Greater Greater Washington

Development


Wheaton development a good example of urban infill

Infill development is fundamental to any region's sustainable growth and evolution. The Leesborough townhouse and condominium development in Wheaton exhibits excellent urban planning and creates a sense of place on the human scale.


Photo by the author.

In the long run, the region needs more urban-formatted infill housing in order to address its affordable housing problem.

In Montgomery County in particular, where a mere 4% of land is still available for greenfield development, and more space is devoted to roads and parking than to buildings, a growing population will have to be accommodated into existing areas. Well-designed infill can increase density without decreasing amenities and quality of life.

As a Wheaton resident, I enjoy seeing good transit-proximate walkable urban development in the area. In Leesborough, the Wheaton Metro Station is a 10-minute walk south on Georgia Avenue. The Y family of Metrobuses stops at the gate of the development, too.

In contrast to most housing developments in recent decades, the Leesborough development in Wheaton has a good sense of place with human-scaled complete streets. I was very pleasantly surprised when I took a walk through the nearly complete project.

While each townhouse has a two-car garage, it addresses car storage in an otherwise sensible, urban format. Rather than having wide streets with long driveways, the townhouses and condominiums in Leesborough address the street, which has parallel parking, while the garages around back open up to an alley, much like older row house neighborhoods in DC.

The rear placement of garages eliminates curb cuts from the primary streetscape. If you're walking from your house to the Metro on the sidewalk, you don't have to worry about getting hit by someone pulling out of their driveway.

The streets were built by the developer but will become public. If you visit a resident of the development by car, you won't have to worry about being towed like at most existing car-oriented apartment/condo buildings. It's like visiting someone in a traditional neighborhood.

The Leesborough development also boasts a small urban park. I live near this emerging community and I could walk to it and enjoy this common space. It's not gated or set back behind acres of parking.

Leesborough is not perfect, obviously. It is a single-use housing development. There is no neighborhood-serving retail like a convenience store or a dry cleaner. Like most new construction, it is also expensive. I wouldn't call it "affordable" in any way.

The affordable housing problem is not something that we can correct by waving a magic wand. It exists because there are more real estate customers who want transit accessible housing in walkable, urban-style developments than there are existing units.

Meanwhile, the collapse of resale values in many far-flung, car-dependent developments implies that there is more of this type of housing than the market demands. It took many decades to reach our current imbalance and the only way we can address it is to build more developments like Leesborough in closer, transit accessible neighborhoods.

Cavan Wilk became interested in the physical layout and economic systems of modern human settlements while working on his Master's in Financial Economics. His writing often focuses on the interactions between a place's form, its economic systems, and the experiences of those who live in them. He lives in downtown Silver Spring. 

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I wanted to like Leesborough, I really do. I've been several times and I've even been in the model houses. But I'm still very disappointed by the quality of the development. The homes try to mimic historic building styles but use cheap materials and sloppy detailing. The streetscaping is stingy - just look at the inches-wide strip of planting between the sidewalk and the curb. And the network of streets, while public, don't really improve local connectivity. A lack of connections to the north and the south (or, since Centex doesn't own those properties, stub-ends that could connect to future streets) will discourage walking.

This is good, but it could've been so much better. Just look at EYA's development at Arts District Hyattsville or, for that matter, any of their urban infill projects in Greater Washington. Or townhomes by Miller and Smith or Craftstar Homes, two other local builders whose houses sell for the same as Centex's did at Leesborough. Big builders like Centex have to step up their game if they want to sell this kind of product in the D.C. area.

Frankly, I wish Good Counsel High School had stayed in Wheaton rather than moving to Olney and selling its property which is now Leesborough. Wheaton needs housing, but it also benefitted from having large, public institutions that drew people from all over the county. And Good Counsel, in all its 1960's-era "Baby Boom Modernism" glory, looked a lot better than this stuff.

by dan reed! on Jan 31, 2011 3:51 pm • linkreport

You're right, there's no direct retail at this development. There is retail just south on Georgia (downtown Wheaton, restaurants, mall, etc). The Wheaton library is also just north of Arcola.

Jason Hunter
DeLuca & Associates Real Estate, LLC
Managing Broker: 301-445-2800
www.jasonhunter.org

by Jason Hunter on Jan 31, 2011 4:41 pm • linkreport

The developer had an opportunity to do something out of the box, but decided not to. Why not have a couple of retail shops facing Ga Ave? Why not have something more than a few puny trees? Why not use all those flat roofs for a solar option or roof deck/roof garden option?

I really don't see how they're going to get the premium price they're asking when they built something so decidedly uninspired.

by jag on Jan 31, 2011 5:15 pm • linkreport

I think the sidewalk planting strip was a poor idea. Treeboxes and larger front yards would have been better, especially with the emphasis on street parking.

by OctaviusIII on Jan 31, 2011 6:13 pm • linkreport

It's not perfect, but I agree with Cavan that it is a hell of a lot better that what normally gets done in Montgomery County. Look a couple miles up Georgia Avenue at Glenmont and pick a horribly designed, completely non-urban-despite-being-atop-a-Metro-Station housing development.

As far as Good Counsel, I say good riddance. I attended high school there. When they announced that they were moving about 9 years ago I asked how students like me who took public transit home from school would be accommodated. I believe the wording they used was that they were "moving away from that demographic." It's an awful school anyway.

by Dave Murphy on Jan 31, 2011 7:11 pm • linkreport

I actually live in this development - my house is in one of the pictures.

After looking all over the metro area, we decided that the price and proximity to the metro could not be beat when looking at new construction. You'd be hard pressed to find a 1br+den downtown for the same price as a 3 story townhouse here. The parking was a huge factor as well. We would not even consider anywhere that didn't deed two parking spots, and many of my neighbors wouldn't as well. That being said, we, and most of the neighbors I've talked to, think of this development as "5 year plan" houses. I.e. get in while the neighborhood is on the up, sit on the property for 5 or 6 years, build a bit of equity and then upgrade to an area like Bethesda, Potomac, or Chevy Chase where we can finally get a backyard (and a dog). Because, to be honest, who wants to raise kids in a townhouse? To that end, I'm glad to see the additional density, and the new sector plan. That will only drive up prices and make the investment better - hopefully in 5 years, the next generation of DINKS will be eager to move in...

by Wheatoner on Jan 31, 2011 7:55 pm • linkreport

I grew up in an apartment, and later a townhouse, in Silver Spring, and it suited us just fine. It was nice being able to walk to the grocery store or the Metro, and my parents spent a lot less time doing yardwork than they do today living in a single-family house. In West Philadelphia, where I live today, the rowhouses are a hundred years old and often don't have off-street parking (let alone garages), yet my neighborhood is filthy with kids.

And besides, why "upgrade" to Bethesda? Aren't there nice neighborhoods in Wheaton or Silver Spring for raising a family in?

by dan reed! on Jan 31, 2011 8:22 pm • linkreport

It's called laziness and just looking to make a profit, not caring about the actual product and smart growth/smart urbanism

by mikem on Jan 31, 2011 8:53 pm • linkreport

@Dave Murphy - Sounds like you had a bad experience at GC, for whatever reason. To say that GC is an awful school is ridiculous. They had to move because they needed the space, not because of the "demographic".

by Former GC Student on Jan 31, 2011 9:06 pm • linkreport

Also "Dan Reed" u need to stop taking things so personally, different people/hs schools have different goals and definitions on what it means to "move on up". So don't get easily offended when someone says that their dream is to live in Bethesda or Olney

by mikem on Jan 31, 2011 9:10 pm • linkreport

@ Former GC Student - i completely agree with you, Dave Murphy def has something against GC despite being a grown man at and should have moved on by on this point. GC moved to Olney for the following reasons
1. It wanted to have a large campus that would compete with other top private schools in the DC area that have large suburban campuses. This is Something that requires a lot space and the inner suburbs can't provide that.
2. It wanted to draw from a more affluent demographic to help pay for the facilities & scholarships for the kids who couldn't afford to pay tuition which I assume Dave Murphy was one of them, which explains his bitterness toward GC preppy transformation.

by mikem on Jan 31, 2011 9:38 pm • linkreport

@ Dan Reed -

Seriously? Why upgrade to Bethesda? You've been there right? Back when I was renting, I lived in Glen Echo and Chevy Chase, and it is simply on a different level. I really cannot think of anything in Wheaton or Silver Spring that is superior, well maybe Max's and Nava Thai, but seriously how many times can you eat there?

When we go out at night, rather than go to Silver Spring, we'll go to Bethesda or Rockville - there is a better variety of restaurants, much better shopping, it's clean, you don't get harassed on the street, and people don't yell at the movie screen. It's quite simply better in every way.

by Wheatoner on Feb 1, 2011 8:57 am • linkreport

Lol, Wheatoner, stop talking as if you're stating fact. I know a whole lot of people that would kill themselves rather than move to Potomac. Bethesda has a nice variety of restaurants in its older section, but Rockville? Come on. You're not thinking clearly or are sadly misinformed if you think Rockville has anywhere near the variety of restaurants that Silver Spring does - Silver Spring is more diverse than just about anywhere IN THE WORLD, much less in Maryland. Move to west county if you want, but don't be so arrogant (or retarded) as to think it's factually better than east county "in every way." Few people outside of baby boomer whites think that.

by Jacob on Feb 1, 2011 10:23 am • linkreport

@ Jacob - Yes, lots of people think like you, but then they grow up...

by Wheatoner on Feb 1, 2011 10:27 am • linkreport

God, I just re-read your post. How can you think there's better shopping in Rockville or Chevy Chase? Theres is next to no shopping in rockville or chevy chase! How can you think Bethesda has better movie theaters when that Wisconsin Ave. theater barely qualifies as one, compared to a 20 screen, IMAX Regal and the AFI! How is downtown Silver Spring not clean?! I seriously can't believe that you live anywhere near east county and you seriously have no idea what you're talking about.

For reference, I spent 8 years living in DC, 5 in Wheaton, then 25 in Rockville, and now 3 in Silver Spring. I'm not insulted that you like other areas of MoCo, I'm insulted at your arrogance and ignorance. I seriously haven't heard the crap you say about Silver Spring since racism/white flight were king. It really bothers me that you still exist.

by Jacob on Feb 1, 2011 10:34 am • linkreport

How can I think there is better shopping in Chevy Chase? Last time I checked there was no Bloomingdales, Brooks Brothers, Cartier, Ralph Lauren, Lactose, BCBG, Tiffany's, Williams Sonoma, Saks or Neiman Marcus in Silver Spring like there is in a two block stretch along Wisconsin Ave in Chevy Chase/Friendship Heights. "Next to no shopping"? That's just absurd.

by Wheatoner on Feb 1, 2011 10:44 am • linkreport

Uh, I give up Wheatoner, you just pointed to Friendship Heights and Friendship Village as proof that there's shopping in Chevy Chase? Whatever. As long as you don't try and defend the other crap you said, I'll let it pass.

EJ, I definitely agree with you (thus why I, personally, chose to live in Rockville for a large chunk of my life), but I don't pretend like my opinion is somehow factual. Crime was one reason why I moved to MoCo in the first place, but I don't denigrate friends who chose to stay in DC because I know that comparing DC to MoCo is apples and oranges, just like comparing mostly urban Wheaton or Silver Spring to mostly suburban Rockville or Chevy Chase is grapes and bananas.

by Jacob on Feb 1, 2011 11:03 am • linkreport

@ Jacob. You are showing your ignorance. Friendship Heights Village is Chevy Chase, as all of the USPS addresses in that area state - It's an unincorporated special tax district and it is bounded by Wisconsin Ave anyway (which would mean that Cartier Saks, Jimmy Chu, Barney's Lacoste etc, are all outside). Of all the examples I gave, only Williams Sonoma and Neiman Marcus are outside of Chevy Chase proper, but they are one block away in DC.

As for the movie theaters, 4 out of 5 times that I go to Silver Sping, movies are interrupted by cell phones, shouting at the screen etc. In fact, a woman brought an screaming infant into a showing of Legion last year (Rated R.) In the 9 or so years I've been going to movies in Bethesda stuff like that NEVER happens. As for restaurants, if you want a nice, sit down dinner in Silver Spring, you are limited to Rays, Jackies, and 8407 (which are all excellent), whereas in Bethesda you have many many more options. There are also interesting places to shop before and after, as opposed to the low brow offerings of Silver Spring, and finally I can't remember the last time anyone was shot to death on Bethesda Ave, which, unfortunately I can't say for Ellsworth.

by Wheatoner on Feb 1, 2011 11:18 am • linkreport

Ugh.

When was someone shot to death on Ellsworth???? Seriously??? How many times in the last 100 years has that happened?

I'm not even going to respond to you calling one of the richest zip codes in one of the richest counties in the richest country in the world "low brow" except to say, maybe you're missing out. If you don't like Regal (I personally just watch the "blockbusters" on bluray so you probably have more experience than I at regals) go to the AFI, which is arguably the best theater in the region. Or Round House Theater for a play. Or the Fillmore for a show, when it opens in a few months. I'm not a woman and I don't shop, but by what standard are Ann Taylor, Kibana, Ulta, New York and Co., Metamorphosis, etc. "low brow"? Silver Spring has plenty of other really good "sit down" restaurants (Pacci's, Olazzos (yes, bethesda doesn't have the only one), IKKO, Lotus, Sabroso, Crisfield, Mandalay, Sergio, etc.).

I'm done responding/reading the comments. But seriously, you need to check yourself. Bethesda is richer, but few people in the 21st century assign value to that the way you're doing. If you want to surround yourself with rich, white people, that's fine. But stop degrading everyone else in the world. We're not low brow just because we don't spend our time perusing Tiffany and Co. Have a good day.

by Jacob on Feb 1, 2011 12:17 pm • linkreport

@ Jacob. I believe someone was shot outside of AFI theatre 2 years ago if my math is correct

http://www.justupthepike.com/2009/11/man-shot-outside-afi-silver-theatre.html

by Mike on Feb 1, 2011 12:24 pm • linkreport

Yeah, I remember that - some punk that owed somebody money or something. He made up an elaborate story about how he was jumped out of the blue after walking out of Gold's Gym...only problem being that Gold's Gym has cameras and it quickly became apparent that he had never been in a Gold's Gym in his life. Not the sharpest tool in the shed. Anyways, not to make too much fun of the limp he probably has, but that wasn't on Ellsworth and that wasn't close to life threatening.

by Thayer Ave., too on Feb 1, 2011 12:47 pm • linkreport

I wrote that post about the shooting outside the AFI Silver Theatre. All I'm saying is that areas like Wheaton and Silver Spring will never get better as long as people consider them "low-brow" or as some kind of stepping-stone to Bethesda. Also, if we want to see even more developments like the one Cavan talks about (and ones of considerably higher quality) we want people to consider East County a place worth staying in. That's all.

In terms of food, however: if I want to spend a lot of money on food, I go to Bethesda. If I want a good meal, I go to Wheaton or Silver Spring. Rich white people are rarely, if ever, the best judges of taste. (Except for Anthony Bourdain, of course.)

by dan reed! on Feb 1, 2011 4:06 pm • linkreport

@ Dan Reed; and if a rich white person said that about a poor black person then he would be called a racist and a bigot but its ok for you to say it

by Mike on Feb 1, 2011 5:02 pm • linkreport

@ Wheatoner. I grew up in Bethesda, Rockville and Chevy Chase and now live in Wheaton - very close to Leesborough. All of these places have their upsides and downsides. I really like living in Wheaton for a bunch of reasons and I'm optimistic about what the future holds for redevelopment in the CBD. I have a young family and we live on a street with tons of other young kids, a lifelong resident who bought the house next to his dad (who still lives there), and just generally a great mix of different people. You're just squatting in Wheaton waiting to cash out in 5 years - that's fine. But in that case pick another screen name. Maybe Aspiring Bethesdian. Wheatoner does not fit you.

by Dave in Wheaton on Feb 1, 2011 5:32 pm • linkreport

Right, Mike (aka Wheatoner?), and if white people were enslaved and subsequently oppressed then that joke would be in bad taste. Sadly, us white folk haven't earned the right to be offended by such jokes.

I, of course, agree with everyone else that all areas have there pros and cons. DC v. MD, DTSS v. Rockville, etc. is all just personal preference and depends on what you value, personally. Of course there's no right or wrong and to think so is really, really weird.

by jag on Feb 1, 2011 5:48 pm • linkreport

Wanted to respond to something Dave Murphy said, "Look a couple miles up Georgia Avenue at Glenmont and pick a horribly designed, completely non-urban-despite-being-atop-a-Metro-Station housing development."

He's referring to neighborhoods that pre-exist the Metro station by about 30 years or more, per Wikipedia Glenmont was finished in 1998, just about 13 years ago, while there is some infill from the 2000's, most of Glenmont proper went in during the late 40's and early 50's, developments to the east in the 60's and 70's; with a healthy sprinkling of even older houses (some from the 19th century even). Any sort of expectation this bit of classic suburbia should be in any way urban at this point is foolishness.

by New Resident on Feb 1, 2011 8:33 pm • linkreport

I am one of those people who prefers Wheaton to Chevy Chase, Potomac, etc. I don't give a rip about overpriced luxury stores, or people who think they're really swell because they shop there. Why buy Chinese-made junk from Neiman Marcus when I can jaunt down to the American Apparel in downtown Silver Spring, or heck, even to the Unique Thrift store or Tuesday Morning in Wheaton. It's also a big plus that I can grab lunch in Wheaton without making reservations or taking out a loan. There's a hole-in-the-wall Ethiopian place on University Blvd that I'd take over any four-star restaurant in Chevy Chase. There's also a great Jewish pizzeria on Georgia...again, not much to look at, but food is great.

by akb79 on Feb 5, 2012 11:41 pm • linkreport

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