Friday, Feb. 23, 2007

High rise could mean high rents for residents

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Christine Ulbricht wants her Silver Spring apartment complex to remain affordable, but she’s not sure it will, because of plans to remove some older units and replace them with a high-rise building that would include retail.

Home Properties, which purchased the Falkland Chase Apartments in 2003, has promised to make improvements to the east and west parcels of the apartment complex but plans to demolish units on the north parcel and build the high-rise apartment building.

‘‘I’m very concerned this will squeeze out a lot of people who can barely afford to live there now,” she said at a Thursday night meeting, adding she pays a little more than $1,100 a month, and people moving into the building now are paying $1,200 to $1,300 depending on the kind of apartments they have, plus utilities.

The new rents will be between $1,500 and $2,200, Nelson Leenhouts of Home Properties told residents Thursday. There will be 128 workforce-housing units, as well as about 80 moderately priced dwelling units. However, he said the MPDUs — which would be designated as such for 99 years according to county law — would be located in the east and west parcels of Falkland Chase. They will undergo some renovations.

That decision didn’t sit well with some residents, who asked why some of the affordable units couldn’t be in the new, luxury building, which will include a supermarket and other stores.

‘‘To take the existing units and make them be MPDU-affordable is astounding to me,” said Wayne Goldstein, president of Montgomery Preservation Inc., a group that works to retain historic buildings within the county.

Leenhouts said the MPDU decision was made for economic reasons. ‘‘The project is very challenging financially.”

Right now, there are 182 units on the north parcel, and no amenities like a clubhouse or pool, Leenhouts said. There are 450 units total at the apartment complex and about 900 residents. Home Properties has proposed to demolish those units and build 1,020 apartments, including a mix of studios, one-bedrooms, one-bedrooms with dens and two bedrooms.

Amenities like a pool and clubhouse will be accessible to all residents, including those in the east and west parcels. Residents in the north parcel will have the opportunity to relocate to the east or west parcels before demolition occurs.

Residents will not likely have to pay for utilities, said Don Hague of Home Properties.

There will be a 50,000-square-foot grocery store — possibly a Harris Teeter — 12,000 square feet of additional retail space and three-and-a-half levels of underground parking, as well as an expanse of green space that could potentially also include a pond.

The C-shaped building will have two four-story wings fronting onto East West Highway. Two towers farther away from the road will be about 15 stories, Leenhouts said. The building will be across the street from Southern Management’s Summit Hills Apartments.

‘‘You might find one of these buildings in New York City, perhaps, or some of the grand buildings on Connecticut Avenue,” Leenhouts said, describing the building’s architectural style as ‘‘classic.”

But some residents had concerns that a New York City style might mean New York City rents.

‘‘I think this is well out of their range of affordability,” said Ralph Cole, a Silver Spring renter who does not live at Falkland Chase.

Some residents also had concerns about preserving the building’s historic structure and keeping garden-style apartments. Eleanor Roosevelt cut the ribbon when the east parcel of Falkland Chase opened in 1937.

‘‘Smart Growth doesn’t mean you have to cover every square foot with high-rises around the Metro station,” said Mary Reardon, a member of the Silver Spring Historical Society.

Plans have been submitted to the Montgomery County Planning Board but have not been reviewed. They must be reviewed before the development can go forward.

Home Properties also recently purchased 1200 East West Highway, which was supposed to be turned into condominiums by Centex Homes. Only two people purchased units, Hague said. That building will now have apartments and be open in 2009.