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South Silver Spring residents split over proposed apartments

South Silver Spring residents aren't sure what should replace a self-storage facility at Newell Street and Eastern Avenue, where developer Comstock Homes wants to build a seven-story apartment building. Some would prefer a park, while others just want a shorter building.


Comstock Homes wants to build a 7-story apartment building here.

With architects, landscape architects and lawyers in tow, Comstock hosted a meeting at the Silver Spring Civic Building last night to discuss their proposal, dubbed the Boulevard at Newell. It includes 187 apartments, 3,100 square feet of "neighborhood-serving" retail space, a pocket park and 206 parking spaces for residents and visitors.

Over 60 residents from South Silver Spring and the adjacent Shepherd Park neighborhood in the District came out to voice their opinions on the project. While most were unhappy with the proposal, a few expressed support. Steve Schmitz from Comstock stressed that he wanted to hear everyone's opinion. "We'll stay here until midnight if need be," he said.

Though their proposal is already allowed under current zoning, Comstock is pursuing what's called an optional method of development, which allows them to build at higher density in exchange for public amenities, such as the pocket park, and a more stringent review process by the county.

Comstock has been talking with the community since February, even convening a group of residents to discuss design issues. Schmitz ran down a list of changes to their original design, like increasing the amount of open space on site and reducing its height along Eastern Avenue, where the building faces single-family homes.

New Addition
The proposed building could be similar to the Ellington, also designed by Torti Gallas. Photo by M.V. Jantzen on Flickr.

Architect Sherief Elfar of Torti Gallas and Partners noted that the Boulevard at Newell could make the walk to the Silver Spring Metro, less than a half-mile away, safer and more pleasant. "You have more people coming in and out, you have eyes on the street," he said, which could deter crime.

A pocket park at the corner of Newell and Eastern with a small lawn and patio would take up nearly a quarter of the one-acre site. "In our view, we think it should be mostly green," said landscape architect Trini Rodriguez of ParkerRodriguez. Her firm is designing the open spaces around the property, including a small courtyard behind the building that would buffer it from adjacent properties. Elfar pointed out that the Boulevard at Newell would be 33 feet away from Eastern Village Cohousing and 59 feet from 8045 Newell Street, the two buildings bordering the site.

Schmitz promised that Comstock will charge "one-quarter market rates" for the retail space, which would face the pocket park, to ensure that it wouldn't stay vacant like other would-be shops in South Silver Spring. He saw it being an independent business, like a coffee shop. "Whatever the community feels it needs, we can attract that tenant," he said.

While the building's design is far from finished, Elfar pointed to other Torti Gallas projects, like the Ellington on U Street, as an example of how it could look. One goal is to break the building up into multiple façades, giving "the impression . . . that it's one or two buildings as you walk by," he said.

South Silver Spring Apartment Buildings
Eastern Village's roof garden. Residents of this building say the seven-story Boulevard at Newell would block their views.

However, some neighbors weren't impressed. They warned that the building didn't have enough parking, would block their views, and that the retail space would attract "undesirables." One Eastern Village resident said that apartments facing her building shouldn't have patios, saying that her future neighbors could have "barbeques and parties" on them while "smoking and drinking."

Another resident living in 8045 Newell who didn't give her name railed against the "density and brutalistic architecture" of the proposal. "I won't say it was dishonest, but your presentation was disingenuous at best," she said, claiming that she and her neighbors were promised that new buildings in the neighborhood would be condominiums, not apartments.

Others lamented that the building was too tall, noting that most buildings along Eastern Avenue had less than four stories. One resident suggested taking out the pocket park if it meant the building could be shorter. "I will only consider four stories if I can get the same number of units," Schmitz replied, arguing that the project needed a certain number of apartments to be financially viable.

Supporters said the project was appropriate for the neighborhood. "This is a site that is maybe eight minutes from Metro in a major city," said one South Silver Spring resident, who asked that her name wasn't used. "Density can be expected."

"The county has appropriately designated certain areas as business districts and that is where the higher density should continue to take place," wrote Jessica Evans, who lives on East-West Highway and serves on the Silver Spring Urban District Advisory Committee, in an e-mail after the meeting. She hopes that other building owners in South Silver Spring would follow Comstock's lead and lower the rents for their vacant storefronts.

Comstock hopes to file their plans with the Planning Department next month, with a public hearing to follow in the winter. If everything goes smoothly, they expect to start construction on the Boulevard at Newell in 2014.

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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How much do they have to take these people's concerns into account? Some seem pretty unreasonable.

by Gray on Aug 21, 2012 12:39 pm • linkreport

Well, the view thing should be simply explained that in most instances that what one considers a nice view is an externality that is by no means ever truly guaranteed unless you put up the money to acquire the land to protect such a view.

A lot of the other concerns are equally ridiculous. Claims that the archtiecture is "brutalistic" but because its apartments instead of condominiums rather than actually knowing what the building looks like (did they have any sketches at the meeting of what the building would look like?).

by drumz on Aug 21, 2012 12:56 pm • linkreport

Though I also laugh at the necessity of using the phrase "neigborhood serving retail space" which allows you to let people think that whatever moves in will be exactly what they want.

Guess what, that restaurant or store that doesn't have anything that interests you is still "neighborhood-serviced" even if you don't decide to patronize.

by drumz on Aug 21, 2012 1:01 pm • linkreport

There is very little the community can actually do regarding this or any project they "don't like". The building has to meet the zoning and the master plan; community coordination is encouraged but not required. The community members don't see that the developer has extended multiple arms offering the public space in a usable way, and agreeing to taper building height and facade treatments. I predict something similar to the proposal will get approved by the planning board after a long drawn out meeting of NIMBY critics.

by Gull on Aug 21, 2012 1:17 pm • linkreport

"apartments facing her building shouldn't have patios, saying that her future neighbors could have "barbeques and parties" on them while "smoking and drinking.""

You mean to tell me that people might actually have social lives and grill on their own decks? That is outrageous, they should just sit in their apartments and do nothing. Next thing your going to want to pubs and bars in that area of silver spring, then it will be pure anarchy.

by mikem on Aug 21, 2012 1:22 pm • linkreport

Considering that there are too many useless pocket parks in the area, I think 5 stories covering the site would be great. And I think it has way too many parking spaces.

by Ken Firestone on Aug 21, 2012 1:34 pm • linkreport

@mikem +1

If these neighbors are so concerned about density and avoiding "undesirables," they should move elsewhere. Like Potomac. I'll be the first to say good riddance.

"...neighbors were promised that new buildings in the neighborhood would be condos, not apartments" hahaha - excuse me while I go have a good laugh.

by silver springer on Aug 21, 2012 1:54 pm • linkreport

Not to pile on, but those were some of the lamest NIMBY objections I've ever heard.

by MrTinDC on Aug 21, 2012 2:24 pm • linkreport

^That, and this meeting didn't even have to technically happen. Its fine for there to be a way for citizens to speak up about a project but ultimately it should not be controversial for someone to build an apartment building in a neighborhood full of apartment buildings.

by drumz on Aug 21, 2012 2:36 pm • linkreport

The vast majority of people I've spoken with in South Silver Spring are either in favor of the new building or indifferent. Every person I've heard who is strongly opposed lives in 8045 Newell on the side of the new building (and I'm sure all of them were at the meeting).

Which leads me to believe that the only true argument against the building is that some people will be losing their view and some privacy. Everything else in my opinion is a red herring (sewage can't handle it, "undesirables", increased crime). That's not to say that these concerns about their view and privacy aren't valid, but I think that by focusing on other issues their real concerns are being diluted and they come across as really NIMBYs.

Something is going to be built there, like it or not. The real estate is prime, the owner wants to sell, and the land is zoned for what is proposed. Considering how much Comstock has taken an interest in finding out what the community actually wants (without any obligation!), and how much effort they have been putting into modifying their designs to meet those concerns, I really think that the residents who are upset would be best served by focusing on working with Comstock to find a solution without pissing them off so much that they stop working with the neighborhood and just go ahead with their plans. In other words, if they aren't willing to compromise Comstock might just go ahead and do what it wants.

That said, I'm sure many people are doing just that, but the most vocal opponents seem to be fighting tooth and nail to stop Comstock from building anything.

by jno on Aug 21, 2012 3:02 pm • linkreport

Regarding the "neighborhood serving retail space" - the way it was explained to us in a meeting a couple of months ago was that it won't be a "destination" retail like a Trader Joe's. No parking will be built explicitly for the retail space because it won't be the type of store people will drive to. It will be the type of store people who live and work in the area will walk a block or two to get to, such as a café or a small grocery.

by jno on Aug 21, 2012 3:17 pm • linkreport

Why is this building only 7 stories tall? It would be great if we could build a taller building with more apartments on this plot. That would increase the number of eyes on the street, customers for local businesses, and, of course, the MoCo tax base.

by MS on Aug 21, 2012 4:16 pm • linkreport

This just in: anti-neighbors are anti.

by Cavan on Aug 21, 2012 4:31 pm • linkreport

Most people do NOT want a 7 story building, and it isn't just the people in 8045, although they will be the most affected. Most of the claims made by Comstock, and the examples they gave were ridiculous, such as showing EVC as an example of how units in close proximity could be successful. The people who purchased that knew it going in. The people in 8045 did not know there would be a building towering over them that would cut off all light to half of the residents, and have people staring into their windows. There is only ONE person in 8045 who wants the building, and for the life of me, I can't understand why.

by sk3 on Aug 21, 2012 4:39 pm • linkreport

I find the Eastern Villager comments rather interesting in that the same type of myopia was expressed by longtime residents on Eastern Ave. when the Eastern Village was first proposed. Sort of, I've got mine, you stay away.

by ralph on Aug 21, 2012 4:48 pm • linkreport

I attended last night's meeting and was also involved in the community feedback aspect, meeting with the developers twice prior to last night's presentation. I rent in the area, and am "biased" towards the development but also try to see the multitude of sides. That 'disclaimer' of sorts aside, my responses to a few of the comments:

@drumz: FYI, the project plan shows building massing, so it reflects the intent to articulate so the length does not appear as a consistent block of concrete. Some pictures of other buildings designed by Torti Gallas were included as well for reference (really to define articulation). The presentation included some cross sections as-well. We've been assured numerous times that this will be a "four facade" building, i.e. all sides treated. Pretty much has to be since all 4 sides front residential/streets.

Re: apartment vs. condos - as the article notes, one individual at the meeting did make the claim that she was promised condos for future development. I'm obviously unsure if anyone else was as well, though no one else seconded that I heard. I would assume that the 'promise' was more of a "given the market [at that time] we'd expect condos here", but if not there's a lot more dishonesty/disingenuity there than by Comstock here.

Re: working with the developer - my opinion is that the developer has been as responsive as he can be to the comments we've made through the process: shifting the entrance off Eastern addressed concerns from EVC (along with NOT seeking to share the 8045 driveway, which residents didn't want to pursue), the building was moved up towards Newell to increase separation, and loading was incorporated into the entrance off Newell. Comstock also seems very open to working with the community on the park and retail aspects, and has been receptive to many of the other items brought up in conversation. Really, the only "non-starters" have been the request to cut the building from 7 stories to 4. I don't claim to know what return Comstock and their investors are seeking, but he did indicate a willingness to look at a lower building IF retail was removed and he could still get his units. I can practically assure you he won't be able to, but would argue that "I'll look at it" (and follow-up with a reason for the yes/no) is preferable to "sorry, I'm doing what I want/am entitled to". Incidently, if Comstock were to drop out for whatever reason, who's to say the next developer is better off as far as the community relations aspect goes?

@sk3: I don't think comstock's claims were ridiculous generally, though I could see where 8045 residents are upset about lost views. Someone earlier noted that you're never assured of keeping a view, and there is an element of truth to that, though I can see being disappointed if it happened to me. There's no great response to that, though I would state that developing a crappy 1-story storage unit into upscale apartments could, in my mind, result in improved condo values. I can't speak for the individual in favor of the development directly, but I can tell you my reasons, which I think may be close to those sent in an email to a listserv: I believe that our county's population overall is growing and that this is desirable (primarily for tax base reasons); I believe that there are certain parcels that, with developer investment, can increase the neighborhood's 'utility' and value. I believe that these parcels should be located close to metro stations (a desired amenity, and smart growth), so in sum I believe this is an ideal parcel to develop and bring in more "street eyes" and grow the area.

by UP on Aug 21, 2012 5:24 pm • linkreport

The issue with 8045 is much more than losing a view. It is about losing light. It is about other people staring into our windows. And yes, it's about losing property value. Several people have already had potential sales canceled when potential owners heard there would be a 7 story building looming over 8045. It's very easy for a renter who lives several blocks away without a horse in the race to make statements about what's good for the community. Would YOU buy a unit facing the new building? Don't think so.

by sk3 on Aug 21, 2012 5:35 pm • linkreport

What is it with the "staring into people's windows" BS? You can't even f-ing see into other people's windows - I live in a building 20ft from another, and you can't see anything. And beyond that, why would anyone WANT to? Do you, sk3, spend your time peering into every window you come across? Is that why you're concerned about others doing it to you? Believe me , the rest of us have way better ways to spend our time than trying to peep in on you.

And as for the other building "looming" over yours, yours is already 6 stories tall! This is only 10 feet higher! Good lord, you'd think they were trying to build the Sears Tower next to you. The zoning already allows for a building as big as yours - you never should expect that things will stay exactly as they are; someone could have come along and just built this building by-right instead of trying to give something back to the community in exchange for an extra 10 feet.

by MLD on Aug 21, 2012 5:51 pm • linkreport

Actually, as a point of clarification, I believe the new building will be shorter than 8045 Newell, which has high ceilings and a very pitched roof. Being the southern building, it is 8045 Newell and not the new building that will be blocking out light.

by jkr on Aug 21, 2012 6:02 pm • linkreport

If it's like the Ellington, it will deaden a block that doesn't sound all that lively to begin with. one could argue that one of SS's problems is that it's always attracted big structures like this that don't add much life.

by Rich on Aug 21, 2012 6:16 pm • linkreport

jkr -- You are wrong. 8045 is 5 stories tall. The proposed building is 7 stories.

by sk3 on Aug 21, 2012 6:22 pm • linkreport

If you live in an apartment building and are offended that there is a new apartment being built on what was once a storage facility then I don't know what will convince you.

by Drumz on Aug 21, 2012 6:34 pm • linkreport

Sk3- As someone who currently lives at 8045, can you please explain how you have reached the conclusion that everyone in the building, except for one person, is opposed to the building development? I sure don't remember getting a survey to that effect. [Deleted for violating the comment policy.] I know for a fact that some people are pretty indifferent to the whole thing and others, besides the one that you reference, are actually very much in favor of the new building. [Deleted for violating the comment policy.]

by NOYB on Aug 21, 2012 6:38 pm • linkreport

@sk3: I can't debate the "easier for a rental" point; I've tried to stress it at every chance, understanding that this impacts 8045 more than myself. That said, I don't see the concern over "people looking in", especially if we assume, to the extent practical, that windows are staggered against 8045 to try and limit it. I think 60 feet (building to building; I know it's less based on patios) is reasonable.

Re: property values, I can understand the concern at the moment - surely when an adjacent building is proposed is a tough time to sell. The extent to which that's driven by construction noise vs. the ultimate condition I can't answer, though I can say that I wouldn't rule out living 60' from a building...I'd need to see the finished unit. People who don't buy now out of fear are impacting the market, but that doesn't mean they aren't passing up a good deal by being shortsighted. I don't claim to know housing values, so that's really all I could say on the issue of trying to sell a place.

Having said all that, I disagree about my not having a horse in the race. My horse is the neighborhood I live in, and have chosen to rent in for the last 5 years. It's the times I've been to EVC or 8045 and felt unsafe, and on a larger scale it's the County I live in.

by UP on Aug 21, 2012 6:42 pm • linkreport

I have to wonder if such a debate mired in hyperbole can get anywhere.

One issue is safety. Has anyone consulted a crime map to determine if safety is really an issue, or are we going on how people feel? It didn't sound like the Shepherd Park or Eastern Village residents were worried about safety and they're largely the immediate residents. I also live at the corner of Eastern and Newell and aside from the dim lighting, I'm not sure what is scary. Dim lighting can be fixed without another apartment building, so I don't see it as a justification, but rather a side effect of a new building. I don't think that's a defensible position in a debate.

Another issue is building height. Everything is under 5 stories on the block. An SEC annual report for Comstock listed the 'Boulevard on Newell' to be completed with 145 units (http://www.faqs.org/sec-filings/120330/Comstock-Homebuilding-Companies-Inc_10-K/#b). That figure grew to almost 200 and I'm curious as to why, since the representative stated that it is not financially feasible to reduce the unit density. I think making the property 'Standard' instead of 'Optional' and removing the 20% open space requirement would help all parties, since a compromise would probably make most people unhappy since the building would be too high for the neighbors and the corner park would be yet another example of unused hardscape. There are also building height codes that some folks should read into to hush about why *just* 7 stories. Spoiler: It's not allowed to be taller than 90ft, and that has to be set back 60 ft from Eastern Ave (hence the 60ft park space in the plan). Max height at Eastern is 45 ft.

Retail is brought up a lot. There is empty retail along EW Hwy and retail begging to be rehabbed at Eastern and Georgia, retail directly across the street from the metro, and plenty downtown (even apartmen building-base retail there is struggling). Given the lack of success for a lot of retail ventures in the area, what makes people think the addition of <200 units is going to break a threshold that brings retail vitality? I don't see any evidence for this, nor any presented in the arguments.

A park would be nice...but. The county desperately needs money and the loss in revenue from a high value lot would hurt, a lot. However, I thought it was disingenuous of the urban planners and developer to show a graphic with the entire Giant shopping lot covered in grass as a "proposed" park to demonstrate the lack of need for another park, especially considering the propotion to the actual park space present. As the case with building height, I think the lot would do best as a park or an apartment building, not a hybrid.

One last comment while I'm still on my soapbox: The developer was asked why apartments and not condos, to which he replied with something about rentals are their business. If that is the case, why does the SEC annual report list condo properties in VA and DC under Comstock's development? Heck, you type "Comstock condo Virginia" in google and you get a condominium development called Penderbrook Square in Fairefax on the Comstock Homes website. I can understand some of the developer frustrations with a lack of unity and direction (besides 'not here') from the community, but between the apt/condo comment, the representation of park space, and 'eyes on the street', I have a hard time feeling sorry for him.

by Fred on Aug 21, 2012 7:29 pm • linkreport

Unless my eyes deceive me, I see 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 6 stories for 8045 Newell: http://www.homevisit.com/tour/mrisTour.asp?id=18837

The first floor looks to be amenities with 5 stories of condo units above. And then you have to factor in 8045 Newell's pitched roof, which adds height. Typically, we measure height with feet and inches, and by that measure, 8045 Newell will still be the biggest building on the block from base to the top of the roof.

Here is a helpful instructional video on how to count: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kQC82okzTXI

by jkr on Aug 21, 2012 8:11 pm • linkreport

I live in 8045 and face the site of the proposed new building. In addition, I have been to a few meetings that have included Comstock. The major concerns of the first design was the height of the building, the distance between buildings, and that the driveway to the new building would have been right next to Eastern Village. The latter was changed in the second (and latest) design. This is good for the neighbors in Eastern Village and doesn't seem to help Comstock. Therefore, I give Comstock credit for this. Moving the buildings further apart seems mutually beneficial since apartments in the new building will face the existing buildings. There has been no change in the height between proposals, and I still think that the new building is too tall given the other buildings on the block and that it borders a neighborhood with single family homes. The tapering of the building at the Eastern Ave. as now proposed still leaves almost the entire building as seven stories. I have no idea what the financials are for this, but shortening the building while staying within the current footprint would increase support from the neighbors.

I was at the meeting last night and estimate based on the comments and clapping to some of the comments that at least 75 percent of the attendees are against the new building as currently proposed. That 75% is in turn split about whether the best alternative is a park, a shorter building, or even the current storage building (a view one person seemed to support). The people who spoke out against the proposal live in several buildings in South Silver Spring, including but not limited to 8045, and Shepherd Park, DC.

Fred, great post.

From an editorial standpoint, the headline of this story seems a bit misleading. Parsing the meaning of the word split, anything not unanimous could be a split. However, a quick reading of the headline without knowing anything more about this story makes it seem like there was around 50 percent support at the meeting for the building as now proposed. As stated in the third paragraph, that was not the case.

by Scott S. on Aug 21, 2012 8:53 pm • linkreport

Fred: good, thoughtful post. My two cents on the soapbox:

safety: personally I haven't consulted a crime map, though I've seen emails and heard people say "It's coming from that side". If I recall correctly, someone from EVC at one of the meetings noted that they'd witnessed an individual on the roof of the facility heading towards the district line. Speaking in general, I'd agree with your point on lighting and that it is a side effect of the new building. That said, I think that the added lighting and "street eyes" (sorry, part time planning student here, had to throw the term in :) does improve the area, and would do so more than converting the entire parcel to a park. So I'd call it a positive externality, worth considering in the debate.

Building Height: Re the number of units, previous press release(s) and the developer's financial considerations: I wouldn't want to skip a point you made, though to be honest couldn't begin to discuss that, since I assume it comes down to desired return, stakeholder considerations and the various push/pull aspects of conceptual design. I'd note that it's possible the 145->187 reflects consideration of less 2BR units or smaller spaces (3 extra apartments on each side of the hall x 7), but don't know.

The Corner Park: The developer has indicated there's some flexibility in park features, so it may be early to assume it would be hardscape. My guess, if we push for what we want decent chance we'd get it, but if we're back and forth on things like grass/artwork/dog park/etc it'll take the path of least resistance. One thing back on building height here (going in order from your email), as I see it, the by-right development is 90' as you noted (stepping down to 45' on eastern and with a setback there), which comes back to the overall probability that the site will develop, and the potential for a "worse" dialogue if another developer comes in.

Retail: Agreed on all your points re: the struggling options on EW, Georgia, Etc. That said, if the intent is a "neighborhood store" and if we push for the "right" option I think it can be successful serving the new building, EVC, 8045, Spring Garden, Sheppard Park and possibly Blairs/Mica. If the developer has dropped the rate as noted a small place could succeed. I'd love to see a local version of soupergirl, but that's just my two cents.

Park at Site: agree that the county needs the revenue. I think the slide re: parks could have shown existing and proposed more clearly delineated, so no smart re-joiner here on that one. I think parks; pocket parks, urban parks, hardscape, etc are a significantly longer discussion than this one site, though my two cents (I'm up to 6 cents, right?) is that an acre park is not best use of the land, and we should push to ensure the 20% is desirable (however we ultimately define that).

Re: apartments and not condos - no idea what comstock is in (you've obviously looked at filings more than I), but I do think the current trend seems to be more apartments, perhaps juuuust now starting to see some condos again. I'm surprised they aren't pushing for some form of option to convert to condos should the market shift, but that's beyond my knowledge. Market research on their end? (shrug)

Ok, I'm off the soapbox. Next :)

by UP on Aug 21, 2012 9:10 pm • linkreport

@Scott

I think it's fair to say that residents are split on the merits of the proposal. Some want the property to be a park. Some want a building, but at a lower height. Some are basically fine with the building as proposed. And others seem to want nothing at all.

You could argue that "most" people oppose the project based on who was at the meeting, but then again, they're just a small portion of the neighborhood and (statistically speaking) may not represent the opinions of the community at large. As at any community meeting, those who come can devote the time and effort to getting involved, whlle the rest are either too busy, don't really care, or just don't know what's going on.

by dan reed! on Aug 21, 2012 9:37 pm • linkreport

The header is indeed misleading. The vast majority of attendees opposed to the project as proposed would be more accurate.

The developer has made adjustments, and deserves credit for that. However, unless the proposal changes even more significantly, a park would be far better for the community. Notions about how this 7-story building will somehow transform South Silver Spring into a bustling walking neighborhood and retail mecca are pure fantasy.

I hope that a building that is a better fit for the property, the block, and the neighborhood will be proposed. However, in the end this may be about money alone; how much does the developer need and expect to profit from this, and over what time period? To what degree, if at all, is the tax revenue needed? How does this balance with the real needs and concerns of the residents, and the community plans that have been laid out over years and decades?

by Rod Corriveau on Aug 21, 2012 9:41 pm • linkreport

Apartments V Condos - many developments that were first proposed as condos have since become rentals; the switches have happened before, during, and after construction. I live in one - the Galaxy was originally meant to be condos, but at some point the developer decided rentals made more sense.

NIMBYism & The Galaxy - So, my building cuts off the view of at least the bottom half of the Aurora condos, and the new Orion cuts off another side of the building for a few storys. Did anyone from the Aurora have much to say before this one was built?

Retail - No idea why everyone is including this in their buildings. Our's doesn't have a tenant yet; I think the Gramax still has a retail vacancy also.

The Pocket Park - Part of the objection may be related to not feeling the need. EVC has their entire entry area plus the roof. People from 8045 are a hop/skip/jump away from the new pocket park @ the Galaxy and the one in front of the Argent.

The Size (and pocket park) - Every new apartment building in town seems to be getting built with MPDUs, which means (if I remember the rules) that the buildings are larger than they would have been without the MPDUs. The current size may be related to that calculus, since including more MPDUs (which have some sort of a taz break?) also means more fully-priced units.

The height/size - People seem to want to live in Silver Spring, specifically downtown. I do not know the vacancy rates, but I do know that my building seems to be filling nicely and is less than a year old. The neighborhood and views are going to change; I think of this as the reality of life in an urban, transit centered area. Instead of advocating against height, please advocate for better designs (use where I live as an example of a pretty blah exterior). All of us in the blocks around here will be better off.

by gooch on Aug 21, 2012 10:04 pm • linkreport

I will preface my remarks by saying that I do feel kind of sorry for some residents of the area who thought that, once their building was built and they bought their place, the area would remain as-is forever (or, at least until they wanted to move). Buying a place is a really big financial transaction, opens people up to many risks, and ties them down in a way that renters don't need to be tied down. Once you own, better the devil you know instead of the devil you don't.

But...folks who bought a place there I hope looked into the area and found out what the area is zoned for. It's not zoned for crappy low self storage buildings. The area is planned for high (relatively speaking) density. In an area not only near a Red Line Metro stop, but also the Georgia Ave and 16th St bus corridors--very accessible for getting downtown. Folks who bought there who wanted lower density should have bought a place zoned for lower density. Silver Spring is the urbanized hub for northern east-of-the-park DC as well as SE MoCo. Expecting things to remain static was frankly a gamble.

Full disclosure: I live in North Takoma Park (a new resident), so easy for me to talk about development elsewhere. But, believe me, the Takoma Park NIMBYism drives me up a tree too.

I think it's great that the developer is making at least some attempts to make neighbors less unhappy. I hope there's a way for the development to be worthwhile and move as much as possible toward the neighbors' desires. But, unfortunately, the area is zoned for high density; expecting neighboring properties to remain low density is not a winning strategy.

by EMD on Aug 21, 2012 10:44 pm • linkreport

I'm puzzled by the bizarre "this should be a park, not a several hundred million dollar residential building" notion that a few of the referenced opponents seem to be pushing. I like parks, too, but that isn't exactly a realistic option unless you get a DeLorean, go back several years to re-zone the parcel to not allow residential development at this density, and get the developer to accidentally drive his hot-rod into the back of a manure truck.

by worthing on Aug 22, 2012 10:05 am • linkreport

At this point, I hope that the neighbors opposed to the project will wise up and focus on aspects of the project they may actually have influence over, such as the setbacks, design of the building, etc. Opposing the project full stop is a complete waste of their time. This parcel is ALREADY zoned for a large apartment building. It's not as if the developer is requesting a change in the zoning. If you are worried about losing sunlight in your condo, then wsork with the developer on the design of the building to minimize this. It sounds like Comstock is willing to at least hear the community's concerns, which is much more than can be expected from many developers.

Also, as @EMD said, when you purchase a home, the onus is on you to investigate what is planned (and what is possible given current zoning and neighborhood trends) for the surrounding area. If you are not okay with the possibilities, then do not buy that property. I don't feel sorry for anyone who buys a home next to a parcel zoned for multifamily (or along the proposed Purple Line right-of-way) and then gets upset when these projects actually happen. Downtown Silver Spring is a major urban area - it's highly likely that most of the lower-density properties (the auto repair shops, Days Inn, etc.) will be redeveloped at some point, even if current zoning does not permit higher-density uses.

by Rebecca on Aug 22, 2012 11:00 am • linkreport

For those unaware, Comstock was asked multiple times to reduce the building to 4 stories before the public meeting and they did not. The meeting was mandatory not a kindness.

Dan didn't include that the context of the parties comment was due to the foreseen noise nuisance in such a confined area between the buildings. There would be walkout patios not private decks or terraces where noise could easily reach the bedroom windows 25 feet away.

When owners buy they have faith that the County will protect them from oversized structures being built on small lots.

by DMB on Aug 22, 2012 12:50 pm • linkreport

@DMB

Comstock is obligated to hold public meetings, but they aren't required to make the building shorter just because the neighbors told them to. Not only is it allowed under current zoning, but as Schmitz explained at the meeting, they need a certain amount of rental income (hence a certain number of units) for the project to work. They appear willing to work with the neighbors on many issues, but there are some non-negotiables.

As for the patio complaint: I think neighbors need to be realistic about where they live: in an urban area. I grew up in DTSS, and I spent the past two years in a house in Philadelphia that was maybe 6-7 feet away from a 5-story apartment building. Yeah, space is limited, and sometimes there's noise, and you may not always get a lot of privacy. But in return you get all of the amenities and convenience of living in a city. Personally, I think that's an acceptable tradeoff.

Not that there aren't things that can be done to reduce noise and increase privacy — the space between Boulevard and Newell will be heavily landscaped, according to the landscape architect. The neighbors would do well to ensure they follow through. After all, there might be some loud folks in Eastern Village, and new residents of the Boulevard may not want to hear them when they're trying to sleep.

by dan reed! on Aug 22, 2012 1:27 pm • linkreport

Make that "between Boulevard and Eastern Village." My bad.

by dan reed! on Aug 22, 2012 1:28 pm • linkreport

However, unless the proposal changes even more significantly, a park would be far better for the community.
This cracks me up. Apparently, the people who have already bought housing in the area ("the community") would prefer that (a) as few people as possible who haven't already bought be able to live there, and (b) the remaining land (that isn't theirs) be put to the least possible use. Like a park! Since the nearest large park is a full quarter mile away. (The next closest one, much larger, is three quarters of a mile away.)

by Gray on Aug 22, 2012 3:38 pm • linkreport

I am an owner in 8045 Newell and I am 100% in support of the neighboring development. I may even be the one person that sk3 is refering to in an earlier comment. Regardless, I firmly believe in matter of right. The development team owns their land and it is their right to develop what zoning codes allow.

To sk3,I assume that you live in 8045 and if so, you were never guaranteed your views or your light. As a matter of fact those were always at risk due to the nature of the adjacent property and the possibilty that it could one day be developed. I am sorry that you purchased that property with the impression that your views and light would stay intact but unfortunately that is not the case.

The neighboring development is going to happen regardless of any objections that "the community" may have. I believe that the best solution would be to work with the developers and architects to ensure that what is built is an enhancement to the community.

One more item to note, sk3, 8045 is actually 6 stories high as an earlier comment noted. The ground floor + 5 above that.

by Jimmy C on Aug 22, 2012 8:28 pm • linkreport

Here are my reasons as a 8045 Newell resident as to why I support this project.

I believe this project is in the best long-term interests of South Silver Spring and Silver Spring as a whole. It will bring more people to our community, helping us support more businesses within walking distance, while also helping to keep more eyes on the street to better ensure the safety of the community.

It is true that this project alone can’t bring more walkability and amenities to South Silver Spring, but it is just one piece in ongoing development efforts in the area. Two new buildings have come online on 13th St. this year, and another building right across Georgia from 13th is well underway. The motels on 13th street will most likely be redeveloped within the next 10 years, and the rest of East-West past The Veridian and Discovery’s second building will be redeveloped as well.

South Silver Spring is in its infancy as a community. We can’t stop revitalizing it now after coming so far. We need additional investment, and this new project on Newell brings that.

Much of the retail on East-West sits vacant. We don’t have enough people living in the area to support retail there, especially with competition from Georgia Ave. and Ellsworth. Each new building allows us to support more retail, making our streets and community more lively.

I’m extremely excited to a see a major tenant moving into East-West later this year. It’s no coincidence that after several new buildings were completed that more tenants started to show up.

The plot of land for this proposed building also sits about a half mile from a red line metro stop. Land that close to the metro stop should be developed. Otherwise, land farther out will be developed, increasing sprawl, putting more cars on the road, lengthening people’s commutes, damaging the environment and making it harder to support walkable communities.

Many of us moved to South Silver Spring for a walkable neighborhood close to a metro stop. We want to see South Silver Spring become an even better, more walkable community.

But you can’t build a great community overnight. South Silver Spring has come a long way from where it was 10 years ago and progress is ongoing. We’re not done yet, but we’re getting there. More people in our community is the right prescription to keep our neighborhood healthy and to allow us to support more amenities within walking distance.

I don’t doubt that some people feel this new development will harm them. I disagree that it will, but it’s possible that increased vitality in our neighborhood will not outweigh the loss of views for them. For South Silver Spring as a whole, however, this development and the other developments underway are most welcome.

In the end, my concern is and always has been for Silver Spring. It always will be.

Let’s build a better community.

by Patrick Thornton on Aug 22, 2012 11:05 pm • linkreport

Thorton+1
The South Silver Spring commercial strip that bleeds into Shepard's Park is worth developing into a proper neighborhood main street. Adding more density here is not only smart growth, but will continue this area's attractiveness to business.

by Thayer-D on Aug 23, 2012 6:53 am • linkreport

Frankly, I think this kind of development is great for the neighborhood - it used to be pretty crappy, in fact, and now there's a lot of thriving business in the greater downtown area, which was wasted space before. We owe it as stewards of the land to develop responsibly in areas that are already dense and to stop the nasty sprawl outward.

No one ever guaranteed you that your neighborhood or view wouldn't change. That is the nature of cities - things are developed, and redeveloped, businesses open or close, and things shift. Personally, I would be happy that it's a thriving apartment building coming into an area that needs more housing, not the sort of businesses that downtown silver spring used to have. I grew up there. I remember it.

Also, for GOODNESS SAKE - you MOVED INTO A NEW CONSTRUCTION BUILDING (2005). Did you really expect that no one ELSE would EVER build a new construction building nearby? Don’t try to pretend as RESIDENTS of 8045 NEWELL that this is some kind of horrible issue of evil development taking over a long term, established community with established views – YOU are not a long term, established part of that community. AND your ugly siding monstrosity of a building is definitely in front of someone else’s view.

[Deleted for violating the comment policy.]

by Trixie on Aug 23, 2012 10:12 am • linkreport

As a resident of south Silver Spring for the past 19 years and someone who does NOT live at 8045 Newell, I am vehemently opposed to the development of a residential building at the proposed location.

With a long history in the neighborhood, I also remember when East West Highway was auto dealers, gas stations, a "kiss and don't tell" motel and other less desirable commercial strips. Back in 2000, I was definitely in favor of the zoning change that made density in south Silver Spring a worthy goal. Land should be developed or conserved, according to its best use.

Yet as a long-termer, I have seen too many places gobbled up for the sake of development without much real return on investment to give back to the community. Over the past 12 years, I can count about 10-12 buildings that have been built. True, these buildings have to contribute 20% of open space back, but the spaces we are given don't function as parks. Instead, we get concrete slabs. Acorn Park has - three or four benches (at most) - and is mostly wood chips and a huge hole that does not function for shared community space.

I am disabled and can't get to Jessup Blair and can't drive to Rock Creek. Yet it would be nice to see a few patches of green where I can get some fresh air. I was pleased to see in an earlier post about a possible big patch of green at the Giant parking lot at the Blairs (where I live), but I honestly can't see where people would put their cars or shopping at Giant, while this proposed park might take formation. Further, Giant probably doesn't want to give up the business and dollars it loses from two years of park reconstruction on their doorstep (I say two years - we know everything takes too long to be built in Silver Spring, ie. the Transit Center).

The Silver Spring of auto dealerships and commercial strips are gone - good riddance. But I live in south Silver Spring because it is a walkable community. I do not understand why it is valuable or worthwhile to make south Silver Spring the next Manhattan or Columbia Heights with the density that comes from over-development.

A few other (scattered) points:

1. There seems to be the misconception that increasing the population will be a generating factor for increased retail development. This is a fallacious argument since "build and they will come" has never worked in economic development. With all of the buildings in the vicinity of south Silver Spring, there is sufficient demand for the retail space in the vacant stores on East West Highway. The Downtown Silver Spring website reports that about 32,000 people are within a one-mile radius of downtown.

So with 32,000 people in that one mile circumference and we have commercial vacancies? Adding more people to the mix to generate commercial traffic? I don't get it - there is a market already. Rather, it is more the commercial rent prices that dictate business location behavior. If you can pay the commercial rent price and have a good idea, then people will come to you from wherever they live (why is Fajita Coast or Crisfield - the latter my favorite haunt).

2. I don't live at 8045, as I said before, but the building as far as I can see (since I live in the Blairs) does not face anyone else's view - it faces the garage on Kennett, Kennett St and the storage building. Those who live there have every right to be concerned about their line of vision. I agree that no person is ever guaranteed anything, but property values at 8045, Eastern Village, Silverton, and Aurora do decline when there is additional housing on the market. It is not just a matter of the folks at 8045 alone; instead, it is a community concern to worry about declining property values. The more housing in the neighborhood, there will be a bidding war for space and will result in deflating values. I ought to know how real estate markets works, I did property tax assessment work in Virginia before retiring.

3. People can live and do what they want in their private homes as much as they want - I am libertarian this way. But the patio argument against the new building, I would gather to guess, is made because there is something called public nuisances that the County ought to protect people against. A park brings its own set of noise and maintenance issues, granted, but it is the likelihood of lack of privacy and drains on the infrastructure that I think the 8045 residents are complaining about.

by TheGoodOldDays on Aug 23, 2012 11:02 am • linkreport

@TheGoodOldDays

Wouldn't your "libertarian" argument extend to preserving property rights, like the right of a developer to buy property and build on it?

by dan reed! on Aug 23, 2012 11:17 am • linkreport

Well,

A. a presence of commercial vacancies doesn't mean that there isn't demand for more commercial activities/space.

B. wondering about where people will park to go to giant is a red herring that has little to do with this development in particular. Same with complaining about the set up of current parks. If you want a good park then advocate for a good park rather than point out other failures.

C. Anything can cause housing values to fluctuate. If you buy a property today and try to sell it tomorrow then you may have an issue. If you don't plan to sell for the foreseeable future then you worrying about a marginal shift in equity that you don't plan on using. Moreover, how does "bidding over space" lead to "deflating values"?

D. We have a much more effective way of dealing with public nuisances than pocket parks and rules that prevent balconies. It's called the police.

by drumz on Aug 23, 2012 11:19 am • linkreport

Dan - I don't think you fully read my sentence. I said, "people can live and do what they want in their private homes" ... privacy in one's own home is where I suggest freedom is unlimited. But it does not extend to a developer to buy property and build on it without regard to the interaction a property has on its public neighbors.

I think that by picking this one little piece up, you actually are making a unnecessary distraction from the large point about the appropriate role for the County to address public nuisances.

by TheGoodOldDays on Aug 23, 2012 11:25 am • linkreport

@TheGoodOldDays

From the Libertarian Party platform:

"Property rights are entitled to the same protection as all other human rights. The owners of property have the full right to control, use, dispose of, or in any manner enjoy, their property without interference, until and unless the exercise of their control infringes the valid rights of others."

(You and I might disagree on whether building an apartment building infringes on the property rights of residents of an adjacent condominium, but the libertarian view on it is clear.)

And regarding what constitutes a public nuisance, this is from the Montgomery County guide to code enforcement:

"PUBLIC NUISANCE - Examples of public nuisances are:
™ Vacant and unsecured buildings, unprotected or abandoned wells, open shafts, open
basements, excavations, unsafe fences, unsafe stairways and unsafe steps;
™ Structures which are unsanitary, littered with rubbish or garbage, used for outdoor
storage or abandonment of appliances [for more than two (2) days], or equipment,
which poses a threat of injury or danger to life;
™ Severely deteriorated, dilapidated, structurally unsafe or fire-damaged buildings or
dwellings;
™ Sanitary sewage and plumbing facilities that are not functioning properly;
™ Any condition that results in substantial damage to another property;
™ Any condition that is unsafe, dangerous or unhealthful to occupants, neighbors,
employees, or visitors, guests and tradesmen."

Where in that does it say a building with a patio 30 feet away from another building is a public nuisance?

by dan reed! on Aug 23, 2012 11:34 am • linkreport

Again, the county's way of dealing with public nuisance's is the police.

by drumz on Aug 23, 2012 11:43 am • linkreport

It seems that Drumz makes a few missteps on economics.

A. Let's think of things in this way:

If a parking lot has 20 spaces and only one is taken, you have 19 spots that need to be filled. If people aren't taking those 19 spaces, it is possible that they aren't doing so for any number of reasons. Adding another 20 parking spaces to 40, doesn't mean that there will you can generate demand for 39 spots, when you could not even generate demand for the other 19 spots that existed in the first place.

B. You suggest that it is a red herring to complain about the set up of current parks. Further, you state, "if you want a good park then advocate for a good park." So, there is a contradiction between the argument that "South Silver Spring needs better parks, not more" - which complains about the set up current parks - a sentiment that you agreed with earlier - and the idea that there should be a park on the proposed site and there is advocacy for those effort. How is what the pro-park position - of which I do not know the particulars - anything more than the advocacy of a good park which is a position you suggest instead of complaining about 'red herrings" ?

C. Not sure how long you've been in Silver Spring, but assessed property values in the area have declined by 15% average in the last two years, even with all the recent residential growth in the area.

In the long-run, property values do go up. But while I've been in Silver Spring for 19 years, there are a significant number of transients to the DC region, so they may not see the real growth rate of their investment, since they will be leaving the market.

Going back to the bidding war question, I don't think you fully grasp about how increasing demand forces prices down as suppliers try to meet consumer need. If there is no bidding war, increasing demand with an effect that pushes prices up means that only those with means can pay the price, a slimmer number of people, effectively leading to the gentrification and displacement of long-termers. I think that the presence of long-termers (myself humbly excluded) creates neighborhood stability and is desirable.

D. Public nuisance laws are always parts of zoning codes. It is not just the police that enforce this. Nuisance codes can also address environmental issues that the local police don't have jurisdiction to fight.

by TheGoodOldDays on Aug 23, 2012 11:56 am • linkreport

Ok,

A. That's the argument you made. You said that since current spaces aren't filled why are we allowing more? How is that a sound economic argument? Why are you assuming only one variable? There is a house for sale on my block yet there is a second house being built down the street? Shouldn't we mandate that someone purchase the first home before building the second?

B. If your argument about why a building shouldn't be built includes talking about a proposed park somewhere else on a different property then yes, I'm pretty sure that's a red herring.

C. Clearly the lower assessments are due to all the people moving in and not the huge effects of the national housing bubble being burst and the foreclosure crisis.

D. Too bad that the patio argument was purely about noise/privacy and not environmental reasons.

by drumz on Aug 23, 2012 12:03 pm • linkreport

If property values are declining in Silver Spring, it's probably because the neighborhood is full of the sort of people that oppose patios - since they're rising in the rest of the area and there is a clear and obvious demand for more metro accessible housing units by DC, in particular if the ones in DTSS are reasonably affordable.

Of course, it's also possible that they're "declining" not because there's no demand but because they were egregiously over inflated to begin with. That's just economics evening out, and it has nothing to do with there being a lack of demand for these apartments.

by Trixie on Aug 23, 2012 12:23 pm • linkreport

I believe it was stated that assessments are declining - dont assesments usually lag the market?

by AWalkerInTheCity on Aug 23, 2012 12:50 pm • linkreport

In my opinion, this argument will not end unless both parties will sit down and discussed the matter calmly. Look at the different advantages and disadvantages of having this proposed building. I suggest both of them should meet halfway. The developer should give up some of their proposal as well as the residents. But if this strategy will not resolve the arguments, I think it will be best to consult a lawyer.

by arci tinio on Aug 28, 2012 4:58 am • linkreport

a day late & a dollar short: silver spring has been ruined by mindless over development. the area already has too many apartments with high rents. it's hard to believe the average rent in the us is $600. the rents in silver spring approach those in santa monica. some of these bldgs have already changed hands and it's obvious some will end up in bankruptcy r rescued failures like 1200 blair. this is not surprising since the montgomery county government can't even synchronize traffic lights.

by chilibean on Nov 29, 2013 1:25 pm • linkreport

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