Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2007

Art and Design school site considered for park land

Plans to build townhouses on property await rezoning decision

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Officials have agreed to consider the property that houses the old Maryland College of Art and Design for the county’s Legacy Open Space Program, after lobbying efforts from Silver Spring residents.

A rezoning case is still pending, as Kaz Development LLC has applied to build 27 townhouses on the land, but in the interim, the community has been gathering support for the conversion of the entire property into a neighborhood park. The school’s former building remains standing at 10500 Georgia Ave.

Legacy Open Space is a county program that preserves open space to protect the county’s environment, quality of life and economic vitality, particularly in dense urban areas.

Dominic Quattrocchi, senior planner with the county’s Department of Parks, said that an internal advisory committee voted to nominate the art school property for a park because it fell into many of the categories necessary for the program.

‘‘It has merit,” Quattrocchi said. ‘‘We use about six different categories and this certainly meets two criteria — urban space and being near a major roadway, like Georgia Avenue.”

The application for Legacy Open Space was submitted by resident Beverly Sobel. She said one criterion, which addressed the need for green space in dense urban areas where other parks are not easily accessible, specifically addressed what the park could bring to her neighborhood.

‘‘One of the reason why this is going through is because there are not enough parks,” she said.

There are parks on the east side of Georgia Avenue, such as Evans Parkway Neighborhood Park. But Sobel said residents should not have to cross a major state highway to reach a neighborhood park. A petition for the park has grown to about 550 signatures, Sobel said.

Currently, the land is still under ownership of the Montgomery College Foundation, a nonprofit made up of alumni, business representatives and community leaders to enhance the education provided by Montgomery College. The college took over the Maryland College of Art and Design in 2004, and it is now housed at the Cafritz Foundation Art Center, a new building at the Takoma Park⁄Silver Spring campus.

David Sears, executive director of the foundation, said that it is the foundation’s responsibility to use its assets to benefit the college and its students.

Sears did not want to comment about what the foundation would do if the county does approve the property for park space.

‘‘I don’t want to say anything about [Legacy Open Space] at this point because we want to honor the contract and to speculate about anything further is not our issue,” he said.

The foundation has a contract with Kaz Development LLC, stipulating the foundation would sell the land to the developer once the rezoning of the land is complete.

But residents say they have grown accustomed to using the campus and its surrounding land as a park. Spencer Biles, a resident whose house is adjacent to the nominated parkland, said he has seen birthday parties, picnics, dog-walking and soccer games on the green space surrounding the arts school.

Christine Ollo, who lives on Lillian Drive near the Carroll Knolls community, said she is also concerned about what development would do to the environment and storm drainage.

‘‘The density is so great right now that there is a need for a little breathing room,” she said.

While Ollo said she is happy that Legacy Open Space staff has decided to look into the area for the program, she also said it will be a tough battle against the proposed development.

‘‘The average citizen has no hope against the well-oiled development machine,” Ollo said.

Residents will also be discussing stormwater management issues, sewage capacity, possible park space, master plan conformance and traffic during an oral argument at a Sept. 11 County Council meeting.

‘‘This is a small victory in the right direction,” Sobel said. ‘‘We anticipate this [will be] a long battle for this land, but we hope that the officials of Montgomery County do the right thing to preserve green space. The time for development is over.”