Developers Bringing Grocers to Downtown Silver Spring Could Get 70-Foot Height Bonuses

Council approves legislation increasing height cap for certain projects


Published:

A rendering of the Solaire Ripley II project

VIA WASHINGTON PROPERTY CO. WEBSITE

Developers that bring new grocery stores to downtown Silver Spring now can apply for a 70-foot height bonus.

The County Council on Tuesday voted 8-1 to approve a zoning change aimed at attracting more retail options to the Ripley District and south Silver Spring. The measure, sponsored by Council member Tom Hucker, would open the way for 270-foot buildings in that region if they feature a grocery store of at least 10,000 square feet.

To qualify for the extra height, the developers also would have to provide an onsite or offsite “major public facility,” such as a school, library, recreation center, park, county service center or bike-sharing station.

“I agreed to sponsor it after hearing from many residents about the lack of grocery options in south Silver Spring generally, and the Ripley District in particular. That area has grown tremendously in the last 10 years in terms of residents, but the retail options haven’t kept up with that,” Hucker said.

Silver Spring resident Dan Reed submitted a letter encouraging council members to support the legislation.

“My building, the Silverton, is literally across the train tracks from the proposed grocery store site, and I can confidently say I’m not bothered by the prospect of a taller building in my backyard,” he wrote in the email, which he posted online. “And not just because of the lines at the Blair Park Giant, which can make a simple trip to get a gallon of milk into a major adventure.”

Generally, the area west of Georgia Avenue and south of Bonifant Street has a height cap of 145 feet, although developers can apply for a 200-foot building if it has ground-floor retail.

The change applies to an area bounded by railroad tracks, a state highway and a fire station and wouldn’t put taller buildings in close proximity to single-family homes, Hucker noted.

Representatives of Washington Property Co. have expressed interest in using the new height option in their project to redevelop the former Progress Place site on Colonial Lane. They’re looking to add a “niche grocer” to the 440-unit apartment complex planned for the property and say they need to construct a taller building to accommodate above-ground parking facilities for the shoppers.

Council member Marc Elrich, who cast the single vote against the proposal, said he didn’t buy this argument, estimating that 60 parking spaces at most would be required for a smaller grocery store. He voiced skepticism that all 70 feet of building height would be needed for this additional parking.

A council legislative analyst explained that the developer would have to redesign the project to put all of the spaces above grade, if the grocery store became part of the plan.

Elrich also focused on the language calling for a “major public facility,” and asked if Washington Property would fulfill this obligation by building a new Progress Place resource center. As part of a land-swap arrangement with the county, Washington Property agreed to rebuild the homeless center at a new location, in exchange for acquiring the old Progress Place site.

“That gives me heartburn,” Elrich said. “How that now becomes an amenity, when it was originally part of a land deal, escapes me.”

Officials responded that the Montgomery County Planning Board would have discretion in determining whether the new Progress Place would satisfy the legislation’s requirements for a public amenity. The requirements and benefits of the legislation would be the same for all developers within that district, they noted.

Bethany Rodgers can be reached at bethany.rodgers@bethesdamagazine.com.

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