Tall tower in downtown Silver Spring not a trend, developer says -- Gazette.Net







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Downtown Silver Spring’s tallest building — the 21-story residential tower Eleven55 Ripley — recently opened, casting its shadow near the long-delayed transit center.

Will that area see more tall buildings, assuming the transit center finally opens? Probably not quite that tall, a developer said.

“It depends on the zoning,” said Bruce H. Lee, president of Lee Development Group, which has its office in downtown Silver Spring. “I expect, on average, the new buildings will be from nine to 16 stories.”

The 379-unit Eleven55 Ripley, developed by Washington, D.C., firm Shalom Baranes, is the latest residential tower. Rents start at $1,540 for a studio apartment and run from $2,365 to $3,025 for a two-bedroom unit.

With amenities such as a rooftop pool, 3,000-square-foot clubroom, high-definition theater and a two-story fitness center with a yoga room, the complex wants to keep residents “for the long haul,” said property manager Jessica McMaster.

The tower is a welcome addition to the downtown area and will add more life to Ripley Street and the area south of the Metro station, said Dan Reed, an urban planner and designer who lives in the Sligo Park Hills neighborhood about a mile from downtown Silver Spring.

Reed is the land use chair for Action Committee for Transit, a group advocating for public transit in Montgomery County.

“I wouldn’t mind more buildings that tall in downtown,” Reed said. “I grew up on the 14th floor of an apartment building here, and I loved staring out the window and enjoying the views.”

Lee’s company developed and manages a 10-story office building at Colesville and Georgia and seeks to build another office structure next door. But the market for office space has been down for several years. Lee said the only current commercial office project he knew of in the works in downtown Silver Spring is an expansion at biotech United Therapeutics Corp.

The countywide commercial office vacancy rate is about 14 percent — almost twice as high as in 2007. It’s higher than that if you take out 100 percent occupied buildings, he said.

“A lot of office projects are seeking to change their zoning to residential,” Lee said. “We plan to wait out the office market here, but it could be 10 to 15 years.”

The residential buildings will increase the number of people and activity in downtown Silver Spring. Whether that results in more severe vehicle congestion depends a lot on how much public transportation is available and how walkable and bikeable the community is, said Nick Brand, president of Action Committee for Transit.

Urban centers like downtown Silver Spring need to focus more on such aspects and “not be fixated” on building more parking, adding car lanes and speeding up traffic, Brand said.

More housing options in downtown Silver Spring not only means more commuters, but more shoppers to support local businesses, Reed said. That can attract more shops and restaurants, so downtown residents will have more options and might not have to drive as much, he said.