SILVER SPRING • BY ED LEVY
A Monday night crowd filled the meeting room for the March monthly meeting of the Silver Spring Citizens Advisory Board. Many were there due to their interest in senior citizen housing, the main topic that evening. Others came to hear County Councilmember Valerie Ervin report on fast breaking news regarding the County’s Capital Improvements Program (county-funded major facilities), and still others were there to raise other issues or just to stay informed about the Silver Spring/Takoma Park community.
The Board discusses and acts on a wide range of issues that affect the Silver Spring Region defined as the west-east area between Rock Creek Park and the Prince Georges County line, and the north-south boundary of I-495 and the District of Columbia, including all of the City of Takoma Park and all of Four Corners.
The Silver Spring Board is one of five regional advisory boards working out of the County government’s Regional Service Centers. Board member applications are solicited from interested residents, nominated by the County Executive, and approved by the County Council.
The Silver Spring Board meets on the second Monday evening of each month at the Silver Spring Regional Services Center (next to the plaza/ice skating rink and across from the Regal Majestic movies near Fenton and Ellsworth Streets. The Board has three committees (Neighborhoods, Commercial Economic Development, and Transportation and Public Safety) which meet at the Center on the fourth Monday of each month. All Board meetings are open to the public, and everyone in the room is entitled to vote at committee meetings.
During 2011, the Silver Spring Board organized the first Taste of Fenton Village event to highlight the unique Silver Spring restaurants south of Wayne Avenue and north of 410 (this year’s Taste of Fenton Village will take place on May 6, 2012). In 2011, the Board also organized walking tours of Four Corners and Lyttonsville and a bicycle tour of Langley Park, explored ways to keep the Fenton Street Market at Veterans Plaza, pushed the County to designate more spaces in County garages for shared cars, and organized a meeting with the President’s Council of Silver Spring Civic Associations regarding the County’s rewrite of zoning codes, among other actions.
I admired how adeptly Board Chair Kathy Stevens runs the Board meetings. Everyone knew that their views had been heard while the meeting moved forward efficiently. Stevens says it’s her priority for the Board to provide a forum for Silver Spring residents to contribute their ideas while providing advice to elected officials at the County and State levels. She adds that while the Board is not perfect, it has a pretty good well-functioning model. Stevens is especially proud of the work the Board is doing with the Fenton Village merchants.
Evan Glass is the Board’s Executive Vice President, the second in command. Glass states the Silver Spring Advisory Board was the first group of any kind established to advise the Montgomery County Government. He enjoys working on the wide range of issues before the Board and finds that each is interesting in their own way. He is focused on the challenges and opportunities of Silver Spring’s continuing redevelopment; keeping new construction aesthetically pleasing and maintaining sufficient green space for area residents.
Jessica Fusillo co-chairs the Board’s Commercial Economic Development Committee where she is focused on maintaining the community’s integrity and diversity. She, too, is proud of the Board’s work with Fenton Village merchants. Her committee is working now to help organize a merchants association for the area and to help existing businesses cope with the disruption of upcoming construction. She also points to the Board’s success in improving community access to the new Silver Spring Civic Building. Fusillo and her committee are continuing to work on influencing the future of City Place, the redevelopment of the Falklands apartment complex, and on establishing a Silver Spring effort to coincide with Shop Small Business Day – the Saturday after Thanksgiving.
Reemberto Rodriguez is Director of Montgomery County Government’s Silver Spring Regional Center, and is very pleased with the productive partnership between the Regional Center and the Advisory Board. He believes that the Board is a model of successful community infrastructure, similar to efforts in Atlanta, Portland (OR), and Syracuse.
The Board is also similar to the District of Columbia’s Advisory Neighborhood Commissions (ANC) but on a larger scale. (D.C. has 39 ANCs serving a population of about 600,000 while Montgomery County’s five Advisory Boards serve a population of 971,000.) Rodriguez is supportive of the Board’s efforts to reflect the diversity (by ethnic group, geography, age group, and renter/homeowner status) of the Silver Spring community.
I recommend that area residents drop by one of the group’s meetings. At the Board’s March meeting, I learned a lot, I met some interesting and friendly people, and I had the chance to have my questions answered about local issues that are important to me. The Board is one of the many organizations that make Silver Spring/Takoma Park a great community in which to live.