A few clarifications are in order concerning the June 6 news story about the Silver Spring Baptist Church, “Planning board OKs church’s proposal.”
Retaining the front façade and bell tower of the Modernist church does not preclude constructing a new church of any design in the planned location down the block from the Wayne Avenue and Fenton Street corner.
Nor does it preclude retail at this corner.
Churches throughout the country have been repurposed for all types of new uses including residential, retail, restaurants — and even a brew works.
Experts in mid-century modern architecture agree the church is historic and call for its partial preservation. They are the Modern Movement in Maryland, funded by the Maryland Historical Trust, which surveys, studies and evaluates modernist structures and their architects; the Historic Preservation Commission staff, the initiators and researchers for the church nomination for historic designation; experts assembled by Preservation Maryland who selected the church from the entire state in 2012 as one of 11 endangered historical and cultural treasures worth saving; and national, state, and county supporters including the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and Recent Past Preservation Network, the professionals who study more recent architecture and are the experts.
Instead of respecting their HPC staff’s vast knowledge and expertise, HPC commissioners chose to believe the faulty interpretation of research from the developer’s consultant; research that actually enhanced the church historicity and significance.
The Planning Board rubber-stamped the specious reasoning of the HPC’s decision, instead of heeding their own expert HPC staff, which explained definitively how the resource meets four criteria for preservation, and who advocated for a compromise retaining the Wayne Avenue façade and bell tower.
Clearly appealing to the developer to craft a unique project design, Planning Board Chairwoman Francoise Carrier stated at the hearing: "The façade is really striking; it's unusual ..."
The chairwoman then lost the opportunity to advantageously direct development, to require incorporation of the façade (an abstraction of a traditional portico), into the project design.
The chairwoman mentioned at the previous Planning Board historical hearing: "I do think we have some leeway if the project comes in under the optional method. I think the planners can say we think some of these elements [to] be retained. The church has their ideas of what should be retained, but we have been known to influence people’s development decisions."
With her clear pronouncements, the chairwoman had the power to craft a more inclusive outcome incorporating partial preservation of Silver Spring’s irreplaceable architecture and heritage.
George French and Marcie Stickle, Silver Spring
The writers nominated the First Baptist Church of Silver Spring for inclusion on Preservation Maryland’s 2012 list of endangered sites