The fight over Falkland Chase continues
Residents, historians, developer argue pros and cons of developing on historical property
About 30 people testified for more than two hours before the Montgomery County Council last week to argue the historical significance of the Falkland Chase apartments in Silver Spring, which faces redevelopment if the council does not recommend the entire development for historic preservation.
In the coming weeks, the full council will vote whether to preserve two out of three parcels within Falkland Chase for historic designation and allow developer Home Properties to demolish 182 rental units on the remaining parcel and build high-rise apartments. Opponents of the redevelopment say all three parcels at 16th Street and East West Highway should be preserved to avoid losing historic properties for greater density.
With a range of testimony from Home Properties representatives, several historic preservationists, affordable housing advocates and residents, council President Philip M. Andrews (D-Dist. 3) of Gaithersburg called the testimony "among the best I've ever heard."
However, Councilwoman Valerie Ervin (D-Dist. 5) of Silver Spring said the council likely would vote to allow redevelopment on the north parcel.
"It's a compromise that I believe we can live with," Ervin said after the hearing, referring to Home Properties' agreement to preserve the two parcels farthest from the Silver Spring Metro station.
If the north parcel is not preserved, Home Properties plans to build about 1,000 apartments, 200 underground parking spaces and 60,000 square feet of retail, including a Harris Teeter grocery store, pending the county Planning Board's approval of a site plan.
About 125 of those apartments would be moderately priced dwellings, several of which would be three-bedroom units. About 47 additional units on the north parcel and 47 more on the other parcels would be workforce housing. Currently, there are 90 rent-restricted units at Falkland Chase that will return to market-rate units in 2014.
In September 2008, the Planning Board recommended two of the three Falkland parcels for historic preservation, after deeming the entire complex eligible for historical designation in December 2007. The September ruling resulted from the significant affordable housing included in the project.
Housing advocates echoed the board's opinion that new affordable units near a Metro station is a prime example of "smart growth" in tough economic times.
"If I were sitting where you are, I would support this project before they could change their mind," said Norman Dreyfuss, commissioner of the Housing Opportunities Commission of Montgomery County, said to the council.
The site is also part of a potential Purple Line route. Home Properties would donate land for the Purple Line right of way if allowed to redevelop. But if the north parcel is preserved, Home Properties would have to purchase the land, company officials said last week.
Historic preservationists said the council would perpetuate a troubling trend of demolishing historic buildings for greater density if the north parcel is not preserved.
Other preservationists said if the county truly wants to "go green," preserving or renovating historic buildings is the best strategy.
"Historic preservation is recycling on a grand scale," said Robert Neiwig with the National Trust for Historic Preservation. "… The greenest building is the one that already exists."
Redeveloping the north parcel will displace residents of the 182 units that are on it. Home Properties has established a relocation plan for the residents, giving them "first shot" at moving into a unit on the west or south parcel of Falkland Chase just across East West Highway.
Relocated tenants would make the same rent payments until their existing leases run out. Residents have said they are unaware of the relocation plan and would be reluctant to move elsewhere in Falkland Chase.
"Real tenants should not be forced to move for the sake of future phantom tenants," said Jane Bergwin-Rand, who lives on the north parcel.
Ervin said she was satisfied with Home Properties' relocation proposal and would ensure Home Properties gives proper assistance to residents if the north parcel is redeveloped.
Falkland Chase is a 22-acre complex of 450 garden-style apartments originally built in 1936 and 1937 and inaugurated by first lady Eleanor Roosevelt during the New Deal. Ervin said the need then for affordable housing is similar to the need now in the current economy.
"All the reasons it was built in the first place are reasons to build it now," Ervin said after the hearing. "I don't see the difference between then and now."