Missing Middle Housing: Planning’s New Cup of Tea

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More housing choices are needed to bridge affordability gaps and transition between commercial and residential areas Until I was 10 years old, I lived on a block where there were single-family homes, a house split into two apartments and a small quadruplex apartment building. It was a very close-knit neighborhood with frequent visits to the neighbors. My best friend lived – with his mom, dad and baby sister – in one of the apartments in the house and I befriended an elderly couple who lived in one of the quadruplex apartments. In fact, I still have a beautiful china tea cup that they gave me. It used to be that there were housing choices other than what we usually see… Read more »

Parks and Planning Work to Replace Trees Ravaged by the Emerald Ash Borer

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Small but extremely destructive bugs from Asia are causing major disruptions to our tree canopy. In 2016, the Montgomery County Department of Parks started removing potentially hazardous ash trees from parkland owned by the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission.  These trees had to be cut down because they were infected by an exotic, invasive insect known as the emerald ash borer. The larvae from this metallic-green beetle can quickly bore into an ash tree, feed on its inner bark and kill it in one to three years, so the dead tree becomes dangerous to people and property. Insecticide treatments cannot save the tree, so the best strategy is to remove it and get rid of the infected wood. Although… Read more »

More trees! More lighting! More crossings needed!

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   These requests were just a few of the comments captured by a graphic artist during the second community meeting for the Veirs Mill Corridor Master Plan. Community residents and stakeholders were invited to the March 29 session to brainstorm the opportunities and constraints within neighborhoods along Veirs Mill Road, from Wheaton to Rockville. Separated into small groups, the participants discussed the positive and negative aspects of their neighborhoods. They cited the need for future improvements, ranging from bus shelters to improved maintenance of sidewalks and roads. Representatives from each group then shared highlights of their discussions with the larger audience. As they spoke, their feedback was recorded in words and pictures by graphic artist Lucinda Levine of Crowley &… Read more »

The Future of Aging Office Buildings

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Transit-served locations, less parking and affordability in urban centers are behind the successful recycling of offices into residences and other uses Walking past the Octave 1320 on Fenwick Lane in Downtown Silver Spring, it is hard to imagine that not too long ago, this glimmering, 102- unit condominium housed vacant offices and a greasy spoon eatery in its basement. The transformation of the 10-story building, developed by Promark Real Estate Services of Rockville and designed by Washington, DC-based BKV Group, is impressive and likely to become the norm rather than the exception in Montgomery County’s urban centers. Several factors are influencing such conversions of aging office structures to other uses: Our downtowns are mostly built up with high density office… Read more »

The Future of Self-Driving Cars

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Will they make urban communities more livable or extinct? As you read this blog, a nondescript Toyota Prius is logging mile after mile on highways across California. And while it looks and travels like any other car, this vehicle is without a driver. The autonomous Prius represents the relentless pursuit by researchers and corporations to realize the dream of self-driving cars. Google has clocked upwards of 1.5 million self-driven car miles. The 2017 Detroit auto show focused on test drives of self-driven vehicles and introduced the VW autonomous minivan of the future. It is only a matter of time before driverless vehicles become ready for mass adoption. As is the case with most new technologies, various claims are being made… Read more »

Shaping Up the Suburbs

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New plans for suburban communities focus on health The suburbs have been blamed for a host of health problems, from depression to obesity. Certainly, the social isolation, dependence on the car and lack of exercise that are often a part of suburban living aren’t good for our mental and physical well-being. But today’s suburbs – particularly established communities in Montgomery County– are becoming healthier as we plan and build neighborhoods where exercise is part of people’s daily routine. Health is not just a byproduct of how we live. It’s also related to where we live. A healthy environment makes it easier for residents to adopt a healthy lifestyle, whether it is achieved by providing more public parks and bike paths… Read more »

New Forecast for Montgomery County

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The Montgomery County Planning Department, in cooperation with the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG), recently developed a new forecast of population, households and employment from 2010 to 2045.  These data-based forecasts are used by government entities and the private sector for various uses, including transportation, water and air quality modeling, and analyzing commercial and residential markets.  This latest forecast, known as Round 9.0, is a major reassessment of assumptions made about people, households and jobs in the county. The draft Round 9.0 forecast anticipates that Montgomery County households, defined as occupied housing units with related or unrelated persons, are expected to increase from about 374,800 in 2015 to 461,900 in 2045, an increase of 87,100 households or 23 percent. … Read more »

Back to the Future: New Suburbanism

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Reimagining suburbs in the 21st century draws on the best of the past   The communities that started the trend of 20th-century suburbanism shared a number of common traits. Many of them were focused on rail or trolley lines. Most had some retail uses in close proximity – corner stores or small retail blocks. They connected to nature through tree-lined curvilinear streets and small neighborhood parks and open spaces. Montgomery County’s earliest suburbs – Chevy Chase, Kensington and Takoma Park — all exhibit these features. As suburbs grew and the areas between the rail and trolley lines filled in with auto-centric swaths of single-family homes, some of the essential traits of the older, original suburbs were lost. Now, in the… Read more »

Designed for excellence

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Winning county projects set high standards for developers to follow   The dynamic image of the Purple Line speeding through the Silver Spring Library site convinced an independent jury to choose that building for the Montgomery County Planning Department’s 2016 Design Excellence Award. “The design makes a statement about the importance of public transportation. It’s a great gift to the community,” said jury chair Yolanda Cole during the awards ceremony on October 20. This year’s Celebrate Design event, co-sponsored with the Potomac Valley AIA, was held at the Silver Spring Civic Building, just down the street from the new library with its ground-level space reserved for the future light rail station. The first part of the evening program showcased the… Read more »

Bethesda zoning overlay – creating a better place through height and quality design

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Zoning codes literally shape our communities, governing the spacing of driveways, the number of spaces in parking lots, the heights of buildings, the placements of sidewalks, and the size of blocks along with the activities (or “uses”) allowed in each neighborhood. These codes determine whether we will live in a compact, walkable community or in a place where an automobile is needed to get anywhere.   Some codes have been found that date back thousands of years. Many European cities have been continuously coded since the 11th or 12th century, contributing to the character that makes these cities appealing today. These rules were created to govern the relationship between what gets built on private property and the public spaces around… Read more »