The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission and the Maryland Historical Trust have agreed to fund an independent study on preserving the art deco-styled Silver Theatre business district in the heart of Silver Spring.
The planning board also has placed the shopping area and several nearby buildings on the Montgomery County Locational Atlas and Index of Historic Sites, which marks the buildings as having some historic value. The move falls short of permanently protecting the structures from destruction by developers, but means that the planning board would have to be notified before construction could begin.
Staff members of the planning department described the vote as providing more time to study development options in the area.
Members of the Art Deco Society of Washington, who are sponsoring a demonstration this afternoon in front of the complex at the intersection of Georgia Avenue and Colesville Road, said that they were delighted with the board's willingness to consider making redevelopment more attractive.
The Kaempfer Co. of Washington, which owns the property, wants to replace the existing shops and cinema with a hotel, two office towers and shops. Last month, company officials announced that a $60,000 study by its architectural consultants had indicated that preserving the buildings was not feasible. Company officials could not be reached for comment yesterday on the planning board's actions.
The study, approved by the planning board and authorized by State Historical Preservation Officer J. Rodney Little, will consider economic incentives and tax credits, along with state and federal grants, to make redevelopment more attractive to businesses. Officials said they do not know when the study will begin or how long it may take.
Richard Striner, who as head of the Art Deco Society led the campaign to prevent the razing of the complex, called the board's decision to help fund the study and to change the status of the property "a very great moral victory."
The planning commission has been struggling with the future of the complex since the county's Historic Preservation Commission asked it last year to designate the area as a historic district. By placing the Silver Theatre and shopping district on the county's Locational Atlas, the board retains greater control than if it had included the district on the Master Plan for Historic Preservation. The master plan designation would have brought the Maryland Historical Preservation Commission into consultations on any changes to the property.
The buildings, some of which date from the late 1930s, were stripped of some details last year, including opaque glass and tiling.