Sunday, September 28, 2008

Planners push a greener Silver Spring - Gazette

Initiative envisions urban parks combined with intense mixed-use development
by Sonny Goldreich | Special to The Gazette |Friday, April 25, 2008

The Montgomery County Planning Department is floating a proposal that would combine creation of showplace green spaces in downtown Silver Spring with intense mixed-use development.

The concept, presented during Thursday’s Planning Board hearing, focuses on five highly visible land parcels, including the Blair Shops retail center and the adjoining parking lot on East West Highway. Planning officials hope to spur creation of a ‘‘green downtown,” linking a network of urban parks and tree-lined streets, a concept that so far exists only in theory under the Silver Spring Central Business District Sector Plan adopted in 2000.

‘‘For the first time, we identify specific sites for development of large green spaces,” senior planner Sandra Pereira, who co-wrote the Silver Spring Green Space Plan, said before presenting it to the Planning Board. ‘‘The next phase would involve site specific recommendations and a program of requirements that would identify what the spaces need. Then we would develop associated cost estimates.”

The report says that numerous small open spaces have developed since the sector plan was adopted but most are ‘‘hardscaped plazas” rather than green spaces. Many are not viewed as accessible because they are set back from sidewalks and have design elements that separate them from the public street, such as the formal garden next to the Discovery Communications headquarters.

The planning report recommends public-private projects that would merge green space with existing or planned mixed-use development, such as at the Blair Shops. The Tower Cos., the owner of the retail strip center and the neighboring Blairs apartment complex, plans to redevelop the site after dropping efforts to sell the retail, office and residential development last month.

Under the green space report, the property would resemble an urban street with large commercial and residential buildings surrounding a block of green space. The existing Giant grocery would occupy the ground floor of a mixed-use building.

The report said that ‘‘the potential exists to develop this land into a dense, transit-oriented, mixed-use development with pedestrian-oriented retail and green space on the ground level with office and residential units above.” The site has existing zoning potential for as much as 450,000 square feet of commercial development.

In addition to the Blair Shops site, the study recommends pursuing the following sites for priority green space development:

Parking Lot 3 between Thayer and Silver Spring avenues; land between Kennett Street and East West Highway across from the Silver Spring Gateway project under construction; land surrounding existing Progress Place in the Ripley District immediately south of Ripley Street, where 600 residential units already are approved;

Silver Place to replace Hanson Park at Georgia Avenue and Fenton Street, site of the new Park and Planning headquarters; and land at the intersection of Fenton Street and East West Highway, which could be used to expand the existing Fenton Urban Park and serve as a gateway to Fenton Village.

The goal of the green space plan is to meet the demand of growing residential areas, especially in South Silver Spring, Pereira said.

‘‘There are 800 new residential units already built or approved in South Silver Spring and they will need some open space amenities,” she said.

The concept is modeled in part on the ‘‘accidental green space” that residents have adopted on the temporary artificial turf field on Ellsworth Avenue, which will disappear with construction of the Silver Spring civic building.

‘‘At the hearing for the civic building at Veterans Plaza last summer, half the community was opposed to it because they would lose the open space,” Pereira said.

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