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Silver Spring school leaving, could become 75 homes

With most of their students coming from outside Montgomery, the Chelsea School will leave Downtown Silver Spring in 2012 and has sold their property on Pershing Drive to a local developer hoping to build up to 75 new townhomes there.

Chelsea School site
The Chelsea School's five-acre campus in Downtown Silver Spring at Ellsworth Drive and Cedar Street. Image from Bing Maps.

Representatives from the private, special-needs school met with neighbors at a meeting of the adjacent Seven Oaks-Evanswood Civic Association last week, according to minutes provided to us by the organization's secretary. The Chelsea School explained that all but one of their ninety students commutes from Prince George's County or the District of Columbia, whose school districts pay for their education there.

Just two years ago, the school launched a massive capital campaign to build a library designed by starchitect Daniel Libeskind, but the economic downturn has forced them to close entirely. Instead, they'll teach from within public schools closer to where their students live.

As a result, the Chelsea School sold their five-acre campus near Pershing Drive and Cedar Street to Bethesda-based EYA. The developer's reputation for quality urban redevelopment projects in Silver Spring and throughout greater Washington was a factor in the school's decision to sell to them.

These school buildings on Pershing Dr. would be demolished. Image from Google Street View.

Representatives from EYA were also there to discuss their initial ideas about the project. They'd like to see a mix of seventy-five single-family homes and townhomes on the Chelsea School property, which is more than the current zoning would allow.

The site presents multiple challenges to designers, including steep slopes, a stand of trees close to Ellsworth Drive, and a number of existing buildings, most of which would likely be demolished, they explained. However, EYA would preserve the historic Riggs-Thompson House (PDF) on Pershing Drive, which dates to 1858 and is currently used by the school.

The Silver Spring Historical Society would like to see the house restored and used in "some public capacity," says president Jerry McCoy. "It is the society's hope that any project plan for the Chelsea School property will include ... plenty of green "breathing" space around the property to 'approximate' its historical setting," he wrote in an e-mail.

The developers compared their ideas for the Chelsea School site to projects they've built nearby, including the Cameron Hill townhouses at Colesville Road and Second Avenue, the Brownstones at Wheaton Metro, and the ongoing redevelopment of the National Park Seminary on Linden Lane. Each of their communities feature homes unique to that project, they explained, and anything built here would be designed specifically to fit with that neighborhood.

Another precedent EYA mentioned was Clarendon Park, a townhouse development near the Clarendon Metro station in Arlington. Like the Chelsea School site, Clarendon Park serves as a transition between a business district and a neighborhood of single-family homes. Here, Craftsman-style rowhouses sit behind a large mixed-use complex called the Market Common, with a large park sitting between them and existing homes.

Clarendon Park, an EYA development in Arlington.

Nonetheless, residents had concerns about the amount of traffic the new homes could create, and if existing trees on the property could be saved. EYA was unclear about whether they could save any trees on site, but they suggested that some open space could be set aside along Ellsworth opposite the current Silver Spring Library.

Some, however, are curious about the possibilities. "Five acres right next to [Downtown Silver Spring] should be used for higher density," says Liz Brent, who lives one block away from the school. As a real estate agent, she's familiar with EYA's work throughout the area. "We'd be lucky to have them, in my opinion," she adds.

Under current plans, the Chelsea School will stay in Silver Spring through the spring of 2012. Meanwhile, EYA will design the new project with community input and submit it to the Planning Department for approval, which will require re-zoning the property for townhouses. Construction could start as early as summer 2012 and finish within two years.

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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Dan, I think we must organize a group of Silver Springers to chain you to your computer and keep you from moving to Philadelphia. This story is just plain well reported and is a wonderful complement to your opinion and other work. (Fits in nicely with GGW in that regard.)

Or to put it another way, I would never see this level of quality in the Gazette. I wish I could do what you do.

by Gary on May 3, 2010 12:39 pm • linkreport

+1 to Gary!

I cringed when I saw the headline, but EYA seems to have a great portfolio of previous work. I hope the new project integrates well into the surrounding neighborhood and street grid.

by andrew on May 3, 2010 1:54 pm • linkreport

What a great opportunity for expanding the Silver Spring core to the northeast. If what EYA develops on this site is anything like their other work, it'll be a such a great addition. It seems like their ideas are perfectly in line with the urban design principles that we've seen in the community lately. Too bad it will also most likely add to the wealth of unaffordable housing in the area.

by ML on May 3, 2010 2:46 pm • linkreport

Yay. More homes federal employees can't afford.

by Redline SOS on May 3, 2010 4:00 pm • linkreport

Does this building extend all the way out to Ellsworth?

by Neil Flanagan on May 3, 2010 4:24 pm • linkreport, the school property?

by Neil Flanagan on May 3, 2010 4:28 pm • linkreport

Yes, the property goes all the way to Ellsworth, which runs across the top of the aerial photo above. You can see there's a stand of trees in the upper left corner - that's the side closest to Downtown Silver Spring and all of the shops and restaurants along Ellsworth. If they're going to keep those trees, it's likely that the new development will be oriented away from Ellsworth Drive.

As for the price of housing: Any development in MoCo with more than 35 homes will have to provide 12.5% subsidized affordable units, however, so there's a chance that a few lower-income households could live here as well. But, yeah, it'll be expensive. At least those of us who can't afford to live there (like me) can enjoy looking at it.

by dan reed! on May 3, 2010 4:32 pm • linkreport

This plan is perfect for Silver Spring. The more luxury homes that can be built the better. To attract a more upscale atmosphere to Silver Spring which will one day accomodate Wisconsin Avenue-class retail. And less kids in Downtown Silver Spring, especially if they come from outside the community, is always better. Silver Spring suffers from attracting crowds from rough places in PG and the East County. The immediate neighborhoods around Silver Spring are very stable. Lets keep Silver Spring local.

by Cyrus on May 3, 2010 4:45 pm • linkreport

You know, I live in East County. (I have a Silver Spring address, though.) Does that mean I'm not welcome Downtown anymore?

by dan reed! on May 3, 2010 4:47 pm • linkreport

This is a shame, I attended Chelsea and it made an enormous difference in my life. The buildings aren't the greatest, but they're filled with memories, student-made murals and signatures from the earliest classes to graduate from the school. I'll have to go back with a camera and try to take as many pictures as I can.

I wonder what will happen to the library's collection of yearbooks. This is devastating.

by Megan on May 4, 2010 10:27 am • linkreport

In a new development, Redline_SOS thinks that the housing market should revolve around him, rejects the notion of economic scarcity and disavows centuries of price theory.

by MPC on May 4, 2010 10:40 am • linkreport

My favorite price theory is sales price, and economic scarcity is more than a notion, it's a way of life! All kidding aside, there are still many bargains to be had in the Washington area. Capitalism's waste is socialism's subsidised market.

by Thayer-D on May 4, 2010 1:17 pm • linkreport

As a graduate of Holy Names in "59, lots of memories about the site abound. If a viable school there cannot remain, a mix of upscale homes and townhouses should be a welcome addition to the neighborhood. Keep some of those beautiful trees!!!

by Margie on May 16, 2010 9:59 am • linkreport

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