Proposed pedestrian bridge could force 10th community meeting
by Jason Tomassini | Staff Writer | Wednesday, Dec. 10, 2008
A design for the new Silver Spring Library favored by County Executive Isiah Leggett will move forward, despite last minute concerns by the county planning department regarding a proposed pedestrian bridge included in the plan.
The Montgomery County Council Health and Human Services Committee decided Thursday to proceed with design option "1C" for the library. But a controversial pedestrian bridge proposed to extend over Wayne Avenue and connect the library with the Wayne Avenue parking garage could force a 10th community meeting to discuss plans.
The chosen design was among several developed by the project architects, Washington, D.C.-based RTKL, following eight community meetings in the fall. The design would place a six-story library, including a level of office space and an art center, along Wayne Avenue and Fenton Street and a 10-story, 146-unit apartment complex on Bonifant Street.
This design would include a pedestrian bridge that would connect the library to the third level of the Wayne Avenue garage located across the street. The bridge would eliminate the need for library parking on the site and allow library users to avoid crossing Wayne. Short-term parking specifically for the library would be available near the bridge inside the garage.
Minutes before the meeting Thursday, county and library officials received a memorandum from the Montgomery County Planning Department which said that an Urban Renewal Plan drafted for Silver Spring in 1999 prohibits a bridge over Wayne Avenue.
"The big concern is to make sure there were feet on the streets so retail would be successful," Gary Stith, director of the Silver Spring Regional Center, said in response to the renewal plan, which he helped write. "... [But] the purpose of the pedestrian bridge is to provide access to a specific use and that is the library."
In the memorandum, dated Nov. 25 and signed by Planning Department Director Rollin Stanley, a mid-block crosswalk at Wayne is recommended instead, because it is less costly and would allow for better access to street-level retail planned for the project.
The pedestrian bridge would cost an estimated $684,000, according to David Dise, director of the county Department of General Services. Despite being surprised by the memorandum, several county officials at the meeting said the Urban Renewal Plan could be overridden.
"We all know a master plan is a guide, it is a planning tool," said Diane Schwartz Jones, an assistant chief administrative officer for Leggett (D). "It is not a mandate and the Silver Spring Library was not envisioned at this site at the time the master plan was being contemplated."
General services will begin with preliminary engineering for the "1C" design but a community meeting could be scheduled for January to get residents' feedback on the bridge, with an additional HHS committee meeting to follow, said Councilman George L. Leventhal (D-At large) of Takoma Park.
In the meantime, an analysis of a mid-block crosswalk on Wayne would be conducted.
In community meetings, residents favored an option that would front the library along Bonifant and the apartment building along Wayne. This option does not include a pedestrian bridge but would require a 120-space, $11 million, underground parking facility for the library. At an estimated $78 million, that option would cost $20 million more than the option Leggett and the HHS committee chose.
Because of the estimated 143-foot-tall residential building in that option, a zoning text amendment would be required for this option due to the existing 110-foot limit on Wayne. In the memorandum, the Planning Department favored the "6A" design, although with a 110-foot-high apartment building that would not require a zoning amendment and would reduce the amount of housing units on the site.
With the council committee moving forward with design "1C," it was uncertain how the approval process would be affected by the planning department's opinion.
"With a mandatory referral [hearing] we can't stop anything obviously, but we would probably restate our concerns about the design ‘1C,'" said John Marcolin, an urban designer with the Maryland National-Capital Park and Planning Commission, during the meeting.
"If I may say so, your concerns are a little inconclusive," Leventhal responded. "… We are beyond considering both [design options] today."
"We want you to consider ‘6A,'" Marcolin said.
The Silver Spring Urban District Advisory Committee has favored option "1C," as has the Silver Spring Friends of the Library, although the Friends would not favor an option that does not include a pedestrian bridge.
"Without that bridge, this whole ‘1C' would not be endorsed by this group," said Marilyn Wisoff, vice president of the Friends of the Library. "It would deprive people the services of the library."