A Montgomery County man won a round against a multimillion-dollar land investment partnership last week when the county's Historic Preservation Commission voted, 6 to 1, to recommend historic-landmark status for the Falkland Apartments in Silver Spring.
If the Montgomery County Council agrees, the apartment complex will become part of Montgomery's Historic Preservation Master Plan. Once a property is so designated, no major changes may be made in its buildings or landscaping without permission from the Historic Preservation Commission. o
The recommendation now goes to the county planning board which will hold a public hearing and then vote whether to pass on the recommendation to the County Council. The council can vote to place Falkland on the Historic Master Plan with or without a yes vote from the planning board.
The owners of the complex, Falkland Limited Partnership, have fought the imposition of such restrictions on their property, which has been up for sale since last August. According to their attorney, Henry Glassie, Falkland is valued at $12.2 million on state tax records. It encompasses 27 acres of prime real estate adjacent to the District line and the Silver Spring Metro station, and parts of the site have been zoned for commercial and high-density uses in the Silver Spring Master Plan.
Meanwhile, Falkland tenants have been negotiating with the owners in an attempt to buy the 485 apartments. It was one of them, architect Michael Kopp, who applied for the landmark designation and presented carefully researched arguments before the preservation commission. The Falkland Tenants Association did not support Kopp's proposal, however.
The 44-year-old garden apartments are one of the last bastions of moderately priced rental housing in the Silver Spring area. Rents range from $300 to $375 per month. Unless the historic-landmark status is approved, however, it is unlikely that the vintage brick buildings and their natural landscaping will survive the pressure of the property's potential value as a commercial development site.
Preservation commissioner Frederick Gutheim summed up the arguments for historic status in a two-page statement that pointed out that the Falkland was one of the first 10 "garden apartment" complexes built in the United States and the first in Montgomery County.
Sam Nell, one of the owners of the complex, said Kopp's motives in seeking the landmark designation were more political than historic. "I think it was primarily a ploy to see if he could, in the long run, supercede the long-range plans of the Silver Spring Master Plan and the (Falkland) owners," he said after the commission vote.
Kopp said he was stunned and elated by his victory, but would not predict the outcome before the planning commission.