Does a skating rink still figure into county’s plans?
Planners mull eliminating facility from civic building in favor of open space
Plans for a skating rink and pavilion that would accompany a Silver Spring civic building and veterans plaza could be on thin ice once again.
Planners may recommend to county officials not to include the rink and pavilion in the construction of the civic building and veterans plaza at the corner of Fenton Street and Ellsworth Drive in downtown Silver Spring.
Instead, they are considering recommending open space, which some residents have asked for after seeing the success of the artificial turf that is now on the site until the civic building is constructed.
Plans for the rink and pavilion have slid on and off the planning table during the past year. When the ice rink and pavilion were eliminated in 2005 for budgetary reasons, irate community members lobbied for the public space promised when officials tore down the Silver Spring Armory, a public meeting space, in 1998 to make room for redevelopment.
Former County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D) then appropriated the money needed to complete the project as originally planned.
In the meantime, as the planning for the civic center continued, the county installed an artificial turf field on the site, and the idea of grass has grown on some residents, who have begun lobbying for more green space and less paving when the building is constructed.
The recommendation for more green space was brought up by planners at a Park and Planning development review committee meeting, said Glenn Kreger, team leader for the organization’s Silver Spring⁄Takoma Park division. Some planners feel strongly there should be green space instead of concrete, Kreger said, although a staff report with recommendations has not yet been written, Kreger said.
The project plans and accompanying staff report will go before the Montgomery County Planning Board in about six weeks, said Gary Stith, director of the Silver Spring Regional Center, at a recent Silver Spring Citizens Advisory Board meeting. The Planning Board will make the final decision about whether the rink and pavilion will stay or go.
The civic building and veterans plaza is expected to open in 2008. Plans have been in the works since 1998.
Park and Planning staff believe the rink will be used in the winter but not during the rest of the year, Stith said. However, he said, the space was designed to hold concerts and other events in the warmer months.
‘‘We felt this was an important part of the project,” Stith said.
With the prospect of the ice rink and pavilion being completely removed from the project, residents — even some who previously rallied for more green space — are concerned.
‘‘I am strongly opposed to Park and Planning removing the ice skating rink and pavilion from this plan,” said Alan Bowser, a resident and member of the Silver Spring Citizens Advisory Board.
Removing the ice rink wasn’t what residents wanted when they said they would like to see more green space on the civic building site, said Mitchell Warren, a Silver Spring resident and advisory board member. That message may have been misinterpreted, he said.
That information should be passed on to County Councilwoman Valerie Ervin’s (D-Dist. 5) office, said resident and board member Mark Woodard, who added the board should deal with the issue formally and in more detail at its next meeting.
But other residents say open space could be just as beneficial to the community as the ice rink might be.
‘‘There’s a lot of passion over that turf,” said Richard Jaeggi, a longtime Silver Spring resident. ‘‘... It’s not even just the kids. It’s the adults.”
Initially, some people thought the ice rink would be a draw for retailers, Jaeggi said. But retailers have come without the lure of a rink.
No one anticipated that people would like the open space as much as they have, Jaeggi said. Since the redevelopment, ‘‘we’ve learned a lot about how people use the downtown,” Jaeggi said.
Two years ago, Prezco, an umbrella group for Silver Spring civic associations, agreed to support the project in full when budget cuts threatened to not only eliminate the rink but also other aspects of the building, Jaeggi said. Even at that time, Jaeggi said, some members of Prezco were divided on whether to keep the rink. Since the project was in jeopardy at that point, ‘‘Prezco decided not to even go there and just support the project,” Jaeggi said.