Long Branch community raises concerns about sector plan -- Gazette.Net


Members of the Long Branch community in Silver Spring are concerned that Montgomery County redevelopment plans that include two expected stops along the proposed Purple Line would mean fewer affordable housing and business properties.

The Long Branch Sector Plan, currently in a second draft phase, addresses a portion of Long Branch that includes areas around Piney Branch Road, Flower Avenue and University Boulevard.

County planners developed the plan — among others around the county — in part as a response to the planned construction of the Purple Line, a 16-mile light-rail line that would extend from Bethesda to New Carrollton.

Rent rates around the Purple Line are expected to rise — an issue that county planners say they are trying to address in the plan and which has stirred concern among residents and business owners. Some say the plan will not do enough to help them.

At a Jan. 16 community meeting at Rolling Terrace Elementary School with Montgomery County Planning Department staff, several attendees raised the issue of affordable housing.

One attendee said the county has to think about the “repercussions” the plan would have on low-income families, while another questioned where area residents would go if they have to leave Long Branch.

Lindolfo Carballo — community organization Casa de Maryland’s lead organizer for community economic development — served as a translator during the meeting and said he heard from people concerned they would be displaced if the plan is carried out or their small business would be hurt by the changes in the area.

Laura Pinto, a resident of University Landing Apartments, said through a translator that she has followed the plan’s development for more than two years and that she and the majority of her friends and family would be affected if the plan results in a loss of affordable housing.

Pedro Mubine, of West Hyattsville, attended the meeting with a group concerned about keeping affordable housing in the area, including one man holding a sign that said “no displacements.”

Through a translator, Mubine said the group supported the sector plan project, but the government has to compromise with them so they are protected and do not lose access to affordable housing.

Melissa Williams, project manager of the sector plan, described in a presentation the multiple issues the plan draft addresses, including pedestrian safety, parks and trails, small business support and the creation of mixed-use development.

Williams said the idea of preserving the affordability of the Long Branch area was “something we heard loud and clear” from previous community input and planning staff would “love to preserve as much of the affordability as we can.”

The plan does not propose to make changes to subsidized housing in the area, Williams said, but rather to areas of affordable housing in which rents could potentially increase as a result of the Purple Line.

By rezoning certain areas to allow both residential and commercial use, the planning staff can request more mandated affordable housing in the plan, she said.

The current draft of the plan proposes that 15 percent of what is developed in those rezoned areas becomes affordable housing, she said.

“We are taking an uncertain situation and providing a level of certainty,” she said after the meeting.

The zoning change is also aimed at preserving the affordability of commercial properties and protecting small businesses, Williams said.

Any changes that could affect community affordability, she added, would not take place until after the Purple Line is fully funded.

She said after the meeting it is “highly likely” that there will be an opportunity for community members to further discuss the issue of affordability at one of the county planning board work sessions scheduled for Feb. 21 and March 14.

The planning board also will hold a public hearing on the sector plan on Jan. 31.

Del. Tom Hucker (D-Dist. 20), who attended the meeting, said that, while planning staff also needs to increase its focus on pedestrian safety and greenspace expansion, it needs to “redouble its efforts” when it comes to providing enough affordable housing.

Hucker said he did not think the planning staff did enough to help people understand the plan at the meeting and he would like to see them seek additional feedback.

While there is a lot of interest in the plan, he said, “I think it’s a hard community to penetrate.”