The Montgomery County Planning Board yesterday unanimously approved a Scope of Work for the Silver Spring Downtown Plan that adds portions of adjacent neighborhoods to the study area.
The 4-0 decision at the virtual meeting (Commissioner Tina Patterson was absent for the vote) adopted staff boundary Option D, an expansion within a half-mile/ten-minute pedestrian “walkshed” from the future Silver Spring Library Purple Line Station. This expansion includes part of the neighborhoods of Woodside, Woodside Park, Seven Oaks/Evanswood and East Silver Spring.
“[The board was] not expanding the boundary of downtown Silver Spring,” said Planning Director Gwen Wright. “They were essentially saying as part of the Downtown Silver Spring Master Plan, they wanted to engage in the first study of creating some missing-middle housing in single-family neighborhoods adjacent to downtown Silver Spring.”
At the board’s March 26 meeting, the staff recommended expansion of the plan’s boundary to include, at the request of the Church of St. Michael’s, parcels the church owns along Wayne Avenue.
On March 26, Commissioner Partap Verma asked for staff to reexamine the Silver Spring Downtown Plan boundary, and his colleagues on the Planning Board supported this. Staff then went back and prepared the options that were presented on June 4.
Because of the board’s action, the department may change the title of the project to clarify its scope, Wright said.
“We’re going to be entering into a two- to three-year process to study whether the properties within the boundaries of the study area should have any land use changes,” she said. “It does not mean than anything is automatically going to be rezoned, but it does mean that as part of the master plan study area, we are going to be looking at land-use issues for all the properties within the boundary.
“The land-use issues that the board specifically asked us to look at in the expanded boundary area was whether there should be a consideration of allowing for some development other than single-family, detached housing,” Wright continued. “Should we be allowing for what we are calling missing middle, but it could be duplexes, it could be triplexes, it could be townhouses. Should we be considering any of those types of uses in the study area?”
The next step for planning staff will include preparing for what Wright called “much more fine-grained outreach” to neighborhood property owners.
“While we started off, I think, on the wrong foot, very frankly—I think this came about in an unfortunate way, in terms of trying to introduce the idea to the community—but now that we have direction from the Planning Board, we as the professional planning staff are going to do everything we can to try to do outreach and talk constructively with the community about what missing-middle housing may mean, and what the pros and cons are for their neighborhood, and to start doing the planning process as we always do, in a way that’s inclusive and transparent,” Wright said.
The community communications and education process could include correspondence, block meetings, expert speakers, and tours of examples of missing middle housing in the area, Wright said.
“Again, it is not a foregone conclusion that there will be a land-use change,” she said, “and if there is a land-use change, there’s not a foregone conclusion as to what that will be.
“Some people expressed the fear that we were going to use the commercial residential, the CR family of zones, and that that would just extend to the expanded boundary,” Wright continued, “but it very well could be that we are going to create something completely different for missing middle housing—an overlay zone, or a new zone entirely. Those are the kinds of things that we need to explore.”
Any eventual plan that the board adopts at the end of the process must by approved by the County Council.
The proposed schedule for the Silver Spring Downtown Plan is:
- Scope of Work approval: June 2020
- Existing Conditions Analysis/Commence Engagement: June 2020 – October 2020
- Visioning and Preliminary Recommendations: October 2020 – June 2021
- Development of Staff Draft Report: June 2021 – September 2021
- Planning Board Work Sessions and Public Hearing: October 2021 – January 2022
- Planning Board Draft: February 2022
- County Executive Review, County Council Review/PHED Work Sessions: February 2022 – June 2022
- Commission Adoption of Plan: June 2022
- Sectional Map Amendment: September 2022
Above, Montgomery County photo. Below, screenshot including Option D 1/2 mile walkshed (outlined with black dashes) from planning staff boundary report.