Montgomery County Council members, adding fuel to a bitter local debate about land use in aging suburban neighborhoods, voted yesterday for the redevelopment of the Falkland Apartments in Silver Spring and the conversion of an abandoned school in Wheaton that is expected to be used to house single-parent families.
"History moves on," Neal Potter said as he and three other council members voted for a plan under which the sprawling Falkland complex would remain a rental property for at least 15 years but which also would allow rent increases that many longtime tenants say will force them to move.
The vote before a standing-room-only crowd of Falkland tenants marked a major defeat for the hundreds of residents who for years have sought a broad historic designation to save their 485 moderate-income apartments from redevelopment to more luxurious units.
With member Scott Fosler absent and David Scull abstaining because of family ties to the Falklands' owners, the council voted yesterday to designate only one corner building a historic property. A spokesman for the property developers said the designation was merely "symbolic" and would not interfere with their plans.
However, the tenants' attorney vowed to appeal the vote to the county Circuit Court in an effort to win the sweeping historic designation or adoption of a plan under which the tenants could buy the complex for $16.8 million.
"This is all about big money, that's all," said Victor L. Crawford, the attorney, after the vote.
Built in the 1930s and regarded as a premier example of early garden-apartment architecture, the Falkland buildings sit on one of the choicest parcels of Montgomery real estate, near the Metrorail station in downtown Silver Spring.
"We want to move in the direction of developing these Metro stops," Potter said in explaining his vote.
Howard J. Thomas, attorney for the Alexandria firm that hopes to refurbish the Falklands, said the council vote clears the way for interior work on 450 of the apartments.
The developer, Crow, Terwilliger & Michaux Inc., a subsidiary of Dallas-based Trammell Crow, already won an initial go-ahead from the county Housing Opportunities Commission to rehabilitate the Falklands with at least $26 million in tax-exempt financing.
While the county's participation in the Falklands' financing ensures the complex will stay rental for 15 years, some tenants argued that the government's role was at odds with its avowed aim of preserving a dwindling stock of low- and medium-priced rental housing.
"You read in the paper about how this county wants to protect tenants, but it's clear after this vote that there are no tenant rights," said Sharon Sherrill, a 14-year resident.
The resigned reaction by Sherrill and other Falkland tenants was in sharp contrast to the angry outbursts, booing and cheers that accompanied the council vote on the reuse of the old Pleasant View Elementary School in Wheaton, which was closed in 1982 because of falling student enrollment.
The council's proceedings were interrupted repeatedly by noise from a crowd of several dozen homeowners who live near Pleasant View and objected to a proposal to convert the empty school building into 50 apartments for single-parent families.
The council voted 5 to 1 to recommend to County Executive Charles W. Gilchrist that he designate that the school building be used for the apartments, elderly housing, commercial property or a day-care center.
Gilchrist's administration already has plans to spend $1.5 million to convert the school building -- built in 1952 and heavily vandalized since its closing -- into units for two- and three-member families.
County officials say a group called Crossway Community Inc. is the frontrunner to assume control of Pleasant View and operate it as a single-parent facility. The group had proposed a similar 130-unit housing complex last year at the old Belt Junior High School in Wheaton.
As in the case of Belt, the proposal to convert Pleasant View to apartments is drawing stiff opposition from neighbors, many of whom argue that alternate uses such as a day-care or recreation center have not been seriously explored. Residents also say crime in their neighborhood could go up with an influx of outsiders.
There appeared to be some strong sentiment for using the old school as elderly housing: One middle-aged neighbor held up a sign during all of yesterday's session that read "Senior Citizens Paid For Pleasant View -- Give It Back To Them Now."
Several observers said the debates over Pleasant View and the Falklands are signs of changing times in Montgomery, which in recent years has had to grapple with sharp demographic shifts in once stable enclaves such as Wheaton, and the arrival of mass transit to older urban areas such as Silver Spring.