Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Residents urge officials to protect the character of Fenton Village - Gazette

With projects under development and others proposed, forum offered chance to voice concerns over density, aesthetics, rent and infrastructure

by Jason Tomassini | Staff Writer | Wednesday, Oct. 22, 2008

Residents and merchants in Fenton Village urged county officials and builders last week to protect the neighborhood's small businesses and residential character as developers look to revitalize the area through new zoning that allows for greater density.

More than 40 residents and county officials attended a forum Oct. 15 at the Nora School on Sligo Avenue to voice concerns about future projects planned for the neighborhood. While most agreed that revitalization was needed in Fenton Village, residents were concerned about possible negative impacts on the neighborhood.

"We do not have enough police, road capacity, recreation, electricity, water or sewers for the people who are here now," said Karen Roper, a member of the nearby East Silver Spring Citizens Association. "We want to know how we are going to accommodate this density."

Fenton Village is defined as the neighborhood just south of downtown Silver Spring, bordered by Fenton Street to the east, Georgia Avenue to the west, Wayne Avenue to the north and Burlington Avenue to the south. It is known for its long-established, service-oriented shops and locally-owned restaurants that contrast with newer shops in nearby Silver Plaza at Georgia and Colesville Road.

With several developments planned and a zoning text amendment allowing for greater density in the neighborhood, the forum gave residents a chance to voice concerns on everything from density and infrastructure to building heights and rents.

"This is an area that's starting to be developed," said Deborah Linn of the Silver Spring Citizens Advisory Board. "… We hope that this is the next area [of revitalization]."

John Marcolin, an urban designer with the Maryland National-Capital Park and Planning Commission, outlined the zoning changes approved by the Montgomery County Council in July that allow for a maximum height of 90 feet for buildings along Georgia within Fenton Village's planning area.

Zoning also allows building heights on Georgia at 110 feet to accommodate workforce housing units for middle-income families. A maximum of 60 feet is allowed on the west side of Fenton and the 45-foot building height on the east side can be increased to 60 feet for mixed-use projects.

That amendment benefits a hotel project planned near the corner of Fenton and Silver Spring Avenue. The hotel's developer, Ulysses Glee of Fenton Group LCC., was lauded during the hearing as an example of a developer who involved the community.

Marcolin illustrated development possibilities for Fenton Village under the new zoning and promoted the use of street-level retail. He presented a proposal for green space that would utilize the county-owned Parking Lot 3 on Fenton and would incorporate Studio Plaza, a roughly 130,000-square-foot mixed-use project proposed by Robert Hillerson and the county. That project has not been approved.

Other proposed projects include The Adele, a 52-unit residential development at 814 Thayer Ave., a mixed-use project at Thayer and Fenton, and Bonifant Plaza, a 72-unit residential project that has not been approved.

Some residents were concerned the zoning changes and new private development would lead to inconsistencies with the aesthetic of the neighborhood.

"I'm anxious for it to be built out but not in a cheap way," said Melanie Isis, a Fenton Village resident. "I want something that's going to look good in 50 years."

County Councilman Marc Elrich (D-At large) of Takoma Park encouraged residents to petition the council for a "mini-sector plan" in Fenton Village, which would bring more consistency to the neighborhood's revitalization. The council can approve one "mini plan" per year and it would take about six months to compete, Elrich said.

"If you look at all the different designs of these projects, could you imagine all of Fenton Village being built block-by-block with one building after another and there's absolutely no articulation between them?" Elrich said to those in attendance.

Business owners said already rising rents would increase with new development and the proposed ground-level retail units would be too expensive for small businesses.

"We are having a hard time," said Marilyn Seitz, owner of the Pennyworth Shop thrift store at 955 Bonifant St. "We're caught between wanting to have a nice new building but we can't afford the old building we are in because rent is such a priority."

Darian Unger, chairman of the Silver Spring Citizen Advisory Board, said other meetings are planned to discuss Fenton Village's future, including Nov. 19 and Dec. 17 meetings of the board's Commercial and Economic Development Committee. A walking tour of Fenton Village was held Saturday morning.

"This is the start of something," Unger said. "Not the end."

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