Despite opposition from numerous residents and mixed feelings from some commissioners, the Montgomery County Planning Board on Thursday approved the uprooting of several mature trees right outside its offices in downtown Silver Spring. It’s part of a plan that officials hope will eventually result in a new mixed-use development.
The development project would include about 360 apartment homes, 26,200 square feet of retail space and 575 underground parking spaces, according to current plans. That is contingent upon the headquarters of the planning department and Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning moving from the Georgia Avenue site to downtown Wheaton, which is slated for four years down the road.
“This is a very difficult decision, I think, for all of us,” said commissioner Norman Dreyfuss, before voting to approve the plan. “We’ve lived with those trees. ... My whole career they’ve been there. ... I agree with staff and the engineer representing the applicant that nothing much can happen [to redevelop the site] without a minimum of those middle trees going. And potentially the others. Hopefully, we can avoid that.”
The preliminary forest conservation plan is in the early stages and could change, Planning Board Chairwoman Francoise Carrier said.
“We can’t treat this case any differently than we treat all the other cases that we do, regardless of how attached I might be to those particular trees,” Carrier said. “You cannot reasonably develop this site, according to the master plan and the zoning, with those trees there.”
Some residents who attended the meeting said the shade and benefits the mature trees provide outside planning headquarters cannot be replaced, even if developers plant new ones. The trees targeted for removal include two Willow Oaks — one about 54 inches in diameter and the other 47 inches around.
“To put this forest conservation plan in place because of parking to me is a very short-sighted thing to do,” said Barbara Ditzler, a Silver Spring resident.
Under the plan, developers StonebridgeCarras and Bozzuto will redevelop the 3.2-acre planning department site, as well as the new headquarters in downtown Wheaton.
Developers also want to remove and potentially relocate Royce Hanson Urban Park, which is just outside planning department headquarters on Georgia Avenue, but Thursday’s meeting did not address the park issue. The park does not have any recreation facilities, but has picnic tables and flower beds.
The proposed project is a complex one, being a gateway for downtown Silver Spring near residential neighborhoods, parks, and low-rise and high-rise development, said Douglas Firstenberg, co-manager and principal of StonebridgeCarras.
“These trees have fallen in a category where we didn’t think they could survive, nor could we do a great mixed-use development with them in place,” Firstenberg said.