First new building expected in 2017
by Aline Barros
The Blairs Urban Redevelopment in Silver Spring will begin a 20-year transformation late this summer with the demolition of four mid-rise buildings constructed in 1959.
The redevelopment consists of about 450,000 square feet for retail and commercial space and 3.4 million square feet for residential living.
Twenty percent of the area for the project — bounded by Colesville Road, East-West Highway, Blair Mill Road and Eastern Avenue — is set aside for public space and urban parks.
On June 10, The Tower Companies and the Abramson family presented new renderings and talked about the future of the Blairs community.
“We certainly have our own community on our own grounds, but at the same time, we are going to have an open green space, we are going to have dog parks and we will allow the community [non-Blairs residents] to come in and hopefully have community events,” said Gary Abramson, a partner at The Tower Companies and son of the original developer, Albert “Sonny” Abramson.
County and state officials and candidates attended the event to promote the project.
“We are now actually at the point where we are going through and designing the first phases ...,” said Sri Velamati, the vice president of development for The Tower Companies. “We are now kind of seeing things come together. ... People are really asking us how quickly we can do it.”
Velamati said that rather than using wrecking balls or explosives, construction workers will use equipment to break down the buildings and haul the pieces away in trucks.
“It’s sort of chewing up the building,” he said.
Over the next 20 years, Tower plans to transform the sprawling 30-acre, 1960s-era suburban property into an urban neighborhood.
Multiple parks and office space will add a net 127,438 square feet, after the demolition of an existing 72,562 square feet.
The proposal also includes 250,000 square feet of retail space, a 125,000-square-foot hotel, and 3.4 million square feet of residential space.
The plan calls for a total of 2,800 housing units, including 1,110 existing ones that would be preserved.
The project will cost about $650 million to build.
All four buildings, with 267 apartment units, have been vacant since February 2014. Velamati said that more than 50 percent of the residents in the buildings have moved to other Blair properties in the Silver Spring area.
Towers officials expect the first new building to be done in 2017, with 594 rental units.
The apartments will follow the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, standards developed by the U.S. Green Building Council to operate efficiently and be environmentally friendly.
The new building was designed by Design Collective, a Baltimore design firm that is working on phases 1 and 2. There are seven phases to the overall project.
The Blairs Master Plan was designed by Bing Thom Architects, which has a Washington, D.C., office.
When the whole project is completed, residents and visitors will have access to cafes and an outdoor space for festivals. There will be bike paths around the Blairs. A dog park will be privately owned and maintained, but open to the public.
“I really hope people will say this is a community that is connected with the outdoors and nature,” Velamati said.
The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission approved the preliminary plan and project plan for the Blairs Urban Redevelopment in November 2013.