Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Planners say Crossroads plan would stimulate business - Gazette

Wednesday, Nov. 12, 2008
Planners say Crossroads plan would stimulate business
Residents fear redevelopment would push out low-income residents, specialty markets
by Jeremy Arias | Staff Writer

Residents and business owners at a public hearing last week reiterated concerns that proposed redevelopment plans for the Takoma/Langley Crossroads would push out the majority of low-income residents in the area and eliminate specialty markets.

The current plan would redevelop the low-income garden-style apartments on the Prince George's County side of University Boulevard into mixed-use buildings with stores on the bottom floor and residential units higher up. The road would be widened to accommodate two new transit centers along with whatever form the Purple Line will take.

The plan will guide development in the Crossroads, a predominantly Hispanic community where parts of Montgomery and Prince George's counties and a portion of Takoma Park meet. The Crossroads comes under the jurisdiction of both county Planning Boards.

Senior planners Melissa Williams of Montgomery County, Aldea Douglas of Prince George's County and Ilona Blanchard of Takoma Park told residents at the Thursday meeting that redevelopment would stimulate commerce by making the area more safe and presentable. But merchants said with higher leases, customers would be forced to move and businesses would not be able to compete.

Jorge Sactic, owner of the La Chapina bakery in Langley Park, represented about 50 area small businesses at the meeting held at the Langley Park Community Center, the final public hearing on redevelopment for the Crossroads.

"We are specialized in ethnic products for the people who live in this area," he said. "If that changes, then we need to reinvent ourselves again, and probably compete with more powerful businesses. That's not fair."

He said his businesses had not been informed of previous meetings, which began in January. The most recent public forums were held in June when the current redevelopment plan was selected from among three options.

Williams said Montgomery County's long-standing affordable housing program would require a percentage of new housing units at the Crossroads to be made available at lower rates. She also said small-business assistance programs provided by the Silver Spring Regional Center and the county's Department of Economic Development provide fa¡ade loans and counseling for small business. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development offers grants for small and disadvantaged businesses.

"We're looking at a two-pronged approach so that if there is a change, to not only make sure that [small businesses] have the resources they need, but also that they are aware of the resources available to them," Williams said.

While Prince George's County does not have its own affordable housing program, Douglas said she doubted the plan would drastically alter the current availability in her county. All three planners cautioned participants that the plan was far from complete.

Dora Escobar, who owns Bazar la Chiquita, a check-cashing store on University Boulevard, said that after 18 years working in the area, new development will force her out along with her niche market.

"I know in the future it is going to look very beautiful," she told planners in Spanish. "But what about us?"

Other residents asked about plans for health care options in the area, especially considering the upcoming relocation of the Washington Adventist Hospital to the Calverton/White Oak area of Silver Spring planned for 2013.

Blanchard, Takoma Park's chief planner, said the new Village of Health and Well-being the hospital has planned for Takoma Park would include some emergency services, but master plans for redevelopment rarely include health care plans, she said, especially this early in the process.

Comments addressed to planners were respectful but pointed, with only a few displays of anger. One resident repeatedly warned the planners "this is not Downtown Silver Spring" and demolition and revitalization efforts would meet with opposition and failure.

Blanchard said the main challenge was to balance the fears of lower-income residents and small business owners with the county and city's desire to increase the tax base from businesses in the corridor. She believes the high crime-rate scares many Takoma Park residents from the potentially profitable area.

"We have wonderful businesses here," she said. "And people are afraid to visit them after dark, when most people do their shopping."

The plan also includes a connector pedestrian trail, modeled after the "ramblas" promenades featured in Barcelona city plans that would connect the Long Branch and Sligo Creek park systems to the Northwest Branch system on the opposite side of University, according to Jay Parker of the Parker-Rodriguez Landscape Architecture company.

Throughout the meeting, planners stressed the point that, even after a plan is drafted, there will still be plenty of opportunity to comment to the individual county planning boards and county councils. Construction is estimated to begin in 2012 at the earliest, planners said.

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