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Silver Spring Apartments Get Planning Board's Historic Support

By Agnes Jasinski
Gazette Staff Writer
Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Montgomery County Planning Board has endorsed a plan to give a historic designation to a 1930s Silver Spring apartment complex proposed for partial demolition

The Falkland Chase Apartments, designed by noted architect Louis Justement during the New Deal, is made up of 20 buildings on 22 acres at 16th Street and East West Highway. The property is owned by Home Properties, which is planning to redevelop part of the site with several high-rise buildings that will include residential and retail uses.

The board's support of a historic designation last Thursday could have a dramatic impact on the developer's plans. The County Council has the final say on the historic designation.

Preservationists have lobbied for the buildings' historic protection since the 1960s. Home Properties, which purchased the complex in 2003, announced plans last year to demolish several buildings to make way for new ones.

The proposal would affect six buildings over nine acres on the north side of East West Highway, and would include construction of a ring of buildings up to 15 stories high, an interior park and nearly 65,000 square feet of retail space.

"This is an important project designed by an important architect as a whole project," Planning Board Chairman Royce Hanson said before the vote, refuting the developer's position that each parcel had varying levels of historic significance.

The Planning Board heard more than four hours of testimony from historic preservationists, Falkland residents and neighbors concerned with plans that they said would increase traffic, dwarf the remaining low- to mid-rise apartments and damage the fabric of their neighborhood.

The handful of people testifying against the historic designation were mostly from Action in Montgomery, a faith-based community-organizing group.

Rachel Cornwell, senior pastor at Woodside United Methodist Church and a member of Action in Montgomery, said the community's concern about a lack of affordable housing could be partially addressed by the new project, which would include 50 affordable units.

Nelson B. Leenhouts, co-chairman of the board of Home Properties, said the company opposes historic designation for the parcel on the north side of East West Highway but is not opposed to protecting other parcels not planned for major redevelopment.

Christopher Goodwin, a historian consultant hired by Home Properties, testified that the north parcel did not meet historic designation standards. According to his report, it is of a different architectural style and does not have the integrity of the east parcel

A majority of those testifying disagreed. Richard Longstreth, chairman of the Maryland Governor's Consulting Committee on the National Register of Historic Places, testified that the complex was one of the county's most historically significant properties.

With the Planning Board's action, Falkland Chase will undergo the full historic designation process -- first to the Historic Preservation Commission, which asked for last week's board opinion, and then back to the Planning Board for a final recommendation to the County Council.

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