Silver Spring music venue moves forward
Planners unanimously approve proposal for Fillmore music hall, hotel and stores
The Montgomery County Planning Board approved plans for the Fillmore music venue and an adjacent office and hotel project Thursday, leaving developers to seek one last site plan approval in July before preparing to break ground on the Silver Spring project.
Thursday's approval puts the county and developer Lee Development Group, of Silver Spring, on an aggressive schedule to break ground on the Fillmore music venue in the early fall and open in September 2011, after more than seven years of negotiations to bring the venue to Colesville Road.
"When the county first approached us, my oldest son was in first grade," Bruce Lee, president of Lee Development Group, told the board. "A couple of hours ago, I left his eighth-grade graduation."
The board voted unanimously to approve the preliminary plan and project plan. A site plan will be reviewed in July. Building permits would be required before construction can begin.
The project spans more than two acres fronting Colesville Road, Georgia Avenue and Fenton Street. The Fillmore is expected to be about 23,000 square feet with the capacity for 2,000 concert-goers in a standing-room. It will be designed to accommodate 750 seats instead for certain events.
Montgomery County will be allowed to hold three events at the venue per year for free; nonprofit and charity organizations will be allowed the same. The venue will be available for 30 free additional community uses per year.
Fronting Fenton Street, the 189-room, 14-story hotel will be 135,000 square feet and 143 feet tall, with three levels of parking. The 11-story office building will front Georgia Avenue at the site of an existing surface parking lot and include about 5,500 square feet of retail space. The office will include seven levels of parking, including three below-ground.
Construction of both the office and hotel will not begin until tenants can be leased, Lee said.
The project began seven years ago when Montgomery County asked LDG to donate the vacant site of a former J.C. Penney department store for a music venue. After negotiations with the Alexandria-based Birchmere music venue fell through, the county signed a 20-year, $3.26 million lease with Live Nation in January 2008. Los Angeles-based Live Nation, the largest live entertainment corporation in the world, will operate the building.
The county and state will provide $4 million each toward the project. The land is valued at $3.5 million. Live Nation will spend $2 million on the interior of the building.
The land-use rules that made the deal possible were passed by the Montgomery County Council in summer 2008. In an agreement finalized in November 2009, LDG agreed to donate the land to the county and build the Fillmore as a public amenity. In exchange, LDG is allowed 15 years to build the office and hotel under current land-use rules.
The planning board rejected those land-use rules, which the council later overruled, because it stripped them of authority in approving public amenities. On Thursday, board members turned their focus to the project before them. However, toward the end of the one-and-a-half hour hearing, Commissioner Joseph Alfandre questioned whether a similarly-complex deal will ever again occur in the county.
William Kominers, an attorney representing LDG, doubted it would.
"It's a very difficult thing to ask a property owner to do in this county with our processes," Kominers said, referring to the three-party process between developers, the county and the planning department. "[The county says] I'm from the government, I've got a great idea, give me your land first and trust us.' The process doesn't really accommodate that."
Lee said it was "very expensive" to complete the deal, which required detailed plans for the Fillmore and for the office and hotel project that have no timetable for being built, before it could be reviewed.
"It's too tortured a process; there's too many players," said Steven A. Silverman, director of the county's Department of Economic Development, after the hearing. "... But an office, hotel and music venue fits perfectly in this part of Silver Spring."