Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Board hears more testimony on historic designation of apartments

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Preservationists and affordable housing advocates testified before the Montgomery County Planning Board for more than three hours Thursday to argue whether historic value or new amenities on the site of a 1930s-era apartment complex in Silver Spring better represent the public interest.

A portion of the Falkland Chase Apartments, located on 22 acres at 16th Street and East West Highway, would be up for demolition under a proposal from Home Properties, owner of the site.

The board will vote in the fall on whether to recommend all of Falkland Chase to the county’s Master Plan for Historic Preservation, a move that would significantly limit development on the site. The final decision lies with the County Council.

The board deemed Falkland Chase eligible for historic status last December, a vote that was reinforced by the Historic Preservation Commission several months later. The purpose of Thursday’s hearing was to weigh a historic designation against other factors, such as amenities the project would provide for the community and more affordable housing.

Commissioner Jean Cryor noted after the meeting that there were ‘‘two goods” to be considered.

Testimony at the hearing mirrored information provided to the board last December, Cryor said. But she said it was important to hear both sides again, as the board is now looking at more than just the historic value of the site.

‘‘I deliberately do not have an opinion at this point,” Cryor said. Home Properties’ plan would affect six buildings over nine acres on a section of the complex north of East West Highway, and would include construction of multiple buildings between 60 and 143 feet high, an interior public park and retail space, including a Harris Teeter grocery store. Planning staff presented a report to the board in support of the project, and recommended that the board only designate part of the site as historic to allow for development.

Falkland Chase was built in two phases and in three sections. The first parcel, 178 units completed between 1936 and 1937, was inaugurated by Eleanor Roosevelt in 1937 and was the first example of a garden-style apartment complex in Montgomery County.

Historic preservationists argued Thursday that all the apartments, designed by noted architect Louis Justement during the New Deal, should be looked at as one project.

‘‘The entire Falkland apartments complex is well worthy of preservation,” said Bonnie Rosenthal, representing the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Mary Reardon, preservation chairwoman of the Silver Spring Historical Society, said losing one parcel of the Falkland apartments was not a compromise, but would represent a lesser loss of something already recognized as valuable.

The developers’ side agreed that the south parcel of the complex had historic value, but that the north section, which is targeted for development, did not meet the criteria for designation.

‘‘In the spirit of compromise ... we are willing to have the county designate two-thirds of our property as historic,” said Nelson B. Leenhouts, Home Properties’ co-founder and co-chairman.

Donald Hague, on the development team with Home Properties, listed the benefits that would result from the project — retail, green space, transit-oriented development, space for a potential Purple Line route and affordable housing.

Several representatives of Action in Montgomery, a faith-based community group, testified in support of the project on the basis that the proposal would bring much-needed affordable housing to Silver Spring. Home Properties would provide 282 affordable and work force units at the Falkland apartments and another site in Silver Spring if the company is allowed to proceed with its plan for Falkland Chase.

Planning Board Chairman Royce Hanson stopped testimony with half the meeting room still waiting to speak in order to prepare for another hearing Thursday evening. The board’s staff will now review Thursday’s testimony in preparation for a work session in the fall, when the board will vote on a recommendation to the County Council.

For more information and to hear Thursday’s testimony, visit www.montgomeryplanningboard.org.

Falkland Chase timeline

1985 — Both the County Council and Planning Board vote to place only the Cupola Building at the Falkland Chase Apartments onto the county’s Master Plan for Historic Preservation.

1990 — The Draper Triangle section of Falkland Chase is demolished to make way for the Lenox Park building.

1993 — The north parcel of Falkland Chase is rezoned and identified for redevelopment in the Silver Spring Sector Plan.

1999 — The Maryland Historical Trust finds Falkland Chase as an entirety eligible for listing in the National Register of Historical Places.

2002 — The Falkland Chase Apartments are identified as potentially historic or architecturally significant in the Silver Spring CBD Historic Survey.

2005 — Falkland Chase is placed on the Locational Atlas and Index of Historic Sites for possible inclusion in the Master Plan for Historic Preservation.

2007 — The county’s Historic Preservation Commission and Planning Board find Falkland Chase in its entirety eligible for historic designation.

2008 — The county’s Historic Preservation Commission votes to place all three parcels of Falkland Chase onto the Master Plan for Historic Preservation.

Source: Montgomery County Planning Department