Silver Spring civic groups opposed to a massive $250 million development planned for their downtown won a victory yesterday when the Montgomery County Council placed the emotionally charged issue on hold until fall.
The council, agreeing that revitalization of Silver Spring's aging downtown is the most important growth issue facing the county, said the delay is needed to meet the demand by the civic groups for a fuller hearing on how many new jobs and how much additional traffic the rapidly urbanizing area can accommodate.
County Executive Sidney Kramer had urged the council to act by June 30 to show the county's commitment to the redevelopment, but he agreed to the delay during a breakfast meeting yesterday with council members. The council members said Silver Spring will be its main order of business for September after Kramer expressed the fear that a delay of months could cause a further decline to the downtown area.
Revitalization of Silver Spring has been a controversial issue partly because of the traffic problems and displacement of businesses created by the intense development of downtown Bethesda, a situation that citizens groups do not want repeated.
The postponement, engineered by Council President Rose Crenca, came as a surprise to some of Kramer's department heads and to developer Lloyd Moore, whose proposal for a $250 million retail, residential and commercial project is at the heart of the Silver Spring controversy.
Moore said he had "no idea" how the delay might affect the intricate package of land deals, financing and tentative commitments from major retail tenants he has put together for the block at Georgia Avenue and Colesville Road. He said he was disappointed by the council's action because he thought he was abiding by the county's own procedures.
Any time there is a delay, said James W. Tavel, Moore's attorney at Linowes & Blocher, there is always a chance of endangering a project.
Crenca, however, pointed out that Moore has yet to submit a formal application spelling out the details of his plan. "The intention is not to stall," Crenca said, adding that Silver Spring poses tough and perhaps politically unpopular questions for the council.
Crenca, who lives in the Silver Spring area, said residents are very much concerned that all the issues have not been fully aired. "The public needs time to give their opinions and the council needs time to make wise decisions," she said.
Robert Cordella, head of the Woodside Park Civic Association who has spearheaded the fight against Moore's plan, hailed the council action as "great" but warned that citizens have won nothing. The battle for the future of Silver Spring remains, he said.
Some civic groups have expressed concern that the scale of Moore's plan is too dense and will worsen what they say are already bad traffic conditions. Others oppose Moore's plan because it would demolish what they call historically significant Art Deco buildings.
One possible benefit to the citizens groups in the delay is the likelihood that Neal Potter, a council member who has been a strong advocate for neighborhoods, will be able to participate in the council decision. Potter is recovering at home from a recent heart attack.
John L. Menke, county environmental protection director, and Robert S. McGarry, the transportation director, had not been told of the agreement between Kramer and the council when they appeared later in the day before the council to discuss a transportation plan that would allow additonal jobs in Silver Spring.
Montgomery County has a system that tries to prevent development when there are not adequate public facilities such as roads or utilities. There presently is capacity in Silver Spring for about 2,500 jobs. Kramer is backing a plan that would allow for the addition of between 10,000 to 15,000 jobs by using new methods to measure traffic and by establishing a program to get people out of their cars and onto mass transit.
An estimated 10,000 workers would be attracted to Silver Spring under Moore's plan.
Menke yesterday urged the council to set a new jobs capacity for Silver Spring by June 30, when it adopts a plan mapping out Montgomery's annual growth.
"We will pay some price," warned Menke, explaining that developers interested in the area need council direction to proceed.
Council member William E. Hanna Jr. said he was not enthusiastic about delaying the matter. He said that Montgomery County has a propensity to drag out issues.
Hanna and council member Michael L. Subin were not present when the council met with Kramer and Crenca unveiled her plan. Kramer had initially resisted the idea of delaying a council decision. "Everything is on hold" in Silver Spring and as such there will be no improvement, Kramer said.
Council members Isiah Leggett and Bruce Adams agreed with Crenca that they saw a problem in acting before June 30. "I don't want to see us rushed or pushed prematurely," Leggett said.