A proposal to change the master plans for the White Oak and Fairland areas of Silver Spring — to allow for development that advocates say could transform the region into a rival of the Interstate 270 biotech corridor — will reduce traffic congestion, not aggravate it, some residents said Wednesday.
The plan will provide more walkable areas where people can live, work and find dining and entertainment venues, similar to at Bethesda Row and downtown Silver Spring, said Dan Wilhelm, a leader of a Colesville citizens group. He is also on a committee doing outreach for the White Oak Science Gateway Master Plan for LabQuest, a residents’ group that worked to bring the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s headquarters to the area.
More mass transportation options such as bus rapid transit and many people having a “reverse commute” will also help reduce traffic congestion, Wilhelm said during the monthly meeting of the East County Citizens Advisory Board at the Eastern Montgomery Regional Services Center in Silver Spring.
But others believe the plan could increase traffic, including by having more commuters drive to work to jobs at the proposed mixed-use Life-Sci Village.
“There will have to be a lot more transit. And there may need to be some rethinking by people who live in single-family home subdivisions,” said a resident at the meeting, who declined to give her name.
Fatmata Barrie, a board member, said that she hoped those who live in the area would benefit, as the thousands of jobs that advocates trumpet could attract a lot of interest from people living outside Silver Spring.
“I hope people aren’t pushed out of the area” to accommodate new development, she said.
Rob Richardson, a Silver Spring resident and another LabQuest outreach committee member, said that the expected new jobs will come from across the board, not just be scientific ones.
“A lot of people in this area need the opportunities that this plan will be providing,” he said.
The FDA has been consolidating various offices in Bethesda and Rockville into the White Oak 1.2-million-square-foot headquarters campus on New Hampshire Avenue south of U.S. 29. That includes about 2,600 employees in the process of moving, to get the work force up to about 8,100 there. Roughly 800 more employees could move there by 2016 if federal funding is approved.
The FDA consolidation provides a unique opportunity to serve as a catalyst for the vision of a life sciences center along U.S. 29 and New Hampshire Avenue, said Jonathan Genn, executive vice president and general counsel of Percontee, a Silver Spring development company working on the White Oak plan. He envisions the plan creating more than 50,000 jobs over the next decade or so and $1.5 billion in new money for schools, transit and amenities.
“It’s our time,” said Genn, also a Silver Spring resident.
Genn said he knew of companies, including some in China, that want to open up U.S. headquarters in White Oak specifically to be close to the FDA campus.
The county Planning Board is scheduled to brief the County Council on the plan on June 17. The council’s Planning, Housing and Economic Development Committee is then scheduled to hold some work sessions starting July 1. The full council is slated to meet about the plan on July 22 and take action July 29.
Last fall, the Planning Board approved the White Oak Science Gateway Master Plan, while some residents voiced concerns over traffic and other issues in a public hearing before the County Council in February.
Besides the LifeSci Village that could include a hotel and conference center, the plan also calls for the redevelopment of the White Oak Shopping Center near U.S. 29 and New Hampshire Avenue and Hillandale Shopping Center near the Beltway and New Hampshire into mixed-used areas served by more transit opportunities.
Montgomery County Councilwoman Cherri Branson, (D-Dist. 5) of Silver Spring, whose district includes White Oak, said she hoped the plan will result in better jobs and amenities for residents in that area.
“This is an opportunity to remake the Eastern part of the county,” Branson said. “If we leave things as they are, neighboring jurisdictions aren’t under any obligation to leave things as they are in their areas. It’s an incredible opportunity with the expansion of the FDA.”