When Maureen Gately moved to Violet Place in Silver Spring in May, she was relieved to feel a real sense of community.
After living in Crystal City, Bethesda and Rockville, Gately said she felt a sense of warmth and charm when she moved to Fenton Village. Fenton Village, in the Eastern part of downtown Silver Spring, is home to dozens of small, local businesses, varying from restaurants and coffee shops to used book stores and salons.
That sense of community, she said, might soon be threatened by the Studio Plaza project — a 415-unit mixed-use development planned for the block between Georgia Avenue and Fenton Street, and between Thayer and Silver Spring avenues.
The first out of three phases of the project calls for more than 400,000 square feet in rental apartments and two-story townhomes and about 10,000 square feet of retail space. In addition, the project includes public space in the center of the development and a two-level public county parking garage underground.
But because of the development’s large size and proximity to her neighborhood, Gately is concerned the “monolith” does not match the flavor and real sense of ownership and community she bought into when she moved to Violet Place.
“What’s happening with this Studio Plaza? I’m starting to have flashbacks of Crystal City,” Gately said. “I would hate for Fenton Village to become anything like Crystal City.”
Gately isn’t alone. Ann Lafferty, who has lived in East Silver Spring for 26 years and has raised her two children there, said she thinks the development will “stick out like a sore thumb” because of its height — 110 feet — and mass.
“I think it’s inappropriate for our neighborhood,” Lafferty said.
At a community meeting held Dec. 13 at the Silver Spring Civic Building, developers said the site plan has been well-received and that they took concerns of the community into consideration for the plan.
At the meeting, developers said the plan now calls for a green roof and a larger opening to the plaza near the shops, as well as more glass on the facade of the building.
However, Karen Roper, chair of the East Silver Spring Citizens Association’s Zoning, Land and Department of Public Works and Transportation Committee, said the developers behind the Studio Plaza project — Robert Hillerson and Michael LLC — have not been open to community suggestions.
Roper said she has set up successful negotiations between the community and four different developers on other projects in East Silver Spring. While the other developers cooperated, Roper said the Studio Plaza developers “weren’t willing to negotiate in the same way.”
Lafferty said developers did not respond to community request for changes in moving the entrance to the development, increasing retail at the development along Silver Spring Avenue, breaking up the facade of the development and increasing the stepdowns on the side streets with a depth of more than 5 feet.
Bryan Condie, pre-development manager for Michael LLC, said that while they are always looking for ways to improve the project, the height and breadth of the building, the location and size of the public space and the general appearance of the Studio Plaza building likely will not change.
He said the project will be presented before the planning board on Feb. 21 and the public will be allowed to submit comments on the project. Condie said one way an aspect of the project could change would be by request of the planning board.
Steve Knight of Silver Spring said he was at the first meeting with developers on the project in July, as well as a meeting held in October. While he was not able to make it to the December meeting, Knight said none of the concerns raised “repeatedly” by the community were addressed, including the scale of the project, the massing of the project and the lack of retail.
“When the developer starts out the meeting and says ‘We’re not going to change any of those things,’ it’s hard to believe they’ve really taken into account community participation,” Knight said.
While Knight, an architect, said the project has improved “marginally,” he said the building is “just much too big for the scale and fabric of everything around it.”
Gately also said she is concerned about what this project will mean for traffic patterns in East Silver Spring, which she said is “super saturated with traffic already.”
Condie said the project has roughly a 1-to-1 ratio in terms of parking spots to residential units. He said a traffic study was done as required by the county and that the number of trips generated by the project did not create any issues.
The Studio Plaza project is one of seven potential planned for Fenton Village, according to Robert Kronenberg, of the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission. Aside from the library housing project, four projects are already approved and waiting to go to the permitting stage and a few more are under review.
Roper said she and other community members are unhappy with the design of the building and hope developers will work with the community to better integrate the project in the neighborhood.
“This is a phenomenal community and it should never be treated this way,” Roper said.