Study: Rezoning, Public Investment Needed to Revitalize Georgia Avenue Corridor

Rezoning and significant public investments offer the best chance for revitalizing the Georgia Avenue corridor in Forest Glen/Montgomery Hills, according to a new market analysis of the area.

The study, conducted for the Planning Department by Washington, D.C.-based Partners for Economic Solutions, will be presented in a public meeting from 6-8 p.m. Monday, Sept. 17 at Park and Planning headquarters, 8787 Georgia Ave.

The department is in the process of creating a sector plan for the area, which runs from Spring Street north to Dennis Avenue, and commissioned the study as part of that effort.

“The character of the Forest Glen/Montgomery Hills Sector Plan area, particularly along the MD 97 (Georgia Avenue) corridor is related to the regional auto demand, the proximity of the interstate and the plan area’s unique location between two central business districts (Wheaton and Silver Spring) which provide a large number of retail, dining and nightlife options,” said Melissa Williams, the plan’s project manager.

“In many ways, the corridor is functioning and behaving as expected, but there is room for improvement, particularly in areas related to mobility and public amenities,” she continued. “Ultimately, staff will take into consideration the findings in this and other reports prepared by our consultants to craft recommendations for the Forest Glen/Montgomery Hills Sector Plan.”  

The analysis identified the Forest Glen Metro Station and the Forest Glen Medical Center at 9801 Georgia Ave. as the best candidates for rezoning to allow higher density and mixed-use development. Both properties are currently zoned R-60 for single-family homes.

Allowing higher density development on these sites “could support infill redevelopment to provide a more pedestrian-friendly environment with increased connectivity and more residents to support and keep viable the existing small, local business base, and possibly expand retail offerings,” the report said.

At the same time, the State Highway Administration is considering ways to improve traffic conditions, along with pubic space improvements for users such as cyclists and pedestrians.

“The enhanced public realm and pedestrian environment coupled with reduced auto conflicts would greatly improve Montgomery Hills’ and Forest Glen’s ability to compete for shoppers, business tenants and residents,” the study reported.

At the same time, depending on the reconfiguration of the corridor that’s ultimately chosen, existing businesses could be threatened by negative effects such as reduced parking, or even eliminated entirely.

In that case, additional properties, such as those in the 9500 block of Georgia, also could be opened up for redevelopment in the future.

While the state continues its work, the Planning Department is moving ahead, aware of the barriers that exist to revitalizing the corridor.

“Smaller lot sizes, high traffic volume and poor east-west connectivity continue to be existing challenges within the Forest Glen/Montgomery Hills Plan area,” Williams said. “Staff continue to seek creative solutions to these and other issues within the plan area and hope to provide recommendations that will allow for and support revitalization of the area.

“One other issue is low vacancy rates, which poses a challenge to incentivizing property owners and landlords to make new investments,” she added.

To encourage investments, the study recommends low-interest loans and small grants for architectural services to help ensure high-quality façade improvements.

Other recommendations from the report include:

  • small business technical assistance
  • construction-period strategies to support local businesses during the SHA construction, and
  • marketing and advocacy efforts undertaken by a business association and nearby residents.

Area residents are already working on advocacy efforts for the corridor via Friends of Forest Glen & Montgomery Hills. The group is planning a street fest for Sept. 29 and has invited representatives of various agencies involved in planning for the corridor to attend and discuss their efforts.

Photo of the congested Georgia Avenue through Montgomery Hills by Earl Dotter, Photojournalist, Stock Photography Library.

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