Archive for January, 2011
Since 2008, Montgomery County planners have been working with a consultant on a comprehensive rewrite of the county’s Zoning Ordinance. On January 18, 2011, the Zoning Rewrite Project Team was invited to present an update to the County Council. View the presentation below. For more information, visit our Zoning Rewrite Project page.
Are we too focused on how fast we can get someplace? Like many suburbs across the country, Montgomery County has grown as a series of unconnected places and destinations. Linking these activity nodes are arterials — high-capacity urban roads that deliver traffic to freeways and between activity centers. Most of our arterials are fronted by spaces that could be in almost any county across the country. And these spaces are filled with a lot of pavement: marginal public spaces, aging sidewalks and plenty of parking spaces.
These pathways, our arterials, offer a big challenge as well as a big opportunity. The map shows Georgia Avenue, Veirs Mill, New Hampshire Avenue and Colesville Road. MoCo is beginning to experience challenges on these streets that have been commonplace in suburbs across the country for many years.
Next time you drive along a corridor, look for the “for sale” signs that have been there for so long. Has the property maintenance suffered? Are some buildings vacant?
Then look at the recent development that has occurred along these corridors. Drive- through banks, convenience stores, acres and acres of surface parking. Is this the best we can do?
On Georgia Avenue just north of downtown Silver Spring, we see properties on the east side with small front yards paved over for parking as the use of the house has changed to office. Some properties suffer from lack of upkeep. And this is all permitted under our current zoning laws.
Directly opposite these properties is the recently completed Courts of Woodside infill housing project. This is a great example of how a challenging site can be transformed into a compact housing development fronting on a busy street. This project, with historic houses, champion trees, and park space, faced some concerns from the community.
Should the zoning laws permit the type of situation on the east of the street yet prohibit the construction of a project like the Courts of Woodside? To the contrary, we should encourage more Courts of Woodside.
The new houses shield the older homes behind them from the noise and view of Georgia Avenue. Their sales value represents some of the highest in the neighborhood.
A block south of the Courts project, there is an older townhouse project at the Georgia / Spring intersection from the early 1980s. This project extends from Georgia through to the interior street. It has been very successful — recent sales demonstrate its value. Of interest is how this project and the Courts of Woodside project a block away, treated the busy Georgia Avenue street frontage differently.
While the Courts project is elevated above the street level, this other project used a berm to create a partial visual and noise barrier. This latter approach is not uncommon around the county and there are plenty of examples of decorative walls along streets like Tuckerman or Connecticut just south of the Beltway, that serve a similar purpose.
Many property owners are attempting to sell houses for commercial uses like doctor’s offices, home occupations or a small business. On New Hampshire Avenue, for example, I’ve seen a ranch house become a small nursing home.
Much of our commercial zoning does not allow for mixed uses or makes it very difficult to create an environment where people would want to live. Is there an opportunity to create a new market for land along these busy corridors that can bring much needed affordable housing or mixed uses on streets served by buses and in the future, improved bus transit ?
Will infill development in MoCo be subject to lengthy reviews that drive up costs on marginal sites, meaning would-be renovators would change their minds and we wouldn’t improve our arterials? Can we find a way to build standards that help infill projects blend into the surrounding environment where one side is faced with a busy street and the other is an interface to an existing neighborhood?
It has and is being done around the country. In the Pacific Northwest, cottage housing is proving wildly successful, especially among empty nesters looking to downsize from larger homes. In the Midwest, we see older housing developments of this type offering housing that meets the affordability needs of young family, singles and recent graduates.
Our arterials are a tremendous resource that have been viewed simply as a means to a destination. Yet, they represent perhaps the biggest opportunity to create new housing opportunities, introduce convenient services and increase the demand for public transit.