I have really enjoyed doing my walkabouts around the county. The walkabouts offer an opportunity for me to explore neighbourhoods with locals, hear about how the area evolved, and where people shop, go to school and work. It has been a great way to get out to places in the county where we may not be undertaking any planning activity. Too often we focus on what is happening, rather than learning about what we’ve got. And it gives me a great excuse to get the motorcycle out on a warm weekend.
Last year, I visited Lyttonsville in west Silver Spring. Turns out my wife and I had ridden our bikes over the one-lane bridge and through the community to the Capital Crescent Trail many times. I had a carpet cleaned there after a leak in our storage unit, replaced the tires on my car from the place on Brookville Road where it seems everyone I know goes, and my wife has been there several times to get hardware to rebuild our windows. I may yet get to the motorcycle shop.
Lyttonsville is much more than the commercial/industrial area on Brookville Road. It is one of those hidden gems of a community. Digging into the history helps to understand the devotion of its residents.
During the walkabout, it did not take long to find out the character of the people and how they viewed their community and its future. I remember early in the walk pointing to a new house that was pretty big for the area. I asked, “How do you feel about that house?” The response was, “That’s Nick’s house (not his real name). Nick lives there and he always comes out with tools when anyone needs help.”
The residents did not see the house as big, but rather as a function of who lived there and the part he plays in the community. A simple but often overlooked component of our landscape.
We walked past garden apartments. Edna mentioned that, when she and her family moved to Lyttonsville 40 years ago, this is where they settled. And Edna still lives there today. In the same apartment. That is some amazing community stability.
Then we went by the high-rise apartment building and another member of the group explained that she was able to save enough money, after renting in the building for eight years, for her and her daughter to afford a small house down the street. It was a great example of how rental housing can provide the foundation for future home ownership.
Then we discussed the future rail yard and maintenance facility for the Purple Line. State transit officials were planning to place it in the middle of the only place where this community could grow its services, on Brookville Road. Moreover, it would block the community from connecting to the Capital Crescent Trail. Keep in mind that Lyttonsville is already the site of a Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission yard as well as the RideOn bus facility. It seems that this community has its share of service infrastructure.
What struck me was the willingness of the community to accept this third facility, if only it could be placed in a less obtrusive place in the community. As we walked along the trail and to the west of Brookville Road, some ideas emerged. Could the maintenance yard be consolidated with the other facilities, leaving the heart of Brookville Road open to the Purple Line station and some new mixed uses to bring residential uses to this part of the community?
Some of the folks on the tour had lived here for 80 years. They remembered the school and church located where the industrial areas are today and how those new uses had slowly taken over a large part of the residential community. Brookville presents a real opportunity to remake an activity area for the neighbourhood.
A few months later, some of our planners and I returned to Lyttonsville to talk about the Purple Line and future planning efforts. We were very fortunate to be hosted at a private home on a Friday evening at a potluck event that turned into one of the best community meetings I have attended in 30 years. There were more than 20 people, with food for 30 more, discussing the future of the community with maps spread on the living room floor.
The real success is what came out of that meeting. Four months later in mid-March, the MTA announced at a community meeting that the train maintenance yard was going to be moved south, to consolidate as much as possible with the other service facilities.
Is the solution perfect? No. Some businesses will have to relocate including the wonderful cake store. But both the County and the MTA can work with those businesses to find them new space in the community they have served for many years.
The key is that a future mixed-use community hub is still possible on Brookville, serviced by the Purple Line.
This is a community that came together and made a significant difference. I was honored to be invited into their homes and community and help them make that difference. Lyttonsville will grow in the right ways as a result of their participation.
On March 28, we are hosting an open house at the Coffield Community Center to start that discussion. It is the kick off of the Lyttonsville Sector Plan, where we want to hear from the community about their ideas for their future. We are excited about the opportunity to engage and hear how they feel the next 20 or 30 years should evolve.