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How Silver Spring Park could be a good neighbor

Last night, East Silver Spring landowner Ulysses Glee discussed his plans for a mixed-use complex he'd like to build on the parking lot at Fenton Street and Silver Spring Avenue in East Silver Spring.

Eric from Thayer Avenue live-tweeted the proceedings at the East Silver Spring Civic Association's monthly meeting. Those who don't live in East Silver Spring may know the lot as the site of Fenton Street Market, intended keep the seat warm until ground is broken later this spring.

Glee has talked about building on this site for a few years now. His latest proposal is renamed Silver Spring Park, after the surrounding neighborhood's historical name. It looks pretty good on paper. Compared to the original plan, however, it leaves a lot to be desired.

Until last summer, the development was known as the Moda Vista, a condominium with retail on the first floor and a swanky modern façade the likes of which we haven't seen much of in Silver Spring. Downtown has quite a few modern buildings, but very few good ones.

A 2007 rendering of the Moda Vista. Image courtesy of DC Metrocentric.

The Moda Vista promised to activate busy Fenton Street's sidewalks with storefronts, while on Silver Spring Avenue, it stepped back to line up with the yards of adjacent houses and provide residents a little green space. It was a clever, versatile design, and one I looked forward to seeing.

Now, the program is much larger than before: fifty-eight apartments, seven of which would be subsidized by the County; 9,200 square feet of retail along Fenton Street; 22,000 square feet of office space; and a 110-room Fairfield Marriott hotel. This is a good thing, especially in a location just blocks from a major transit center, but it's now more difficult to make everything work together and with the neighborhood context.

All we have is a cell-phone photo of a printed flyer from the meeting, but you can begin to see what the complex's exterior will look like. There are now two buildings instead of one—the apartments are along Silver Spring Avenue, and the hotel on Fenton Street. It'll create a more varied and interesting streetscape, but it's also a thoughtful move for the adjacent single-family homes, which will be buffered from the busier street by the apartments, which in turn is buffered by the hotel.

I Like The Facade of 8525 Georgia

Count the vertical lines on the building above, located at Georgia and Wayne avenues. You need visual interest for buildings on the street where people will walk past - and if there's retail inside, you want them to walk as slowly as possible. Silver Spring Park's hotel and retail building, meanwhile, is awkwardly proportioned. Urban buildings, even modern ones, look and work better with vertical windows, not horizontal or square ones. The hotel façade looks flat and unadorned - better seen from a car flying down the highway.

Around the corner on Silver Spring, the apartment building doesn't meet the ground or the adjacent houses as well as the Moda Vista would have. Setting it back may no longer be feasible with a hotel sharing the property. But the ground floor should be elevated - not only because the building otherwise looks like it's sinking into the ground, but because people walking by now get a full view of first-floor apartments.

Montgomery Arms Apartments, Colesville at Fenton

This is the Montgomery Arms at Colesville and Fenton. Note how none of the apartments are directly at the sidewalk level - they're either a half-story above or below. No one can look inside without bending down or climbing up. At Silver Spring Park, you only have to look at the houses next door to see how living rooms should meet the sidewalk: either set back or elevated, giving those inside privacy from prying eyes.

You might say knocking Silver Spring Park's square windows is a little petty, but I can only criticize them because otherwise it's a great project in a great location. In fact, this is a better proposal than much of what we've seen in Downtown Silver Spring over the past several years. But changes should be made to let this complex blend in better with the urban context. Not only will it be a better neighbor, but it'll give those who sleep, work and shop inside a better experience.

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


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Just let them build the damn thing. Good Lord Stop complaining and nit-picking things to death for once.

by Dan R on Feb 23, 2010 3:09 pm • linkreport

Do I have a doppelganger?

by dan reed on Feb 23, 2010 3:11 pm • linkreport

What is a doppelganger?.... R is for Rykowski

by Dan R on Feb 23, 2010 3:29 pm • linkreport

Does every freaking new development in Montgomery county have to be over criticized... Now I see why Arlington/Alexandria have more successful development projects than Silver Spring, Wheaton, and Rockville over the last 20 years.....

by shan on Feb 24, 2010 12:03 am • linkreport

yeah, you people in montgomery county should stop paying attention to what's going on in your community. you liberals and your informed opinions...

by Tea Bagger on Feb 24, 2010 1:10 am • linkreport

One less glass box. Score one for nicely aging matrerials!

by Thayer-D on Feb 24, 2010 8:39 am • linkreport

Thank you thoughts exactly

by Dan R on Feb 24, 2010 11:59 am • linkreport

People in Washington are now afraid of "Glass Boxes" because they generally haven't been done well here. Taking the literal box cue as as many new and re-skinned buildings on K and L street downtown isn't the answer, but that's no reason to shy away completely from glass in favor of faux-historical. The 2007 rendering of Silver Spring Park at least provides a jumping point for something of modern interest. Pre-cast brick buildings don't age so well, either.

by David on Feb 24, 2010 1:49 pm • linkreport

oh right, the non faux historical glass box that's from the Bauhaus...of the 1920's. Yeah, and those unsightly brick cities like Siena and Boston??? There are many reasons to shy away from glass boxes, that's just one of them.

by Thayer-D on Feb 24, 2010 1:58 pm • linkreport

Thayer, you know very well that a brick and precast curtain wall has perhaps 10 years more life than a glass one. Especially now with better glasses and seals.

I think the glass one was a good box that feathered nicely into the neighborhood. The new one is not a blight, but it's not better in any way.

by Neil Flanagan on Feb 24, 2010 2:11 pm • linkreport

The plan goes before the Planning Board on March 4. The staff report and recommendation, including images of the proposed design, may be found via the Board's agenda page:

by Elza Hisel-McCoy on Feb 24, 2010 2:30 pm • linkreport

Fair enough Neil, you like chocolate I like Vanilla, it's the preaching about faux this and that that's a bit much.

As for feathering nicely into the neighborhood, glass or brick, the massing of the brick one does a much better job because unlike the glass one, it holds the Fenton Street wall before pulling back to the houses beyond as the glass one does although, it's not immediatley apparent from the photos.

As an aside, if we are really interested in building sustainably, we should be thinking in terms of 100-200 years, not 10.

by Thayer-D on Feb 24, 2010 2:31 pm • linkreport

More condos and apartments in SS? They just built 3 big-ass condo buildings all around my office on E-W hwy and they're all either empty or mostly empty...

by greg on Feb 25, 2010 1:01 am • linkreport

Thank you greg. Its like they refuse to support/allow construction of new office buildings in Silver Spring and Wheaton. Silver Spring and Wheaton already have several apartment and condo buildings that is very Expensive by the way, they need to now push for more office development and upscale retail to fulfill the so-called mixed-use environment that the Smart Growth supporters are always preaching about.

by shan on Feb 25, 2010 1:51 am • linkreport

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