Oh, Grant Us Not A Traffic Light

Dear Readers,
The city council is at recess. If you listen carefully you can hear their raucus screams and laughter from the playground.
There was much restless scuffing and wriggling as they took on July 31 agenda’s last item, the state “Legacy” loan. You may recall the granolapark entry Our Great Legacy about this.

Briefly, the Maryland Community Legacy Fund is a low-interest loan for public/private economic development projects. The council was deliberating which of three proposals to apply for. They were: a parking facility for Old Town, streetscape improvements at the intersection of Carroll and Westmoreland Avenue, and street/facade/security improvements on New Hampshire Ave.

Since then the staff has been busy busy busy crafting a deal with the state . The Housing and Community Development office has parlayed the legacy loan into an arrangement wherein the loan finances an Old Town parking facility, to be paid off by proceeds from parking, AND an outright grant to make streetscape improvements at the Carroll and Westmoreland Avenue intersection.
Such a deal!

Maybe – it depends on the bids that come in for the streetscape work. If it is too much, then the city would have to pick up some of the cost. Also there is a certain reluctance, voiced by both the Mayor and councilmember Terry Seamens, to take on the expense of a project (even if funded by a grant) that SHOULD be taken on by the State Highways Administration, the agency that is in charge of state highway routes such as Carroll Avenue.

The Mayor bemoaned that the city is often in this position – paying for projects that should be funded by county or state agencies because those agencies are too slow. (Gilbert wonders if the city can just go ahead and do the projects, then bill the agencies for reimbursement).
Everyone concerned: the council, staff, Old Town Business Association, and the Old Town residents, are chomping at the bit to get PARKING. They have been for years. As gray-haired John Hume of the OTBA joked, when the legacy loan was first made available for Old Town parking, he had a full head of brown hair.

Ironically, the factor that accelerated this issue is no longer, er, a factor. The controversial “Talianos Building” development has undeveloped. The owners have reorganized the whole thing. It is now owned by an entity called “Keystone,” not ICG, and it reportedly no longer involves converting much of the space (the Talianos building and the undeveloped lot behind it) to residential use, and no longer involves a huge underground parking garage that feeds onto Westmoreland Avenue.

That parking garage feed is what was driving the move to improve the Carroll/Westmoreland intersection, so Gilbert is wondering just what they are going to do there. He is afraid it will all end in a traffic light, resulting in a snarly mess like the one created by the intersection “improvements” at Ethan Allen and Sycamore Avenues (by the co-op).

Councilmember Bruce Williams said that he was glad for the reprieve that the ICG’s “undevelopment” gives the city. He’s hoping something better will come along. The mayor reminded everyone that downtown Silver Spring had a number of unacceptable projects proposed before a good one came along.

A local neighborhood association president, Bruce Moyer of the Westmoreland Area Community Organization, urged the council to look at Old Town and come up with not just a new parking facility, but a comprehensive plan for the area’s development.

Gilbert points out that the current situation leaves the large undeveloped tract behind the Old Town block up in the air. See, look out the window – there it is, floating in the sky. As you can observe, it is currently a paved-over parking lot (a very steep one). Typical of the Balkanization of the block, it is almost contiguous with the Urciolo-owned parking lot just in front of it, but it is at a slightly lower elevation and blocked by a huge chain-link fence that would not look out of place on an international border. The message is clear “I own this side, you own that side, keep your shoppers on your side and if you want to come to my shops, you can damn well walk all the way around the block” Shoppers and residents who encounter this obstruction universally think “this is dumb, why don’t they coordinate this mess?”

Similarly, throughout the course of the ICG development proposal process it seems the owners of one end of the block were barely speaking to the owner of the other end, and they certainly were not coordinating.

Sarah (“The Silver Fox”) Daines, of the Housing and Community Development Office mentioned in the course of her presentation the possibility of a “design charette” – a meeting with “stake holders” (this phrase conjures up a room full of people in stiff-necked Victorian attire carrying mallets and point bits of wood) and a consultant to take a comprehensive look at the area and come up with a “conceptual plan”.
This would, however, cost the city an estimated $90,000 for the consultant, which would nearly deplete the city’s yearly budget for consultant’s fees. The council was reluctant to commit to that, so the mayor put on the September agenda a discussion about where best to spend that money. There are a number consultant-worthy issues upcoming – the New Hampshire Avenue corridor is one, the Washington Adventist Hospital site (if the hospital leaves) is another.

Oh, my, Your Gilbert can just see the end of that “small town” feeling in Old Town in the not-so-distant future. Parking meters in the old parking lot! Signs telling out-of-towners where the parking lot IS, even! Sigh!

– Gilbert

PS. Readers, we continue to have technical problems. If you are unable to post a comment, please send it via email to gilbert@takoma.com and it will be added to the post. Thanks!.

About the Author

Gilbert is the pseudonym of a hard-bitten, hard-drinking, long-time Takoma Park resident who maintains the granolapark blog. Gilbert and William L. Brown — Granola Park's mild-mannered chief of staff, researcher, and drink pourer — have never been seen in the same place at the same time.