Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2008

Open forum: Falkland North cannot begin to solve affordable housing problem

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In calculating the number of affordable housing units that would be provided by the proposed Falkland North project in Silver Spring, my figures are at odds with those provided by Rev. Rachel Cornwell, whose Woodside United Methodist Church is affiliated with Action in Montgomery (‘‘AIM opposes apartment’s historic designation; developer offers more units,” Dec. 19 letter).

The owner of Falkland, Home Properties, hopes to demolish 182 units on nine acres of the historic Falkland Chase garden apartment community and replace them with high-rise housing. But Home Properties is not going to construct 282 new affordable units, as Reverend Cornwell states.

Home Properties would provide 133 moderately priced units in the new buildings as required by county law, and would throw in another 50 as ‘‘workforce” units there. The rest of the 282 units would be in already-existing structures: 50 workforce units in the current garden apartment mix, and 49 offsite, in an existing Home Properties building in White Oak. When you also consider that current Falkland rents are affordable to many households who qualify for workforce housing, the gains look considerably smaller.

Beyond these numbers is a broader picture. The county is hemorrhaging affordable housing as rents skyrocket, and nowhere is the situation more serious than in many of downtown Silver Spring’s high rises. A project like Falkland North cannot begin to solve this problem. And yet, AIM is ready to dismember an indisputably significant historic property, disrupt the lives of tenants residing on Falkland’s north parcel, and mow down decades-old specimen trees, all for a relatively small net gain in affordable housing.

The Planning Board has voted that the entire Falkland complex merits eligibility for historic designation. In addition to hearing from public and private preservation entities at the local, state, and national level, the board reviewed letters and testimony from architectural historians, environmental organizations, civic groups, and tenants favoring historic designation.

I would like to work together with AIM in addressing the affordable housing needs of the county. A number of county preservationists, after all, are also affordable housing advocates. I myself have organized tenants in Silver Spring and in other cities, so I’m committed to tenant rights. In the Falkland case, tenant rights would include avoiding the break-up of their pleasant, livable garden apartment community, where both residents and nonresidents can stroll amidst the trees and green space.

Mary Reardon, Silver Spring

The writer is with the Silver Spring Historical Society.