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Posts about Silver Spring

Housing


More on why buying your first home in the DC region is so hard

For first-time homebuyers, saving up for a down payment or taking on another loan to buy a house can be all but impossible. But those aren't the only big challenges to buying a house. Here's how competing against buyers who can afford not to use a mortgage, risk having to pay for unexpected repairs after making a deal, or simply offer more than the highest amount you're willing to pay can mean more barriers for first-time homebuyers.


Photo by are you my rik? on Flickr.

Recently, the Washington Post reported that home prices around DC reached their highest levels in ten years thanks in part to low inventory, which means more bidders for fewer houses. And the low end of the market—the part within reach for many first-time buyers—is the most competitive.

Before my wife and I bought in East Silver Spring last March, I felt like we'd never be able to save enough for our first house. Saving for a down payment--budgeting every penny, turning down dinners out with friends, and moving further away from work and public transportation for cheaper rent--was daunting. Where we once thought that saving enough money was the only major hurdle to owning our own home, we soon discovered that the down payment was only the beginning.

You don't have to save 20 percent, but you do have to compete against those who have more cash on hand

A number of mortgage options exist for people like us who have good credit and a decent income, but who see a 20 percent down payment as an impossibility due to high rent and a lot of student loans.

Starting our search in Hyattsville, we knew we would be up against people making all-cash offersin other words, waiving their "mortgage contingency" and telling a seller they could pay the purchase price without getting a loan from a bank.


Photo by Violette79 on Flickr.

All-cash offers are appealing to the seller for three reasons. First, the seller doesn't have to worry about the buyer getting turned down for a mortgage. Second, the seller doesn't have to worry about the house appraising for less than the amount of the offer, which would cause the bank to reject the sale price. Third, with no loan for a bank to underwrite, buyers can close more quickly.

Though recent data show the proportion of all-cash offers has decreased in Prince George's County, in 2015 they still made up a quarter of all offers, give or take, in Prince George's, Montgomery County, and DC.

To minimize the advantages of an all-cash offer relative to what we'd be able to offer, my wife and I got preapproved for a loan with a community bank. Preapproval reduced the risk that our financing would fall through. We chose a community bank (instead of a credit union or a larger bank, like Wells Fargo) because it did its underwriting in-house. With fewer players involved, we would be able to close in far less time than would take other financed buyers.

Having gotten pre-approval, we found a real estate agent and began touring houses. After seeing ten houses or so, found one we were ready to make an offer on.

Escalation clauses advantage buyers who have more money for a down payment or who have been preapproved for a higher mortgage

An escalation clause is a section you can add to your offer that says your bid will automatically go up (to an amount you decide, of course) if someone else bids more. These can seem helpful for first time home buyers, as they allow you to make your offer competitive while ensuring that you bid the least amount possible to win.

In our first offer, we set an escalation amount--$1,000 over the next highest offer--and a ceiling price. Our ceiling was limited by our preapproval and how much money we had on hand to cover the larger down payment.

Ultimately, we lost to a more attractive bid. We felt like we had done everything we could, but that somehow, the next offer we wrote would have to be even more competitive.


Photo by Vicki on Flickr.

Removing the inspection contingency is a risky strategy for a buyer who can't afford unexpected repairs after closing

Typically, offers include an inspection contingency to make sure that the house is sound and that big ticket items, like the roof, don't have to be replaced immediately. After a home inspector writes her report and before closing, the buyer and seller can negotiate the cost and responsibility for repairing any issues.

The inspection contingency protects the buyer and allows her to walk away if the seller won't address critical fixes. Like the mortgage contingency, some people waive the home inspection to make their bids more competitive.

Neither my wife nor I wanted to forgo an inspection because we knew it would take time to rebuild our savings after closing and we wouldn't be able to afford a large repair right away. With our budget, we were looking at older houses that would likely need something fixed. Someone planning to flip a house wouldn't have these concerns.

We ended up waiving the inspection contingency after all, but only because the sellers let us inspect the house before we put in an offer. If it had revealed major issues, we wouldn't even have written one, instead eating the cost of the inspection. Luckily for us, the house didn't need any major repairs, and we were able to write a winning offer.

Even if different mortgage options make it easier to save for a down payment, the risks others are willing to write into their offers makes it hard for first-time buyers to be competitive.

In some cases, competing homebuyers may be more able to waive the mortgage contingency or the inspection contingency and shoulder the risk of coming up with the full cost of the house or major repairs. In a bidding war, people with more money up front may be able to escalate their bid to a higher price. Each of these may be more appealing to a seller than a traditional offer that is dependent on a mortgage or a home inspection.

I looked for data on how often homebuyers use escalation clauses and waive inspection contingencies, but couldn't find any. Have you used them, or lost out to to them? Share in the comments below.

Bicycling


When bikeshare stations are near Metro, more people use them... especially if they're outside of DC

Bikeshare can help get people to a Metro station when they live or work too far away to walk there. As a result, the region's busiest Bikeshare stations are next to Metro, especially outside of DC.


The CaBi station at the Pentagon City Metro. Photo by mariordo59 on Flickr.

Although some people do use bikeshare as their primary mode of getting around the same way others use bus and rail transit, one of bikeshare's most important functions is to act as a first and last mile connection, meaning people take it to and from home and wherever they board another service. That's where bikeshare has the most benefit when it comes to increasing transit access and use.

The graph below takes a look at how many of our region's Capital Bikeshare (CaBi) stations are located near Metrorail and how many trips begin and end at those stations. As you can see, CaBi stations near Metro are more active than those that are not:


All charts by the author.

Nearly a third of our region's CaBi stations are within a quarter-mile of a Metro station, but nearly half of all trips begin or end at them. Also, 8% of CaBi stations are located at the Metro (I determined by counting the stations whose names include a Metro station name), and 9% of all trips begin and end at them.

To dig deeper into different parts of the region, I divided the region into geographic clusters: In Montgomery County, there's Rockville, Silver Spring/Takoma Park, and Bethesda/Chevy Chase/Friendship Heights; In Arlington County, there's North and South Arlington (with Arlington Boulevard being the dividing line); there's also Alexandria, and of course DC. Prince George's doesn't have any CaBi stations yet.

The CaBi stations near Metro in DC see slightly more use than the stations that aren't near Metro. But in the clusters outside of DC, CaBi stations near Metro see much more use than ones that aren't. In fact, while 26% of CaBi stations in these clusters are within a quarter mile of Metro stations, 45% of all trips start or end there, and while only 10% of CaBi stations in these clusters are at the Metro, they account for 21% of all trips.

Since so many people outside of DC use Metro to commute, we would expect CaBi stations near Metro to capture both local users and commuters and for their overall use to be proportionately higher than the stations farther from Metro. That's the case just about everywhere—for instance, in South Arlington, 18% of CaBi stations are within a quarter mile of a Metro station, however these stations account for 39% of all the trips in that cluster.

Similarly, 5% of the CaBi stations in South Arlington are at Metro stations, but they account for 20% of the total trips. Curiously, the CaBi stations a quarter mile from Metro stations in Alexandria have proportionally fewer trips, but those at the Metro station have proportionally more trips.

Bikeshare at transit stations provides another mode for people to travel to and from the transit station, introducing another opportunity to increase the level of activity in a specific area.

It's likely that CaBi stations at Metro stations outside of DC have higher levels of use because they serve not only people in specific neighborhoods, but also people who use the Metro system. Although it seems intuitive that people using bikeshare at a Metro station would also use Metro, the available the CaBi data do not include the exact reasons why people are using specific CaBi stations.

As other jurisdictions in the region look to start their own bikeshare systems, it would be wise to not only place stations at and within a quarter mile of Metrorail stations, but also to use a bikeshare system that is compatible with CaBi. Doing so would open up the number of potential bikeshare users to not only people in the neighborhood, but to everyone with access to the Metro system.

Development


Silver Spring's most prominent corner could get a new hotel

For decades, Silver Spring's most prominent intersection has been home to a gas station and a giant blank wall. Soon, a new hotel could fill this hole in the urban fabric.


Looking at the proposed hotel from above. Images from the Montgomery County Planning Department unless noted.

County planners are currently reviewing a proposal to build a 173-room hotel at the corner of Georgia Avenue and Colesville Road, two blocks from the Silver Spring Metro station. The hotel is geared towards long-term travelers, containing studio apartments with kitchens and a handful of one- and two-bedroom suites.

The proposal includes some features that would be available to the public, including conference rooms, a rooftop deck and bar, and 4,000 square feet of ground-floor retail space, including a coffeeshop. The sidewalks around the hotel, which today are narrow and have lots of curb cuts for the gas station, would become wider and gain street trees, and there would only be a single curb cut on Colesville Road.


The corner today. Photo by the author.

Together, wider sidewalks and new retail will bring more street life to this stretch of Colesville, which is centrally located between the Metro and the AFI Silver Theatre, but has few reasons for people to stop.

The hotel will also have fewer parking spaces than the county requires, with 28 spaces instead of 89. Guests would instead have to park in one of the nearby public parking garages; in Montgomery County, developers can provide less parking if they pay a fee to the Silver Spring Parking Lot District. This allows hotel guests to use the parking that already exists in Silver Spring, as over 40% of downtown public parking spaces are empty at any given time.

Compared to the thousands of apartments that have risen in downtown Silver Spring over the past few years, a new hotel is a surprising twist. There are several hotels in the neighborhood, but the only apartment-style hotel is the Homewood Suites on Colesville Road. This could provide a new option for long-term travelers, like the visiting families of veterans recuperating at Walter Reed Hospital in Bethesda.


The proposed hotel seen from the corner of Georgia and Colesville.

We don't know who will operate the hotel, though Starr Capital's renderings look very similar to a Hyatt Place hotel that opened last year in southwest DC. However, the developer claims that the hotel design was inspired by the actual "silver spring" that town founder Francis Preston Blair discovered in 1840, with metal and glass panels that "[recall] the changing patterns of the shimmering rocks of the spring," they told the Planning Department.

The new hotel will cover up the 15-story blank wall of its neighbor, an apartment complex called Twin Towers best known for its funky, 1960s-era sign. But it'll create a new blank wall on its south side, where the adjacent building is just two stories tall. The developer proposes placing a large mural there, giving people walking up Colesville from the Metro something to look at.

Public Spaces


The difference between Maryland and Virginia in one photo

If you've ever flown out of National Airport, you might try to pick out the geographic landmarks you recognize: the Washington Monument, Rock Creek Park, or the Potomac River. Next time you're heading west, keep an eye on the river as it passes through Maryland and Virginia, and you'll notice one big difference between each state.


Virginia sprawl on the left, Maryland farms on the right. Photos by the author.

This is a photo I took Sunday morning when I flew to San Francisco. On the Virginia side, in Fairfax and Loudoun counties, there are all the typical signs of suburban sprawl: subdivisions, freeways, and shopping centers. On the Maryland side, in Montgomery County, there's...not very much.

That's because for over fifty years, Montgomery County has aggressively tried to protect its open space. In 1964, the county's General Plan said that growth should cluster along major highway and rail corridors leading from the District, and that the spaces in between should be preserved.

In 1980, the county made it official with the 93,000-acre Agricultural Reserve, which covers one-third of the county will remain farmland and nature forever. (Combine that with the county's 34,000-acre park system, and nearly half of the county is open space.)

That decision has lasting effects today. Montgomery County residents benefit from an abundance of open space for recreation, enjoying nature, and of course, keeping our air and water clean.

In order to preserve this open space, we have to accommodate growth elsewhere in the county, particularly in our town centers like Silver Spring, Bethesda, and Rockville. People who try to stop development in their close-in communities may not feel they benefit from open space 30 miles away. But the urban and suburban parts of our region benefit from the Ag Reserve too.


Allowing inside-the-Beltway communities like Bethesda and Silver Spring to grow lets us preserve open space.

Maryland has an abundance of green space thanks to dense urban development

By focusing growth and investment in existing communities, we get thriving downtowns that support local businesses and local culture, and less traffic as people who live closer in can drive less or not at all. We also spend less money building public infrastructure, like roads and utility lines, to far-flung areas, while generating tax revenue to support the infrastructure we do need. (And obviously, those places can and will have open space.)

This is the path Maryland, and Montgomery County, chose over 50 years ago. So far, it's working pretty well. And you don't have to get in a plane to see it.

Bicycling


Whether you're traveling from Virginia or Maryland, Capital Bikeshare isn't just for short trips

People often rely on Capital Bikeshare for short, local trips. But not always; lots of times, they use the system to travel a little farther. These graphs show how often people use Capital Bikeshare to go between different groups of stations in the region and where exactly they travel to and from.


A Capital Bikeshare station in Montgomery County. Photo by author.

When Capital Bikeshare first came to our region, the vast majority of stations were in DC and a few were in Arlington. As the system has expanded, so have options for traveling between places.

I wanted to analyze bikeshare trips between counties, cities, and the District, as well as trips within different parts of the same county but still outside of DC. To do this, I divided Montgomery County and Arlington County into what I'm calling geographic clusters: Rockville, Silver Spring/Takoma Park, and Bethesda/Chevy Chase/Friendship Heights for Montgomery County, and North and South Arlington County, with Arlington Boulevard being the dividing line. Then I looked at CaBi trips from between September 2013 and May 2016.

This graph shows how many trips from each of those clusters ended in another one:


All graphs by the author. Click for a larger version.

As you can see, the places closest to DC are the ones from which people take the most trips between clusters; about 36% of trips in North Arlington and 35% of trips in Bethesda/Chevy Chase/Friendship Heights end somewhere else, while only 1% of trips in Rockville end outside of Rockville. Among all the clusters outside of DC, approximately 30% of trips go from one to another.

A closer look shows that most of the trips from one cluster to another are trips to DC, but not all. For instance, 9% of the trips that begin in South Arlington are between clusters but do not end in DC.


Click for a larger version.

This graph shows where, exactly, most bikeshare users go from various clusters:


Click for a larger version.

Further examination of South Arlington shows that approximately 71% of the trips there are local, 20% end in DC, 4.5% end in Alexandria, and 4.5% end in North Arlington. Also notice that nearly 8% of trips starting in Alexandria and 4% of trips in North Arlington end in South Arlington. As an area that is adjacent to clusters that use bicycle share, South Arlington sees more bikeshare activity.

Similar to the dense bikeshare system in DC, bikeshare outside of DC serves mostly local trips. But that doesn't mean bikeshare doesn't have a regional value, as nearly a third of trips system-wide are between clusters. As bikeshare continues to expand in the region, municipalities, especially those near other places with bikeshare, like Mount Rainier, Hyattsville, or Langley Park, would see an increase in ridership if bikeshare users could access the regional system.

This data only shows individual trips and doesn't show the length of time of trips or whether the user has a causal or annual membership. Exploring this information, as well as specific bikeshare travel patterns in more suburban areas, would tell us more about how bikeshare fits in both the local and regional transportation system.

Housing


Some Silver Spring residents want a park instead of affordable housing

Montgomery County wants to turn the former Silver Spring library into affordable housing. Now neighbors are circulating a petition to make it a park instead, even though there's already a park next door.


The former Silver Spring Library. Photo from Google Street View.

Even before the Silver Spring Library moved to a new building last summer, Montgomery County has been trying to figure out what to do with its 1950's-era building and parking lot on Colesville Road.

In the past, Parks Department officials said they want to make it a recreation center. But that may not be necessary if the county goes with a proposal to build a bigger recreation center and aquatic center in a new apartment building a few blocks away.

This summer, county officials floated the idea of replacing the old library with affordable apartments for seniors and a childcare center. But some neighbors insist that the library become a recreation center and park, and are circulating a petition claiming that downtown Silver Spring has "no open space," that Silver Spring has enough housing, and that a park is the "green" solution.


Aerial of the former library site. Image from Google Maps altered by the author.

This isn't the first time some residents have raised these arguments, particularly when there's a proposal to build new homes. But Montgomery County has the right idea in using the old library for affordable housing.

You'd be surprised how much open space Silver Spring has

Would you believe me if I told you downtown Silver Spring had 38 acres of open space, or more than seven Dupont Circles? That's what the Montgomery County Planning Department found in a 2008 study of downtown green space.


Current and proposed "public use spaces" in downtown Silver Spring. Map from the Planning Department.

That number includes public parks, like the 14-acre Jesup Blair Park. But it also includes the open spaces Montgomery County requires developers to include in their projects, which has resulted in dozens of pocket parks and plazas, and even playgrounds around downtown.

Some of them are great, while others poorly designed and underused. But even the bad parks represent an opportunity to reclaim open space in downtown.

As a result of that 2008 study, county planners have encouraged developers to provide bigger parks, and now Silver Spring is poised to get them. A new, one-acre park will soon open at the Blairs as a placeholder for an even bigger set of parks. The Studio Plaza redevelopment off of Georgia Avenue will have a 13,000 square foot park.

There are also several public parks right next to downtown that are getting renovated or expanded, including Ellsworth Park and Woodside Park, or Fenton Street Park. Meanwhile, major regional parks like Rock Creek Park and Sligo Creek Park are two miles of downtown, giving urban dwellers easy access to nature.

Silver Spring still needs more new housing

Thousands of new homes have been built around downtown Silver Spring in recent years, and thousands more will come soon. That includes some buildings dedicated to affordable housing, including The Bonifant, which just opened this year.

But housing prices are already out of reach for many people and continue to rise. New two-bedroom apartments in Silver Spring can rent for upwards of $3,000 per month, while in the surrounding neighborhoods, some homes have quadrupled in value over the past 20 years.

Silver Spring has become an increasingly desirable area over the past 20 years. Even as new homes get built, they don't meet the demand from people who want to live here, so prices continue to go up. As a recent study from George Washington University notes, Silver Spring has remained diverse in spite of revitalization. That's partly because we do build new housing here, preventing the area from becoming even more unaffordable.

Building in downtown is the "green" solution

Today, the old Silver Spring Library is surrounded by a driveway and parking lots. Building here, on an already paved-over site, makes much more sense than paving over farms or forests. And building new homes here, in the middle of downtown Silver Spring, means that more people will be able to walk to shops and jobs and transit instead of driving long distances. Turning this site exclusively into green space means that existing green space somewhere else gets paved over.


New townhomes in downtown Silver Spring. Photo by the author.

Silver Spring prides itself on its progressive politics and embrace of diversity. But fighting all new development is not progressive and ultimately makes our community less diverse. As President Obama said last week, communities that fight new housing become more expensive, less equal, and lose tremendous amounts of economic productivity.

That's not to say that the old library should become housing with no open space. The site is shaped like an "L," meaning that county officials could decide that part of it becomes housing and the rest becomes an extension of Ellsworth Park. That could meet some neighbors' concerns about open space, while meeting the very real demand for affordable housing.

If you agree, we have a petition of our own that we'll send to the Montgomery County Council and County Executive Ike Leggett, asking them to support housing on the former library site.

Transit


So you've got a friend in town and they're really into trains. Here's where to take them.

Last year, we published lists of toys you could give to a young train buff and places you could take them to visit. But what about the railfans who are all grown up? Where are the best places to take adult friends to hang out, do some train spotting, and learn some rail history?


The Dew Drop Inn. Photo by Jonathan Neeley.

Restaurants and bars are a good start

Payton Chung suggests a few places in DC to check out. The Dew Drop Inn, located in the Edgewood neighborhood near Brookland, is named for a number of "Dew Drop Inns" across America. Housed in a rustic stone industrial building that was used as a workspace for stonemasons and metal workers, you can get a great view of the CSX, MARC, and WMATA tracks on the Red Line between the Rhode Island Avenue and Brookland stations when you're hanging out on the porch.

Along the H Street corridor, there's Maketto, a communal marketplace that's made up of two buildings with a courtyard, roof deck, and a catwalk that connects the spaces together. The catwalk has retail, a Cambodian/Taiwanese restaurant, and a cafť and bakery on the second floor where you can get a great view of the DC Streetcar.

In Maryland, Julie Lawson says to check out Lotus Cafe, a Vietnamese restaurant located in Downtown Silver Spring at the corner of Georgia Avenue and Sligo Avenue that overlooks the CSX, MARC, and WMATA tracks as they cross over Georgia Avenue. She says her son "loves to watch the trains there so I would assume grownup railfans might enjoy it for dinner too."


The view from Lotus Cafe. Image from Google Maps.

A short walk from Lotus Cafe, there's Denizens Brewing Company, located on East-West Highway on the opposite side of Georgia Avenue near the rail overpass. Dan Reed mentions that the place as an appropriately-named beer called "Trainspotting".

Walk around and explore

If you live near a rail line and feel like doing a little bit of exploring, a simple walk around is always a best bet.

Jonathan Neeley says there's plenty to see in his neighborhood, Brookland:

I like going on walks, and a lot of my friends do too, so I'd probably go with something simple like being sure to walk over the Michigan Avenue and Taylor Street bridges by my house, where you can watch trains come and go from far away. I'd probably also take them on a ride on the Red Line between Rhode Island Ave and Silver Spring just to see the graffiti.

Looking south from the Taylor Street bridge. Photo by Jonathan Neeley

The Washington DC Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society has a list of "railfan hotspots" located within two hours of the beltway that have a lot of rail activity and history.

One of these hotspots is Long Bridge Park in Arlington, which has an extensive railroad history and a name that's a reference to the railroad bridge connecting Washington with Northern Virginia. Chris Slatt mentions that the esplanade is a "top notch spot for viewing CSX freight trains, Amtrak trains, and VRE trains."


The esplanade at Long Bridge Park in Arlington, Virginia. Photo by Chris Slatt.

Another hotspot, this one suggested by Canaan Merchant, is Burke Lake Park in Fairfax County. The park has an attraction that young railfans, and even some grown ups, can enjoy. The Miniature Central Pacific Huntington Steam Engine is a new version of the original one-third scale replica that makes the rounds on its own narrow gauge 1.75 mile track.


The Miniature Central Pacific Huntington Steam Engine at Burke Lake Park. Photo by Fairfax County Department of Parks.

David Cranor adds "there are several rail trails in the area, but the W&OD really does the best job of celebrating that. There are old train cars set up along it and lots of historical information/markers about the railroad too." Payton also mentions that "a ride along the Metropolitan Branch Trail is also a good option; it even parallels the Acela tracks for a bit."

Our region also has quite a few museums and other attractions around that are good bets for taking train aficionados or folks who just want to learn more.

Canaan points us to the Fairfax Station Railroad Museum in its namesake location in Fairfax County. This museum has displays, activities, and events that help preserve local history and promote railroading—even "a couple of cars you can go inside." The station itself played a critical role in the American Civil War as an important supply and medical evacuation site where Clara Barton, founder of the American Red Cross, assisted in relief and evacuation efforts during the Battle of Bull Run in 1862.

The National Museum of American History in DC and the National Capital Trolley Museum in Colesville in Montgomery County are also great options for railfans who want to learn more history.

The new National Museum of African American History and Culture will have an exhibit dedicated to transportation and race, exploring how Jim Crow laws affected streetcar and railroad travel, as well as the history of Pullman porters and railroaders behind the scenes.

Are there any other places in the area you know of that would be good spots to take a railfan? Let us know in the comments.

Development


This is the best route for checking out DC's breweries

It's DC beer week, an annual event that celebrates local brewers, who add to the region's character and economy. There are ten brewers in DC plus one that's just across the border in Silver Spring. To see them all, I created what I'm calling the Washington Beer Trail.


Map by the author.

These are the breweries on the trail, which I selected by narrowing down Kate Rabinowitz's dataset of over 70 breweries and brewpubs around DC:

  1. Capitol City Brewing Company (1100 New York Avenue NW)

  2. District Chophouse & Brewery (509 7th Street NW)

  3. Bluejacket (300 Tingey Street SE)

  4. Bardo (1200 Bladensburg Road NE)

  5. Atlas Brew Works (2052 West Virginia Avenue NE)

  6. DC Brau Brewing (3178B Bladensburg Road NE)

  7. The Public Option (1601 Rhode Island Avenue NE)

  8. Right Proper Brewing Company (920 Girard Street NE)

  9. Hellbender (5788 2nd Street NE)

  10. Three Star Brewing (6400 Chillum Place NW)

  11. Denizens Brewing Company (1115 East-West Highway)

The inspiration for the beer trail comes from Dr. Randy Olson. Dr. Olson has gained notoriety for using genetic algorithms to compute the fastest road trips across the United States and Europe. While genetic algorithms are less necessary when you're mapping out 11 locations in a relatively small place, they're quite fascinating when you're thinking about, say, a road trip that spans a whole continent.

If seeing eleven brewers in a single day is not for you, or if you'd prefer to walk or bike between locations, a truncated version of the beer trail is also possible: Start at Bardo (#4), continue on to Atlas Brew Works (#5), skip DC Brau if navigating New York Avenue on bike isn't for you, next hit the The Public Option (#7), and finish at Right Proper Brewing Company (#8).

If you're hungry by the end, grab some fantastic Neapolitan pizza at Menomale at 12th and Franklin NE before you get to Right Proper.

All of these establishments are open on Saturday, and most stay open as late as 9 or 10 pm. Hellbender and Three Star, however, close much earlier at 7 and 5 pm, respectively. Plan accordingly.

Did I miss a brewery or your favorite brewpub? Should beer gardens and notable beer bars be included next year? Let me hear about it in the comments below.

The code and data I used to create the beer trail can be found on my Github.

Development


Scarred by urban renewal, Silver Spring's Lyttonsville neighborhood gets a second chance

Silver Spring's Lyttonsville neighborhood has a rich history, but urban renewal nearly destroyed it. With the Purple Line coming, this historically-black community could get a second chance, but not everybody looks forward to it.


Urban renewal nearly destroyed Lyttonsville in the 1970s. Photo by Alan Bowser.

Located west of the Red Line tracks from downtown Silver Spring, Lyttonsville is one of Montgomery County's oldest neighborhoods, founded in 1853 by freed slave Samuel Lytton. The area could soon be home to a Purple Line station if the light-rail line between Bethesda and New Carrollton opens as scheduled in 2022.

Over the past two years, Montgomery County planners crafted a vision for a small town center around the future Lyttonsville station, bringing affordable housing and retail options the community lacks. Some residents are deeply skeptical of what's called the Greater Lyttonsville Sector Plan, though it could restore the town center Lyttonsville lost long ago.

A rough history

During the early 20th century, a thriving main street developed along Brookville Road, including schools, churches, and a cemetery. As surrounding areas became suburban neighborhoods exclusively for white residents, the black Lyttonsville community lacked public services like running water and paved roads. For decades, its only connection to Silver Spring was a wooden, one-lane bridge that remains today.

In the 1970s, the county seized much of the area, destroying Lyttonsville's main street and replacing much of it with an industrial park, a Ride On bus lot, and storage for the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission. Many of the older homes were replaced with large garden apartment complexes.


This wooden bridge was once the only way in and out of Lyttonsville. Photo by the author.

Today, Lyttonsville is a racially diverse community, and sought-after for its location between Silver Spring and Bethesda and being in the vaunted Bethesda-Chevy Chase school catchment. But one out of ten residents lives in poverty, compared to 6.9% of residents countywide. Lyttonsville is hard to access by any form of transportation, isolating its residents from nearby jobs.

Some residents claim the county's plan will continue a legacy of destructive planning decisions. They're worried about traffic and density, about getting redistricted out of the B-CC cluster, and that the area's affordable apartments could get replaced with luxury housing. Others are wary of the Purple Line after fighting off plans to locate a storage yard in the neighborhood.

Charlotte Coffield, who grew up in Lyttonsville during segregation and whose sister Gwendolyn fought to bring services to the area (the local community center is named for her), has emerged as one of the biggest critics. "All [Purple Line] stations do not need to be town centers," she wrote in a letter to the county planning board. "The proposed density would destroy the stable character and balance of our ethnically diverse neighborhood." Last week, the Lyttonsville Community Civic Association, where she is president, voted to accept no more than 400 new homes in the area.

New development in Lyttonsville

Bethesda-based developer EYA, which is currently building townhomes next to the future Chevy Chase Lake Purple Line station, has an alternate proposal for Lyttonsville that could address residents' concerns. The biggest land parcels in the area are owned by several different property owners, including multiple government agencies, each with their own plans. Some want to build lots of new homes, while WSSC has a large site that they intend to leave alone.


EYA's vision for Lyttonsville.

EYA has reached out to several landowners about coordinating, allowing development on a combined 33-acre site to happen together. First, they would partner with WSSC to build several hundred affordable apartments and townhomes on their property. Residents of existing apartments could move there first without getting displaced. Then, EYA would partner with the two non-profits who own the affordable apartments to redevelop them with market-rate townhomes. The county would restrict building heights to 70 feet.

Next to the Lyttonsville station itself, EYA envisions a plaza surrounded by market-rate apartments, 30,000 square feet of retail space (about half the size of a Giant supermarket), and a small business incubator modeled on Baltimore's Open Works that would offer job training to local residents.

Public art would promote the area's history, while Rosemary Hills Park would get a small addition. Local streets where drivers speed today would get traffic calming and new pedestrian and bicycle connections.

The $500 million proposal addresses most of the neighbors' concerns. EYA seeks to build 1200 new homes on the land, compared to the nearly 1700 the county would allow there. (What Montgomery County wants to allow in Lyttonsville is still less dense than plans for other Purple Line stations, including Long Branch and Chevy Chase Lake.) One-third of the new homes would be set aside for low-income households, and every existing affordable apartment would be replaced.


Lyttonsville's future Purple Line station. Image from MTA.

"The county can leave a legacy for how you can build Smart Growth," says Evan Goldman, VP of Land Acquisition and Development at EYA, stressing that the private development could help pay for the public amenities neighbors want. "There's only so much [public benefits] this can afford," he adds. "If you reduce the units so you can't pay for the benefits, the public benefits won't come."

Can the proposal actually work?

Residents I've spoken to like EYA's proposal, but are skeptical if it can happen. This project could have a transformative effect on Lyttonsville, but only if all of these partners agree to it. Recent experience in Shady Grove suggests finding new locations for the Ride On bus lot or WSSC's facility may be difficult.

"If EYA can execute its plan, there are more upsides," says resident Abe Saffer, "but since they don't have any letters of intent or partnerships firmly in place, I remain nervous."

The Montgomery County Council will hold two public hearings on the Lyttonsville Sector Plan next week in Rockville. Here's where you can sign up. If the plan is approved, the county would then have to approve EYA's proposal, which could then start construction in 2020 and take 10 to 15 years to get built.

Places


Silver Spring doesn't have actual boundaries. So we asked residents what they were.

As an unincorporated place, Silver Spring's boundaries aren't really defined. So I asked people what their Silver Spring looks like.


What Silver Spring residents say are Silver Spring's boundaries. The darkergreen areas are where people agree. Image by Christy Batta.

Since its founding in the 1840s, Silver Spring has been an unincorporated community, meaning it's not a town or city with official boundaries and local government. As a result, there's disagreement over where the boundaries are. Some only include downtown and neighborhoods inside the Beltway, or what I call "Little Silver Spring." Others have a broader definition that covers much of eastern Montgomery County, or what I call "Big Silver Spring."

Two years ago, local graphic designer Christy Batta and I, working with local marketing company Silver Spring Inc, created this map, which represents all of the Silver Spring zip codes assigned by the US Postal Service. We went to different community events across the area, from Fenton Street Market to a food truck event in Wheaton, and asked people to mark up the map with their personal definition.

We received 66 responses, and Christy merged all of them together to create the image above. (Here's a folder with all of the individual responses.) The darker areas are where more people agree on the boundaries. Most responses fell into four camps:

23 people defined Silver Spring as being entirely inside the Beltway, which includes downtown and adjacent neighborhoods like Woodside Park and East Silver Spring. Some people included Long Branch and Lyttonsville, which are both inside the Beltway but across major barriers like Sligo Creek Park and the Red Line. Others included part or all of the City of Takoma Park. This is basically the Census Bureau's definition of Silver Spring, and includes the oldest parts of the area, built before World War II.

Another 15 people defined Silver Spring as everything south of University Boulevard, which adds Four Corners, Forest Glen, and Wheaton.

A third group of 13 people included everything south of Randolph Road, which includes Glenmont, Kemp Mill, Colesville, and White Oak.

A final group of 15 people basically colored in all of East County, out to the Prince George's County and Howard County lines, including semi-rural places like Burtonsville and Cloverly. A few of these people threw in parts of surrounding counties and even DC.

The maps suggest a couple of different themes. One is that people use major roads or natural features like Sligo Creek and Northwest Branch as "mental" boundaries. Another boundary might be changes in the built environment. North of University Boulevard, Silver Spring becomes much more suburban and spread-out in nature, which looks and feels very different than the older, more urban neighborhoods closer in. You can feel it driving north on Colesville Road, which goes from a downtown main street to basically a freeway in just a few miles.



These places are 15 miles apart and very different, but some say they're both Silver Spring. Photos by the author.

A place isn't necessarily defined by what's on a map

Even where places have official boundaries, our idea of that place varies. British researcher Alasdair Rae asked people to draw the boundaries of several cities around the world and found very different interpretations, like maps of New York City that include huge chunks of New Jersey's urban areas.

Of course, New York has actual boundaries. But places like Jersey City or Hoboken might feel "enough" like New York that people include them in their "conception" of New York. Likewise, Silver Spring residents define their boundaries based on what they "see" as their community, whether it's based on physical barriers, look and feel, people, preferred hangouts, or anything else.

How would you define Silver Spring's boundaries?

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