Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Silver Spring Library vote put on hold - Gazette

Residents given another chance to review options at meeting scheduled for Tuesday

by Jason Tomassini | Staff Writer | Wednesday, Nov. 26, 2008

After cost estimates and construction times for designs of the new Silver Spring Library were revealed Thursday, a Montgomery County Council committee postponed a vote on the design options and urged library officials to hold a ninth meeting with the community.

During eight community meetings held in the fall, residents favored an alternative that differed from the one County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) recommended last week. The option Leggett chose would cost about $58 million to build. The option residents preferred would cost $78 million and require a zoning text amendment to allow for a taller apartment building on the site.

In a Health and Human Services committee meeting Thursday, councilmembers discussed possible compromises with library officials regarding parking, cost and density of the project. It was the first public meeting where cost estimates for the library had been presented.

Ultimately, it was decided residents deserved another look at the new information and a community meeting was scheduled for 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday at the current library, 8901 Colesville Road. The HHS committee will vote on an option Dec. 4. The full County Council could vote Dec. 9.

Last week, Leggett and the council were given three design options to review. The designs by the project's architect, Washington, D.C.-based RTKL, were based on community meetings.

Under the option Leggett chose, a five-story library would front along Wayne Avenue and Fenton Street and a 10-story, 146-unit apartment building would front on Bonifant. This design would provide more housing units than the preferred resident option and would connect the library to the third level of the nearby Wayne Avenue garage with a pedestrian bridge.

The site would also include an art center, public-use space and potentially a Purple Line stop.

Residents preferred an option that would place the library on Bonifant and the apartment building along Wayne. This option would include 140 residential units and would put a 13-story residential building closer to the Central Business District to the north. The smaller library building would fit better with Fenton Village to the south of the site, according to residents.

Because of the estimated 143-foot-tall residential building, a zoning text amendment would be required for this option due to the existing 110-foot limit on Wayne.

This option would also require a 120-space underground parking facility for the library, making it considerably more expensive than the option Leggett chose, said David Dise, director of the county Department of General Services. Parking for the library in Leggett's preferred option could be served by the Wayne garage, which currently averages 65 percent occupancy, Dise said.

"About $12 million of that $20 million difference [in cost for the two options] is for parking," Dise said.

With such an extensive community input process, it would send the wrong message if the county selected an option opposed by residents, said Councilwoman Valerie Ervin (D-Dist. 5) of Silver Spring.

"The executive branch needs to be cognizant that there is a growing unease out there that the community is not being listened to," said Ervin, who is not a member of the council's HHS committee.

Ervin said the county should not impose the apartment building on homes along Bonifant and could solve parking issues with existing options on the block and by sharing spaces with the underground parking already planned for the apartment building.

Parking cannot be shared between the library and the residential building – which will be developed privately –because the county would still have to foot significant parking costs, Dise said.

The additional community meeting is necessary to resolve differences between the chosen options, said Councilman George L. Leventhal (D-At large) of Takoma Park.

"You can never do enough to listen to the community. You can always listen more," he said.

Ervin said it would be helpful to residents to see cost estimates for the design options, which had not previously been known.

The committee also addressed a letter from the Silver Spring Citizens Advisory Board urging officials to increase the size of the library to accommodate a growing Silver Spring population. Advisory board chairman Darian Unger said the proposed Silver Spring Library would not be big enough to serve residents living within a one-mile radius of the site.

However, Leggett's recommended option would contain 15,000 square feet of office space while the community's preferred option would have 40,000 square feet. Architects have said office space could be changed to accommodate more library space if the planned 63,000-square-foot library building was deemed too small.

"I don't want the library to expand some day in the future," Unger said. "It should be in the initial library design."

County library director Parker Hamilton said the proposed library, which would be a significant increase over the existing library on Colesville Road and comparable to the Rockville Library, was satisfactory.

"Our record of building a copious-sized library is pretty good," she said.

A community meeting to

discuss the final concepts for the new Silver Spring Library Project and County Executive Isiah Leggett's recommendation will be held 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday at the Silver Spring Library, 8901 Colesville Road in Silver Spring.

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