Silver Spring Redevelopment Adds Jobs, Keeps History
After two recent attempts at revitalization, it looks like things are
actually coming together for Silver Spring. Named after a nearby mica-encrusted spring,
this down- but-not-out community has painstakingly put together a smart-growth strategy.
Key to the redevelopment was landing Discovery Channel's world headquarters, which will
bring thousands of employees to the area and transform a vacant, unused lot into a 650,000
square-foot office building. To the northeast, the American Film Institute will build its
new East Coast headquarters. Part of this effort will rehabilitate the historic Silver
Theater as a fully functioning 400-seat movie house.
Across the street, the state of Maryland and Montgomery County are collaborating with
the city to build a multimillion-dollar transit center. The center will join a train line,
a bike trail, and local and regional bus service with the existing subway station. In
addition, the center will host retail outlets and office space so that transportation,
shopping and work space will be in one convenient location. Fresh Fields has just finished
construction of a new grocery store and Borders Book Store just signed a lease. There are
also community amenities such as a planned veterans' memorial and an open arena that will
host concerts in the summer and be converted to an ice rink in the winter.
But despite the smart-growth features of this project, a member of the development
team, the Peterson Companies, is backing a giant sprawling development in the neighboring
town of Oxon Hill. National Harbor, as it is called, will destroy over 200 acres of open
space and riverside habitat while bringing an estimated 60,000 more car trips per day to
the area. Peterson is involved with smart growth in Silver Spring -- they should do the
right thing in Oxon Hill as well.
The Hunters Brooke/Falcon Ridge project is quintessential sprawl. Far
from existing infrastructure, it threatens a fragile wetland and important historical
sites near the Chesapeake Bay.
The project will destroy a forest adjacent to state-preserved wildlands and severely
degrade one of Maryland's largest magnolia bogs. A new sewerline the project will require
would cut through properties adjacent to major historical sites, including a house in
which George Mason lived. The house and land are included on the National Register of
Not only is this development poorly placed and destructive, it is isolated. Washington,
D.C., the primary commute destination, is up to one and a half hours away during rush
hour. Limited public transportation and a lack of amenities for those on foot ensure that
most residents will drive. The county government more or less recognizes that this
development is not appropriate, but justifies it because the developers have already spent
money on planning the project.
At a broader level, the county comprehensive plan is supposed to prevent sprawling
development like Hunters Brooke. Unfortunately, there is little implementation, and poorly
planned development is the rule. This proves, once again, that having smart-growth
planning rules on the books is not enough -- they must be enforced to be effective.