There’s some shady business planned at the community college. If the proposed expansion goes the way some fear, they say the new buildings will be so big and tall they will cast the student common area, the local streets, and the surrounding neighborhood into perpetual shade.
This is not what the neighbors nor the Takoma Park city council want to happen, of course. They would like the Montgomery College Takoma Park branch to expand in another direction. The original college campus occupies a few city blocks in a residential neighborhood. The newer part of the campus with recently built or under-construction larger buildings occupies an adjacent area across the railroad tracks in commercial Silver Spring.
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A panel of college representatives presented their draft plans to the city council at the July 14th meeting. Different options are still being considered, not all of which are acceptable to the surrounding community. The more agreeable plans tend to be more expensive, as they involve purchase of new property. The less expensive plans involve building on land already owned – such as the original campus next to the residential neighborhood.
Much of the presentation and the discussion had to do with the “Burlington property” on Burlington Avenue [see NOTE 1 below].
What is the Burlington property, you ask? If you are Montgomery College, it is a plot of land owned not by them but by the Montgomery College Foundation slated for mixed-use development that would generate income for the college. If you are the Takoma Park City Council it is a pilot of land owned by the college (college, foundation, same difference), that is the obvious place to expand the college campus where it would shade the railroad tracks, not voters’ yards and gardens.
College provost Brad Stewart admitted that he wouldn’t mind having that space for academic use only, but he made no promises whether the foundation would cede the property or not.
The college reps made no promises at all, other than to keep “listening” to the city. Instead they made excuses why they couldn’t make promises: it is too early in the process, their options may be limited by costs and factors known and unknown, architects can’t give them details yet, and so forth. The process is driven, they say, by requirements from the county to quickly come up with an expansion plan, any plan that provides for the projected increase in students by 2016. For that reason they show ugly “boxes” on the plans and sketches that are alarming to the community, but the nondescript boxes are shown only because the college has no architectural plans, yet.
The neighborhood associations and residents weren’t buying it, They complained that some of the options show inappropriate massing and height of projected buildings in the city section of the campus, even to the point of overshadowing the campus’ own common area.
Your Gilbert pulled out the salt shaker and poured himself a few grains to take with the statements from past and present directors of Historic Takoma. Historic preservation is all well and good, but they have a habit of advocating “no change!” while overlooking other important issues [see NOTE 2 below].
So, Your Gilbert was just a tiny bit sympathetic when, after the Historic Takoma and residents had roasted them, one of the college reps complained that the city says “we love you” on one hand, but on the other tries to push the college away. After all, when people say they don’t want to have to look at buildings when they sit on their porch, we want to give them a reality check. Hello? This is the inner suburbs, where for a host of good reasons we want to encourage people to live, work, go to school, take mass transit, bike, and walk. Urban and inner suburban density is the alternative to outer suburban sprawl.
BUT, it is overly generous of us to show even that much sympathy. These college reps are a slippery school of fish, darting away from commitments and hard facts to swim in the water of platitudes, vague statements, and excuses.
It reminded us of the process with the Seventh Day Adventist Hospital leading up to its announced departure. The hospital’s rep had the same mournful, concerned expression, the same statements about how he was there to listen and understand the community’s concerns, the same professions of love and caring for the city, and the same underlying plea: please cooperate in the process of making it look like we’re working together while we shaft you.
What is it about the city council that makes them go along with this false cordiality? The residents were not fooled. When it was their turn to participate, they kicked shins. We pine for former city (now county) council member Marc Elrich (who made a report to the city council at the July 7th meeting) who has a finely tuned BS meter, and who does not hesitate to apply fire to feet.
PS. For some background on this see our February post “Chillin.”
Do you know where Burlington Avenue is? You’ve probably driven on it frequently. Here’s a hint, it is one of the many streets that are part of East-West Highway (Rte. 410). It is not in Takoma Park, but it is close.
The more knowledgeable of you, and those who went immediately to Googlemaps, know that Burlington Avenue is that one block stretch of road, most of it a bridge, that crosses the railroad track between Georgia and Fenton. This is where the Burlington property lies, the piece of land just over the bridge, between the tracks and new Montgomery College building on Georgia Avenue.
[We stand corrected on this, see comment from Sabrina Baron, President of Historic Takoma. The institution which did this was the county historical preservation commission, not Historic Takoma.]
For instance, it was their concerns about not letting any portion of a proposed new residential development in Old Town to be visible over the historic downtown facade which drove the developers to shift the mass of the proposed new building so it crowded into and loomed over the presumably less historic residential neighborhood behind. The concerns of residents. and the desires of the developer to orient the project toward Old Town and Metro were trumped. That development did not go through.
In another instance, Historic Takoma objected vociferously to turning the infamously snarled Takoma Junction (where their new office is located) into a traffic-circle. Traffic circles, once people get used to them, are more efficient, faster, and waste less gasoline than traffic lights or stop signs. But, the “no change” edit trumped those concerns, too.