"It's Silver Spring Time" proclaim T-shirts recently printed by the Silver Spring Chamber of Commerce. But not for the Montgomery County planning board.
Despite protests from the Silver Spring business community and the planners themselves, the Montgomery County Council intends to go through with a plan to move its arm of the Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission (MNCPPC) out of Silver Spring into the new county office building in Rockville.
The $3 million government center is now under construction in Rockville next to the Rockville mall. When it is completed next year, the complex will house most of the county's major administrative offices, including the five-member planning board, a staff of nearly 150 and their countless maps, charts and zoning manuals.
Although the move has been planned for years, it has come under heavy fire in recent weeks as Silver Spring leaders repeatedly urged the coucil not to pull the agency out of the city at a time when they are desperately trying to revive the aging urban center.
"You can't pull the plug on Silver Spring now," pleaded James Travel, vice-president of the Chamber of Commerce at a recent council meeting.
Despite the mounting furor, council members have shown few signs of reconsidering an earlier 5-to-2 decision to move the planners from their Georgia Avenue offices in Silver Spring to Rockville.
Last week Travel and Chamber of Commerce President E. Brooke Lee III, told the council that the departure of the planners would be followed by the departure of architects, attorneys and engineers. The men claimed that those businesses are located in Silver Spring only to be near the planners.
The Silver Spring business leaders estimated that about 70 businesses with more than 600 employes could leave as a result of the planning board move. The mass departure, they predict, would devastate the area's already ailing shops and restaurants.
"Restaurants have such a high turnover anyway," replied County Council President Neal Potter. "Several more are bound to go out of business."
Potter and other council members remained adamant in their view that the move would not hurt Silver Spring economically.
Community leaders also claim the departure of one of the county's most prestigious agencies will have a bad psychological impact.
"Regardless of your reasons for moving the planning board to Rockville, it would be very difficult to explain this move to private businesses and federal agencies we are trying to attract to the area," Lee told the council.
He charged that it was inconsistent of county leaders to claim that they are committed to Silver Spring's future while pulling one of its most important agencies out of the area.
Once a thriving commercial center, Silver Spring began to slip into hard times as Washington's affluent suburbs began growing further out around the city. The onslaught of shopping malls drove Silver Spring into a deeper economic decline as did Montgomery County's sewer moratorium.
Now there are several empty stores among the tarnished, litter-dotted streets and aging facades on Colesville Road and Georgia Avenue.
But this year Silver Spring leaders, with the help of the MNCPPC, pulled together a snappy $3.5-million renewal program geared to attract new businesses. The city is sprucing up with new parks, sidewalks, streetlights and trees.
"It's going to take more than trees," wryly commented council member Esther Gelman. She and Michael Gudis are the two council members who strongly oppose the planning board move.
Silver spring planner Don Spivack views the issue as just another indication that Montgomery County lacks understanding for what he terms its "urban stepchild."
Potomac planner Dean Mellander spelled out another concern that has been voiced by some planners: "there's a great deal of feeling among some of our people that the county government staff would have a bigger influence over our work and might color otherwise impartial decision making."
Some think this is the whole idea behnd the move.
"Don't kid yourself," claims Gelman. "this is a deliberate attempt to undermine the independent quality of the planning board. They will be coopted."
Nonsense, say other council members.
"We simply need their expertise," says council member Elizabeth Scull. "It's just that the planning board doesn't want to leave their nice offices."
Festooned with spider plants that dangle from the glassed roof, decorated with posters and blond wood, the planners' Georgia Avenue quaters just completed last year -- are attractive to many who work there.
"Hell no, we won't go," has become the cry of some planners. "We'll flush our files down Blue Plains first," joked Melissa Banach as she moved about the sun-dappled cubicles she shares with other planning staff members.
Yet others see some wisdom in the county government's desire to have its top planning experts at its fingertips to facilitate planning in Montgomery County.