, home to nebulous public art today, couldn't accommodate dog runs, jungle gyms, or something else.

Meanwhile, a few blocks away is the 24-acre Jesup Blair Park, with playgrounds, sports fields and a picnic ground. But South Silver Spring residents don't go there. "It is deemed unsafe," says Holland. "There is a perception by some that it is intruded [upon] by people who live in the District."

Evan Glass, board member of the South Silver Spring Neighborhood Association, believes access, not crime, is the biggest reason why people aren't using the park. "It is divided from the community by a cavernous Georgia Avenue," he says. "Until we figure out how to bridge that divide, it's going to remain severely underutilized."

Giant Food Parking Lot - Aerial
County planners propose building a park at a redeveloped Blair Park Shopping Center. Image from the Montgomery County Planning Department.

In the event there's still a need for more open space, county planners have studied potential sites for new, large parks in downtown Silver Spring. The Newell and Eastern property was one of three they identified in South Silver Spring, along with the parking lot at the Blair Park Shopping Center and a block bounded by East-West Highway, Bottleworks Lane and Kennett Street.

Those two sites may actually be better for a new park. They're both larger, at roughly 1.5 acres in size, and more centrally located within the neighborhood, allowing more residents to reach them. And a park at the Blairs, surrounded by shops, restaurants and offices, could be a really valuable space, offering a true green oasis in the busiest part of South Silver Spring.

No matter what gets built at Newell and Eastern, it's clear that there's a desire for quality park space in South Silver Spring. Hopefully, the community can come together to make it happen. "The association is trying to work with all parties involved, especially the residents, to make whatever outcome the most appealing for everyone," says Glass.

Comstock will present their proposal at a meeting Monday, August 20 at 7 pm in the Silver Spring Civic Building, located at Ellsworth Drive and Fenton Street in downtown Silver Spring.

A planner and architect by training, Dan Reed also 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. 

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"But the problem isn't that there aren't enough parks, but that existing parks aren't being used."

EXACTLY. The issue is all the awful concrete pocket "parks" up and down East-West. They kill the pedestrian atmosphere and currently get minimal usage. These South Silver Spring residents should be petitioning for the redevelopment of those pocket parks, not to grab this entire prime parcel.

by jag on Aug 14, 2012 11:13 am • linkreport

Without knowing the merits of either the building or park plan (both could be great or crappy)OR the timeline for how this went down. I have to say that every time this issue comes up its always reactionary on the part of the neighbors. If you think there is a need for more park space in a community then don't wait for a new building to be announced and then fight against it. If you want new parks then petition the council/parks department and leave the builders alone.

I'm also jaded about the public space provisions that builders have to adhere to. Not because they should build what they like but mainly because the parks they come up with are usually crappy/underutilized/overbuilt with random stuff. Montgomery county has a parks division, let them actually decide what goes into a park.

by drumz on Aug 14, 2012 11:21 am • linkreport

What's the story behind putting a park where the parking lot of the Blair park shopping center is now? Are they redeveloping the strip mall there?

by grumpy on Aug 14, 2012 11:28 am • linkreport

I live in 8045 Newell as well, and I support the proposed building, provided that it's nice, has an urban design and has a nice street character. The area is not overbuilt, as evidenced by the lack of retail space utilization. South Silver Spring still needs more residents or our retail space will be left under utilized. In addition, more people will put more people on sidewalks and more eyes on the street, making the area safer.

South Silver Spring does need better parks. I'm with Dan on reprogramming the existing pock parks. 8045 Newell has a pocket park of its own that is completely unused. It doesn't have to be this way.

The Veridian Pocket park is not as bad as some would have you believe. It is by far the most popular pocket park I have seen in Silver Spring. I often see dogs running around and playing in it and people sit and eat food there. It could really take off if the retail filled in in that area.

That being said, a little less programming for that pocket park would make it better. Those strange high metal tables and chairs are never used. Those should just be taken out. A little more openness to it would go a long way.

The idea of putting a park in the Blair Park shopping center is a homerun. The proposal would be to gain more office space and living space, while keeping retail and adding in a park. That's everything you could want. The whole community and Silver Spring as a whole would benefit from this proposal at the shopping center.

What really makes this whole park idea on Newell so silly is that the people who want this park never supported a park before the building was proposed. They don't want a park. They just don't want a taller building next to their building.

In addition, the county did look at this space for a park but deemed it one of the least desirable potential locations. The biggest issue is that this strip of land borders The District. Why build a park to serve another jurisdiction? For most people in South Silver Spring, this park makes little sense. It'a also an oddly shaped piece of land.

I am frankly embarrassed by the actions of some of my neighbors. They are essentially lying to the county and to people like Dan. They don't want a park; they just don't want a building next to their units.

This, however, should not distract from real discussions about providing better park space in South Silver Spring. Evan is absolutely right that making Georgia easier to cross would be great. We also need to make better use of the myriad of pocket parks in the area.

by Patrick Thornton on Aug 14, 2012 11:38 am • linkreport

Thank you, Patrick! You hit the nail on the head.

When I moved to South Silver Spring six years ago, all of the planned buildings at the time are just now being finished. And some have shrunk from the original plan (Veridian and the Galaxy). So in the end South Silver Spring has actually been built up less than what I was expecting when moving into the neighborhood.

I don't think that increased congestion and crime are very good arguments. I'd feel safer with an apartment building than with a storage facility or a big open park. And as for congestion, how much congestion are 200 units going to bring to the area when probably half of them are going to be walking to the Metro? As a matter of fact I think that the increased foot traffic would be a good thing.

by jno on Aug 14, 2012 11:42 am • linkreport

worried that the building could draw crime, block their sunlight and add more traffic to the area

Is there a better definition of NIMBYism?

by Jasper on Aug 14, 2012 11:49 am • linkreport

""It is deemed unsafe," says Holland. "There is a perception by some that it is intruded [upon] by people who live in the District."

I agree that Georgia Ave. does create a barrier to Jesup Blair Park, but the above sentiment shows an attitude that is quite discouraging. Apparently the upper income people from the East-West highway apartments/condos don't want to mix with middle and working class people who live in the apartments just across the district line. Although better parks are needed to the north, we need to make a concerted effort to get people visiting the quality parks we do have; Jesup Blair is one of those parks. Accommodating yuppie fear of poor people seems like the wrong strategy.

by MZ on Aug 14, 2012 11:53 am • linkreport

The proposed lot is right across from both St Mary's Baptist Church and the International Ethiopian Evangelical Church, both of which have huge yards and lots of trees, and thus create ample "green space" in the neighborhood, even if it is not open as a playground. Just up the block there is a lovely community garden.

Lets also note that the NIMBYs say a high rise should not be built because it will adversely affect dog owners. Oh dear.

by MS on Aug 14, 2012 12:07 pm • linkreport

MZ,

I go to Jessup Blair Park and have never felt unsafe. I don't doubt that it is used a bit by DC residents, as it borders DC, but so would this proposed park. What you are seeing here is that some people are throwing out every single objection they can possibly think of, even objections that contradict their own proposal.

Either you like mingling with DC residents or you don't. If you don't like mingling with DC residents, why would you want another park built on the DC border?

George Ave. certainly needs works, and it needs to be easier to cross. That being said, if you walk down Eastern Ave, which 8045 Newell sits on, it's a pretty easy cross over Georgia.

8045 Newell sits between Jessup Blair Park and Rock Creek Park. It also is right by Acorn Park and numerous pocket parks, and we are a short walk to the recently renovated Shepherd Park. I use all of these parks frequently. Our particular area of South Silver Spring is not under served by parks.

In fact, I would say that Jessup Blair Park is about as good as it gets for a park that offers sporting recreation and Rock Creek Park is about as good as it gets for a wooded urban park.

The parts of South Silver Spring north of Newell are much more undeserved by parks. Once you start getting towards the Blairs and Summit Hills and the area in between you hit a zone with very little park options. If there is a new park to be built in the area, I would think that would make more sense to target first.

by Patrick Thornton on Aug 14, 2012 12:09 pm • linkreport

It is very sad that these residents are pushing for a park when there is a perfectly fine park across Georgia Avenue. Are these same people pained when they walk to DTSS and have to cross Georgia, or when they walk to the Metro and have to cross East West? This reeks of classism, and it is really unfortunate.

These residents seem willing to further delay the leasing of the numerous unoccupied spaces at the Viridian and 1200 East West. Its really sad that East West has these empty spaces, and additional residents in the area will only serve as a carrot to ensure these spaces are occcupied. May this and many other residential developments occcur in South Silver Spring.

Also, this is the first I have heard of a redevelopment of the Blair Park Shopping Center. With a Harris Teeter potentially coming to the Mixed Use Falkland North, the Blair Park Shopping Center becomes more and more of an unneccesary auto-oriented relic on prime TOD space. Tear this poor use of space down and put something great there!

by Murn on Aug 14, 2012 12:24 pm • linkreport

This is a textbook case of NIMBYism if I've ever seen one. While I certainly agree that downtown Silver Spring in general is in need of more parks, complaining that south DTSS is "overdeveloped" and has "too much density" is like moving to Disneyland and complaining that there are too many amusement park rides. Furthermore, I fail to see how a condo project would lead to increased crime, especially in comparison to a storage facility. More "eyes on the street" is always a good thing.

My husband and I are currently looking for a condo in DTSS, and there is very little supply. New condo projects are needed, and I hope that a few neighbors are not able to hold this project up or alter the plans, a la the EYA Chelsea School townhomes. As others have said, energy and resources should be focused on improving the parks that do exist (like Jesup Blair) and connections to those parks.

by silver springer on Aug 14, 2012 12:26 pm • linkreport

It seems the people who object to going to a park where some DC residents also go picked the wrong neighborhood to live in, being literally across the street from DC... And isn't the proposed park also literally across the street from DC?

I also don't understand the seeming fear of Georgia Avenue. I agree it's a large, busy street. But it's also full of restaurants and other shops, on both sides of the street. And there is a signal there, so no need to play Frogger to get across. I cross Georgia Ave. there weekdays during rush hours and regularly on weekends. It's not bucolic, and a short wait is involved, but if you want to get to a park, I can't imagine that intersection should be all that great a barrier.

However, I do agree that all those little pocket parks don't seem to do much for anybody and definitely need to be reprogrammed (or de-programmed). And a park up closer to the Blairs (and something better that a little pocket park) would be great for that area. But, wait, that's near DC, too!

by EMD on Aug 14, 2012 12:40 pm • linkreport

[Deleted for violating the comment policy.] I'll attend whatever hearing goes on to provide the other perspective [from Mr. Holland]. Dan, please post when the community meeting regarding this will be.

More density is needed in the area. I think a few more buildings nearbye might have supported Mayorga (despite its service issues) among other retailers. Though street parking is already tough in the area of Newell, Eastern, and Blair, more pedestrians would be a good thing for saftety.

[Deleted.] A new (yuppie) aparment building would attract crime [deleted] would certainly do so less than a new park. [Deleted.] Also, I cross Georgia all the time and it's no big deal. [Deleted] any new park there would be every bit as likely to bring in "undesireables" from DC as the existing one.

[Deleted for violating the comment policy.]

Also, I lived across the street from the storage place and it was sketchy. Multiple times a week, there would be trucks loading and unloading things at 1 AM. I'm not sure what they were doing, but I remember hoping the storage place would go away. An apartment building would be a vaast improvement.

I agree with everyone that better use of pocket parks would be helpful. The county should have in the past and could in the future consolidate such pocket parks in the planning stages of new developments so that they combine into a more useful space. I'm not sure how you can do that after the fact when some are not contiguous with others. Turning the Blair's parking lot into a park would ostensibly be great and would tie together the Blairs and the surrounding area. However, to do so, the county would one way or another have to make whole both the Blairs and all of the retailers in the strip by at least partially paying for one or more large new parking decks. I think that doing so would be prohibitively expensive.

by Adam Pollock on Aug 14, 2012 12:48 pm • linkreport

I visit 8045 Newell fairly often and I think what the area needs is more walkable amenities, better traffic calming on East-West highway, redevelopment of super blocks into smaller blocks, and redevelopment of the existing pocket parks.

In my opinion, the best use of this particular site would be neither a park nor a strictly residential building, but rather, a mixed use development with ground floor retail. This would definitely be an improvement over the storage facility (although the people who actually use the storage facility might beg to differ).

by Scoot on Aug 14, 2012 1:20 pm • linkreport


Scoot,
"In my opinion, the best use of this particular site would be neither a park nor a strictly residential building, but rather, a mixed use development with ground floor retail."

It is.

"Reston-based Comstock Homes seeks to build a 7-story, 200-unit building with ground-floor shops."

by spookiness on Aug 14, 2012 1:30 pm • linkreport

This is hinted at in the post, but when discussing good parks, one can focus on big fields, like in the pictured proposal outside Giant, or playgrounds for smaller kids. I'm not sure this area needs a big field, but for families moving into these apartments, there is little around. Forget about crossing Georgia Who is going to walk a 1/2 mile to a mile to spend 30 minutes with a toddler in a playground? If they have to get in a car, the point of living in a walkable area is gone.

I'm not sure there is a single public playground in Montgomery County south of East West Hwy (or near EW Hwy) from Georgia Ave to Sundale Ave (Rosemary Hills ES has a playground a 1/2 mile N of EW Hwy). I don't think the entire Blair apartment complex has a single playground. A pocket park playground is near the Lenox on Draper Ln. Falkland Chase & Summit Hills have playgrounds, but I don't think they're open to non-residents. Pocket parks aren't great, but even putting a bit more grass & play structures for kids in a few of them would make a big difference to this neighborhood.

by Dan H on Aug 14, 2012 2:10 pm • linkreport

Dan H,

There is a new public playground between the new Orion and Galaxy buildings one block from this site. It is aimed at small children. It also has areas for adults to sit and hang out. It's one of the best pocket parks in the area.

If I had little kids, I'd go there. As they got bigger, I'd head over to Jesup Blair Park.

Shepherd Park is also a short walk from South Silver Spring. It has fantastic playground facilities and is open to the public. If you're willing to take a slightly longer adventure, there is a playground and big field available to the public at the Lowell School. walking to either Shepherd Park or Lowell is a treat as they are quiet, tree-lined streets.

by Patrick Thornton on Aug 14, 2012 2:22 pm • linkreport

Dan H,

That being said, I would support transforming the pocket park in front of my building into a park for children. It would serve the community much better. There is a lot would could do with our existing pocket parks to make them serve our community better.

Also, the proposed building at 8001 Newell will have a public park. That park could also be made into a playground.

by Patrick Thornton on Aug 14, 2012 2:26 pm • linkreport

@Patrick

While I was writing this post, I noticed this public park near Eastern Avenue and 16th Street. I've passed by it before it and it seems to have a nice open field. Do you or your neighbors ever use this space? With some programming it might be a really nice park for South Silver Spring & Shepherd Park, though it's in DC, which would require a little bit of cross-jurisdictional cooperation.

by dan reed! on Aug 14, 2012 2:37 pm • linkreport

@Patrick,
I didn't know about the new playground at Orion/Galaxy. I love the new Shepard Park ES playground, but that's also 0.5 to 0.75miles from many places in Silver Spring, again making it a bit too far for walk & a brief time there.

@Dan Reed, I'm fairly sure that the Eastern/16th green space is part of Rock Creek National Park. That significantly limits what can be placed there.

by Dan H on Aug 14, 2012 2:42 pm • linkreport

@Dan,

Not that I know of. I wasn't aware of a park there. Part of that may be because the sidewalk ends on the western side of Eastern Ave. well before then, so I've never really ventured down that way (although the sidewalk may pick up again at some point). For me, I'd probably go to Jesup Blair Park before going to this park (or the Lowell School), but for my neighbors to the north, this park could be a boon for them.

That space seems like it could be better utilized. I'd have to check the park out more to see how it is setup, but I would think that some fencing off from 16th would help make people feel more comfortable.

Is there a precedent for Shepherd Park/DC and Montgomery County working together? This park in particular looks like it could use cooperation to full utilize it.

by Patrick Thornton on Aug 14, 2012 2:49 pm • linkreport

Name calling and accusations, seriously? ("NIMBYs"; "They are essentially lying to the county and to people like Dan.") These do not qualify as discourse. Just because some that will be impacted by what becomes of 8001 Newell are trying to act in their, and hopefully, the community's interest does not necessarily make a park at 8001 a bad idea, any more than Comstock's acting in its own financial interests by placing an apartment building at 8001 automatically makes that a bad or good idea. Please support either idea, or neither, or a different one altogether. No person or company is without bias or motivation, but IMHO personal attacks have no place in this. Peace.

by rod corriveau on Aug 14, 2012 8:46 pm • linkreport

I don't think anyone has made a specific personal attack. Many have expressed a frustration with tactics that are commonly employed to prevent any sort of development. Namely the "wait until something is proposed then claim what you really need is X and say that's what's been missing all along". It's been employed countless times before and so people are now prepared for it.

I'm actually surprised that all comments thus far have been in agreement.

by drumz on Aug 14, 2012 9:31 pm • linkreport

I live in one of the buildings right next to the site of the proposed building. The self-storage facility has been here much longer than any of us who live here. Since it was here first and there have not been problems with it that I know of in the time I have lived here, I would not have supported a public park on the site. However, the developer has an option to buy it, so therefore it can be inferred that the current owner wants to sell and that no matter what happens the site will soon have a new owner. That makes this the time for others to come up with other ideas for the site, such as a public park. This is not a case of newcomers looking to push out what was there before.

There have been some good points made about the benefits that increased density could bring, such as the empty retail spaces in the neighborhood being filled. However, I feel that the proposed building is too tall for the site. It is to be 70 feet tall and seven stories. This is one to three stories taller than the buildings directly next door or across the street. The only idea I’ve heard besides the proposed seven story building it a public park. I think that the neighborhood would be better served by a park. If the developer proposes something else or anyone has other ideas, I would reconsider.

by Scott S. on Aug 14, 2012 10:11 pm • linkreport

@Scott

Again, I ask: if the neighborhood would be better served by a park, why aren't the existing parks in the neighborhood being better used? Besides, having a less tall building on that site doesn't solve the need for parks. In fact, it's the opposite: if you had a taller, slimmer building there, you would have more room for open space, if that's what people wanted.

by dan reed! on Aug 14, 2012 10:20 pm • linkreport

And has their been an effort to get more parks? If the county came out tomorrow and said they plan on building a park literally next door to the proposed building would you still want to see changes? If so then debate the building.

by Drumz on Aug 14, 2012 11:07 pm • linkreport

In response to rod corriveau, I think the overall response is about the arguments, not the people making them. Yes, when I asked why people who claim to object going to a park that may be frequented by District residents would choose to live across the street from DC, it might sound like I take objection to the people. No, it's with the speciousness of the arguments. Especially the issue about Jessup Blair park being overrun by presumed District residents. The proposed park will literally border the District!

Full disclosure: I live in North Takoma (Park) in a SFH. So, it's presumably easy for me to argue that some building should go up next to another building instead of a park going in. But, I'm very dismayed about my neighbors objecting to development at the Takoma Metro (note: within the District, not in Takoma Park), claiming it has too much impermeable surface (I guess the at best partially used parking lot there is made of magic blacktop). And, I cross through Jessup Blair Park daily, and Georgia Ave, to take the S9 bus. And, I often go walking with my toddler in a stroller across the park, across Georgia Ave, to get to Shepard Park (I agree it has a great playground).

It just seems like the E/W Highway and Eastern Ave area could use some redevelopment, especially to add more retail and/or restaurants to liven it up. And, frankly, it seemed pretty clear to me when I moved to the area a couple of years ago that development in the area would be in Silver Spring, not the District. I mean no offense, but it seems from only a cursory glance that people wanting lower buildings in the area should live in the District, not Silver Spring, just based on building height.

I guess I just wish there were more development in the whole east-of-the-park southern Montgomery County area. In Silver Spring and in Takoma Park.

by EMD on Aug 15, 2012 12:03 am • linkreport

One thing you never hear people talking about in this discussion is the cost of their proposals. What is the cost of the park? That means:
A. The capital cost of the park
B. Yearly maintenance costs
C. Lost property tax revenue from potential building on site

I think if people want to shut down the naysayers they should do some cursory research and try to figure out what these costs will be. People think the park idea is reasonable because people think parks are really cheap, or nearly free. Hell, it's just some grass right! The construction costs for a park are probably in the millions and the upkeep plus the lost property tax revenue is likely in the hundreds of thousands range.

by MLD on Aug 15, 2012 8:27 am • linkreport

@Dan

Boo! I just saw that the post was changed to read new apartment building, not condominium. Have you considered doing a post on the number of new apartment buildings vs. condos in DTSS, and the longer-term implications of this? Many of the apartment buildings being built or recently finished were originally intended to be condos before the economy tanked. I'm all for new housing, but there seems to be an imbalance in favor of high-priced rental housing, which I'm not sure will benefit the community in the long term. I suppose one could also argue that limiting the supply of condos keeps prices high, which has its own benefits. Anyway, I'd be interested to see a post (and the ensuing debate) on this topic!

by silver springer on Aug 15, 2012 9:02 am • linkreport

To the 'more eyes on the street' remark: Is there a safety issue in this neighborhood? Usually the only people I see at night are others that are walking their dogs. I definitely cannot see a safety issue during the day, which is likely when the retail would be open, putting more eyes on the street.

The type of shop is also important because within a couple blocks there are already: two places to get pizza, a coffee shop, 3 dry cleaners, a grocery store, a 24 hour convenience store, two more normal convenience stores, a barber, an excellent Chinese weekend dims, local ice cream shop, etc. Most of these places are even closer to the metro station / transit center. What would really draw people away form the Giant shopping center, downtown Silver Spring, or the kitsch shops and good food on Georgia? There is a lot of empty retail space along EW in much larger apartment buildings, so I'm not sure how more retail in a smaller building is going to fare.

Maybe the apartments are a good idea, but safety and retail are false selling points. I hope the proposal includes enough parking for both new residents and patrons as the immediate area has very limited parking. Rock Creek Springs and Spring Garden residents simply do not have much of a choice as there are many more permits than spaces, so there is overflow onto the surrounding streets, including the DC neighborhood. I'll have to withhold final judgment until I actually see the proposal on the 20th.

> Older apartment complexes like Rock Creek Springs have tree-filled courtyards, though they're only open to people who live there.

They're not much more than prettied entrances to the apartment buildings and I'm not sure why you even mentioned them in the article. Whatever happened to having places that looked nice? It's simply pleasant to walk around and through trees and grassy areas, I don't need to hang out for an extended period to enjoy them.

by Fred on Aug 15, 2012 9:57 am • linkreport

@MLD, On the opportunity cost balance, you're also missing what parks and other space taking amenities bring. If a sufficient density of parks and child-friendly places means people treat the area like their long-term home and don't move away when they have kids, that improves a lot and causes real increases in property values. That the county supports so many parks and play grounds is evidence that residents consider them worthwhile investments.

This also gets into the condo/apartment discussion from silver springer. My gripe about apartments is less the short-term cost and most that, without any rent control, you guarantee huge turnover rates. Condos encourage people to stay around longer. I'll add that I really wish more of these buildings has >2 bedroom units. This is another issue that pushes families out of a neighborhood and decreases stability.

by Dan H on Aug 15, 2012 9:58 am • linkreport

Yes Acorn Park is right down the street but it is such a sad little thing, which seems a shame given that it is home to Silver Spring's namesake. Is there even enough space for playground equipment there? My vote would be to make it more inviting with a pond or fountain to pay tribute to the spring, but again, it all costs money to install and maintain.

by Elizabeth | The Natural Capital on Aug 15, 2012 10:35 am • linkreport

@Dan H

Totally agree about the >2 bedroom thing. My husband and I are hoping to buy a condo in downtown Silver Spring, because we love the area and also don't want a house with a big yard that requires upkeep. However, we are also fully aware that a 2 bd/2 bath will not meet our long term needs if we have kids in a few years. We've only seen 2 units that might work, both technically 2 bedrooms plus a den. However, one was poorly designed and the other was in a brand new building that's not FHA approved.

I completely understand that having numerous 3 bedroom units in condo buildings probably isn't that profitable for the developer (if it was, more would include them), but you'd think even just having one on each floor would work. It would be nice if Montgomery County required just a small % of units in new condo buildings to be 3 bedrooms, similar to the way they require a certain % be MPDU (another program that contributes to a neighborhood's stability). As you said, retaining families is very important to a neighborhood's stability, and benefits the county in the long term with increased tax revenue.

by silver springer on Aug 15, 2012 10:45 am • linkreport

...as well as the historic integrity of Acorn Park.

by jag on Aug 15, 2012 10:48 am • linkreport

@silver springer, Dan H

I'm actually not clear why 3 bedroom condo units aren't more common (I assume because there isn't a perceived demand for them), but one alternative could be to build so-called "Mortgage Helper" units. It's basically a little studio suite that is attached to a larger apartment by a door, like in adjoining hotel rooms. A family would buy both units and rent the smaller one out (thus helping with mortgage payments), but as they grew, they could just take it over for themselves.

@Fred

Yes, there are a lot of stores in South Silver Spring already, but as even Park Now admits, it's a densely populated neighborhood, suggesting there may be additional demand for retail, especially further away from the Blairs. The issue isn't whether people want to shop - it's creating enough of a retail destination, even a neighborhood-centered one, that people in the immediate area will patronize it.

@Elizabeth

I don't know what could be done with Acorn Park, but it's large enough to accommodate a market during the South Silver Spring Street Fest, so presumably there's room to do other cool things there as well.

by dan reed! on Aug 15, 2012 10:51 am • linkreport

Fred, there are three public garages in south Silver Spring. If anything, there is too much parking! None of those garages ever come close to filling up.

by Cavan on Aug 15, 2012 11:08 am • linkreport

In reference to why residents are now asking for a park... it is only now that the neighborhood has reached a tipping point where we've seen multiple developers construct concrete, disappointing and uninviting pocket parks. These are owned by the individual buildings and won't change. We are now at a deficit where a larger one acre green park is needed (1.0 acre is what the county recommends for an urban park). Acorn Park while beloved as symbolic is not substantial (0.12 acre) or green. Half of Acorn Park is a sunken hole. Speaking as a woman, Jesup Park is isolated and does not seem safe nor a walkable distance from my home compounded by the challenges of Georgia Ave. Also prior to this time, residents were unaware that the owner was willing to sell or the process of asking the county to make a green park in our neighborhood a priority. I would point out that it was the county that initially suggested the site as a park. It was not ranked at the bottom of their list, but in the middle scored similar to 5 other sites. That was two years ago and several new buildings have been built since then. I agree with another who said that a park at the Giant shopping center would be cost prohibitive and a logistical nightmare with many retails needing to agree. I think local residents would end up having to pay for parking at the shopping center, making it a deterrent.

by DMB on Aug 15, 2012 11:31 am • linkreport

DMB,

The Newell Street site is ranked pretty low by the 2010 Green Space Guidelines for Silver Spring Central Business District. It is ranked 9 out of 13 potential spaces in the DTSS area with the third lowest overall score. It received an overall score or 15, whereas the Giant Food Parking Lot received a score of 21. That's a 40% better score.

How do you know that the Giant shopping center is cost prohibitive and too difficult to implement? Have you asked the Planning Department about this? Have you talked with professionals about this?

This is the same Planning Department that worked to create Ellsworth and Downtown Silver Spring. They've done much more difficult transformations than taking a surface parking lot and building a parking garage.

As to cost, that whole site is some of the most valuable land in the entire county. It's right across the street from the Red Line, MARC, Amtrak, one of the biggest bus terminals in the region and the future Purple Line. That shopping center will be redone, because it's too valuable to keep it as a suburban strip mall.

A developer could come in and make that land several times more valuable by building up. This will happen. The County and Planning Department know this.

The Planning Department's vision for the Giant Parking lot would be to give South Silver Spring something along the lines of Ellsworth, perhaps even better. I want that. The community wants that.

by Patrick Thornton on Aug 15, 2012 11:51 am • linkreport

The area does need more > 2 condos. I took a tour of the new Orion Condo building, and low and behold the units with the least supply left were the 2 bedroom + dens.

Part of this is based on outdated assumptions that young people will move in, have kids and then get SFHs. Many people in my generation don't want SFHs. We want 3 bedroom condos and townhouses (another thing DTSS and South Silver spring sorely lack). It's going to take time for developers to catch up to this.

Perhaps the county could have ways to compel developers to build more bigger units like they do with MPDUs. Without bigger units, areas like South Silver Spring will be filled with the young and old but very little inbetween. I'd like to see South Silver Spring be able to support people through their entire lives.

by Patrick Thornton on Aug 15, 2012 11:56 am • linkreport

The 5 sites that scored 15-16 would be considered on par. Yes, I have talked to the county parks and planning group and Giant was a topic. We can talk more in person if you like.

by DMB on Aug 15, 2012 12:08 pm • linkreport

@Dan: I'm not as familiar with planning as you, but if there is empty retail space in larger buildings, presumably there isn't a market for it. How would retail space in a new building be any different?

@Cavan: I'll assume you're talking about these three:

Veridian - I'm not aware of available long term parking here for non-residents. I'll have to check that out.

NOAA - I park here sometimes when the street and my complex lot is full. It's pretty inconvenient being almost about a half-mile away. I don't think I'd pay $113/mo to park there, although paying via mobile for hours outside 7PM-7AM may work out.

Kennett - Last I heard, Discovery was working out a lease with the county for 300 or so of the 453 spaces available to PCS in the garage, which would be unavailable 24/7 for 13 years. I wouldn't count on this space and the displacement will make parking worse in the area.

by Fred on Aug 15, 2012 12:21 pm • linkreport

It's a mystery to me why units of 2+ bedrooms aren't more common. The lack of demand argument seems plausible on first glance, but many young people (singles) will in groups of three gladly split the cost of a 3 br, which is almost always less per room than for 2 brs or 1 brs. Three bedroom apartments are highly coveted for this reason by the post-grad crowd, not just by young families. When you consider that they also benefit the developer, since they allow the inclusion of more total bedrooms in a building (you only need one kitchen and living room/3 bedrooms), it seems like a no-brainer. Maybe someone in RE development has more insight here.

by RTA on Aug 15, 2012 12:31 pm • linkreport

@Fred

To be honest, many of the retail spaces in South Silver Spring (and DTSS as a whole) fail because of the one thing that everyone here says they want: more parks. Retail in an urban area needs to be up against the sidewalk, where all the people who walk by can look in and see what's going on. When they're hidden behind a pocket park, you're less visible, so customers are less likely to be lured in. And retailers don't want to have to deal with that.

Look at the Veridian: the first retailer to open in that building was the little grocery, which is against the sidewalk, while all of the other spaces behind the pocket park are still empty. The retail on the ground floor of 1200 East West has the same problem, as do the Crescent and the Cameron, elsewhere in downtown Silver Spring.

It also doesn't help that the newest apt buildings in DTSS are kind of far from the "established" retail areas along Ellsworth, Georgia, and at the Blairs. Shoppers who visit those areas may not be willing to go several blocks out of their way, discouraging retailers from setting up in those buildings.

by dan reed! on Aug 15, 2012 12:32 pm • linkreport

The 2+ bedroom issue isn't that surprising. Looking at rental rates or condo prices, 3 two bedrooms brings in a lot more money than 2 three bedrooms for not much more space. Studios are probably the highest profit per sq ft. The issue isn't whether there is demand for apartments with more than 2 bedrooms. It's whether there's sufficient demand to fully occupy a building with 2 bedroom or less units. If a developer thinks they can fill that building, building larger units is just lost money.

The math changes when they can't fill all the two bedrooms. I think this is why some of the attempted condos in this area failed, but it seems that the solution is to make more 2 bedroom apartments rather than 3 bedroom condos.

by Dan H on Aug 15, 2012 1:08 pm • linkreport

I think it ought to be an apartment building. Rock Creek and Jessup park are right around the corner. As for making Georgia Avenue more pedestrian friendly, I couldn't agree more. My hope is they'll boulevard it with a tree planted median to make the street section more humane and therefore pleasant like on Georgia Avenue north of Colesville. Beyond that I wish they'd pay more attention to the street scape. Not every street wall needs to be straight and lined with retail, but a little more attention would boost an area that ought to be much more bumping, at least given it's density.

by Thayer-D on Aug 15, 2012 9:25 pm • linkreport

@Dan Reed

Thanks for responding.

The retail space at 1200 EW is right up against the sidewalk. That space is supposed to be spoken for by Scion, but I'll wait until it opens. Although the Veridian Market is right up against the sidewalk, it still took over two years for the space next door to be occupied. The Market covers a very important niche: beer and wine within walking distance of a lot of people.

I'm not familiar with the Cameron, so I'll have to drop by.

I've walked by the Crescent before and I happened to see Skew Works, but didn't think much of it. If the food and/or experience is good, word of mouth gets around and places get business. Pacci's is a successful, relatively new, place in a strange location (recessed with a parking garage behind it, next to the World Building) and I can't imagine its survival relied on foot traffic. Lotus Cafe and Jackie's are two other examples.

People will come for good food. Retail shopping is missing from South Silver Spring, but I think there is a reason for that: DTSS is a better fit with its family restaurants, water fountain, movie theater, ambiance, and ample parking that shunts you right into the mix of it all (it's kind of like a theme park with its encapsulation). I don't think you can get that in South Silver Spring without serious redevelopment.

@Thayer-D

Any trail head entry to Rock Creek Park is about a mile away from the site. Reaching a clearing that would resemble Jessup or the potential park at Newell would take up to another mile and a half on the trail. Since we're talking about an open, accessible park, I don't think Rock Creek is an appropriate alternative as it fits a different purpose. Jessup is a better argument, but it still feels kind of far away as the proposed site is centrally located within South Silver Spring and not severed by Georgia Ave.

by Fred on Aug 15, 2012 10:59 pm • linkreport

@ Dan H

As of the 2011 rental facility report (http://www6.montgomerycountymd.gov/content/DHCA/Licensing/PDF/rentalfacilityreport_2011.pdf), 2 bedroom apartments have the highest vacancy rate for market rate units in 20910 at 6.3%. I'm not privy to the numbers in South Silver Spring, but the numbers seem to suggest that the supply of 2BR is not an issue as it's vacancy rate is 2% higher than the next floor type (efficiency @ 4.4%). Interestingly, the lowest vacancy rate is for 3BR @ 2.9%.

by Fred on Aug 15, 2012 11:11 pm • linkreport

Fred,
I see your point about the two parks I mantioned. I wish there where a bit more Baron Von Hausman in Montgomery County that scrapped all these requirements for pocket parks in place of a contribution to a well sized and located neighborhood park. The danger with that is you might get a Robert Moses with a pocket full of modernist plans, or how it's currently being sold, landscape architecture plans.

by Thayer-D on Aug 16, 2012 7:58 am • linkreport

Eastern Village has a 3 bedroom for sale - http://easternvillage.org/forsale.htm

by Cathy on Aug 16, 2012 11:49 am • linkreport

I always wondered why Jesup Blair wasn't chock full of people. It's an amazing looking park. People in most DC neighborhoods would kill for something that nice.

by Geoffrey Hatchard on Aug 23, 2012 9:58 am • linkreport

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