Long Branch redevelopment plans spur continued feedback -- Gazette.Net


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This story was corrected at 9:45 a.m. on Feb. 7, 2013. An explanation follows the story.

Redevelopment plans for Long Branch elicited multifaceted feedback from residents, county organizations and others invested in the Silver Spring community at a Montgomery County Planning Board public hearing Thursday.

Speakers raised issues including the displacement of businesses and those living in affordable housing, the potential historic designation and role of the Flower Theatre and Shopping Center and possible changes to the community’s density.

The Long Branch Sector Plan, still a draft, addresses a portion of Long Branch that includes areas around Piney Branch Road, Flower Avenue and University Boulevard.

County planners developed the plan — among others around the county — in part as a response to the planned construction of the Purple Line, a 16-mile light-rail line that would extend from Bethesda to New Carrollton. Long Branch is planned to conduct two stops along the line.

Echoing concerns voiced at a Jan. 16 community meeting, some said the plan’s proposals, along with the Purple Line, would mean the loss of affordable housing.

“I support the development but not the displacement of the community,” said Gilberto Martinez, of Silver Spring, through a translator.

“We’re asking you not to displace our families with these new changes that are taking place,” said another Long Branch area resident who was also a Casa de Maryland member.

A staff attorney for Casa de Maryland said the plan “allows and encourages the displacement of thousands of community members.”

County planners should consider a “more robust set of policies” in the plan concerning affordable housing, said Gregory Baker, community planning manager for Montgomery Housing Partners, including the possibility of increasing opportunities for it.

Erkin Ozberk, a city planner for Takoma Park, said the city — a part of which is included in the sector plan — would like to see affordable housing maintained for current residents.

Melissa Williams, project manager of the sector plan, said in response to similar concerns raised at the Jan. 16 meeting that the plan is proposing to make changes to areas of affordable housing in which rents could potentially rise as a result of the Purple Line.

The plan would use rezoning as a way to request more mandated affordable housing and preserve the affordability of commercial properties, Williams said.

Area business owners and supporters said at the public hearing that they wanted to see existing local businesses protected.

“Those are the businesses that create jobs in the community,” said Jose Amador, of Silver Spring.

Speakers also disagreed on the plan’s recommendation for the historic designation of the Flower Theatre and Shopping Center, which some supported, while others argued it would limit redevelopment efforts.

Leslie Miles, chair of the county Historic Preservation Commission, said the commission recently voted in favor of the theatre and shopping center’s designation, support that was echoed by Mary Reardon, vice president of Montgomery Preservation Inc., and Marcie Stickle, advocacy chair for the Silver Spring Historical Society.

Historian David Rotenstein — who has studied the property in the past — said, however, the shopping center is “a common and unremarkable example of postwar architecture” and does not deserve historic designation.

Others discussed the theater’s potential role.

Amanda Hurley, of Silver Spring, said the Flower Theatre, “a beloved local landmark,” has been the subject of studies and recommendations and could become a “community anchor.”

“It’s past time to turn recommendations into action,” Hurley said.

Comments also turned to density, and included discussion of building heights.

Robert Elliott, director of development for the Washington Real Estate Investment Trust, said the draft plan restricts building heights too much, which could lead to greater construction costs while trying to reach a certain density.

The company’s suggestion, he said, is to create a series of tiered buildings that would blend into the surrounding community.

Marilyn Piety, a member of the Sligo-Branview Community Association, said she did not support the placement of tall buildings near single-family residences, a sentiment shared by others.

The plan, Piety said, tries to accomplish “too many things on too little land.”

The planning board will discuss the plan in two work sessions scheduled for Feb. 21 and March 7.

lpowers@gazette.net

Correction: A previous version of the story stated that historian David Rotenstein said both the Flower Theatre and the shopping center are “a common and unremarkable example of postwar architecture” and do not deserve historic designation. In fact, his comments were only about the shopping center and not the theater.