Guest Blogger: Michael Brown, Urban Designer, Kensington Sector Plan
After nearly 30 years, the Town of Kensington is inching closer to an updated sector plan. Thumbing through the 1978 Plan, you quickly realize the need for the updated document. While the overall vision of maintaining Kensington’s single-family, historical character has not changed, the updated plan promotes a new vision for the center.
In the 1960s, Kensington was designated as a Central Business District, in anticipation of a Metro route along the existing rail line. When Metro decided instead to build the Red Line along a different route, the 1978 plan eliminated the CBD designation to preserve the low-intensity character. Conversely, the updated plan promotes a mixed-use center with connections to the vibrant single-family neighborhoods.
Why promote a mixed-use center? New priorities! They are Connectivity, Design, Environment, and Diversity.
Connectivity: Improve the street intersections, sidewalks, crosswalks and trails to promote alternative modes of transportation. You can’t talk about Kensington without mentioning Connecticut Avenue. It is the spine of the town and a vital north-south thoroughfare in the county. For commuters, Kensington is the place where you get held up by several traffic lights. For local residents, Connecticut Avenue is the major barrier that divides Kensington. The updated Plan seeks to balance the needs of pedestrians, children, cyclists, and the disabled with the needs of motorists who overwhelm Kensington today.
Design: Encourage buildings to frame the street and design ground floors to support vibrant sidewalk activity. The historically designated frontages along West Howard Avenue exemplify the benefits of such pedestrian-oriented design. Design decisions concerning materials, massing, orientation, fenestration, and façade articulation will help shape Kensington into a walkable and livable community.
Environment: Promote sustainable infill that maximizes the use of existing infrastructure. Encourage environmentally friendly practices that reduce negative impacts to natural resources. The development of a mixed-use town center would allow residents to move car-free in a healthier, more sustainable community.
Diversity: Allow a variety of land uses including multifamily residential to create a vibrant center. Enhance community identity and character through preservation and thoughtful revitalization. Kensington presently offers a full range of neighborhood services and retail. Expanding residential options within the center would provide opportunities for a range of family sizes. Kensington is known for its Victorian period architecture. The updated Plan seeks to preserve this historic character while promoting innovative architectural design that reinforces the town’s identity and image.
The 2010 Kensington Sector Plan Update is currently being considered by County Council. The Town of Kensington has endorsed the Plan and continues to discuss and consider implementation options, namely zoning.