The Montgomery County Council, in an apparent rejection of County Executive Sidney Kramer's proposal for a massive redevelopment of downtown Silver Spring, made clear yesterday it would scale back the controversial plan but deadlocked over the critical question of how much.
The council, in a series of tentative votes that capped weeks of arduous deliberations and emotional public comment, could not agree on how many new jobs should be allowed to support downtown redevelopment.
Kramer, who has taken a political gamble by closely identifying his administration with Silver Spring's redevelopment, first asked the council to add 15,000 new jobs in the downtown business district but then said he would accept a job ceiling of 13,500.
Three of the seven council members, including President Rose Crenca, voted to reduce the number to 9,500, three members supported 11,500 jobs and the holdout, Isiah Leggett, favored 8,500 jobs.
The job limits are a key county mechanism to control growth, and council members who argued for a cutback cited the concern that Kramer's plan could cause massive traffic problems.
Crenca, generally seen as a key player in the council's decision because of her roots in the Silver Spring community, sized up yesterday's deadlock and advised her colleagues to leave town to avoid what she predicted would be a "wild weekend" of lobbying by the executive, Silver Spring residents on both sides of the issue and developers with projects at stake.
The council set its formal vote for Tuesday afternoon.
Richard Ferrara, the county's housing and community development director, warned council members that if they set the number too low, they run the risk of killing the chance for redevelopment.
Following the votes, an obviously disappointed Ferrara said "9,500 is too low to get the projects we need."
The current limit for new jobs in Silver Spring is 4,700. An estimated 25,000 people now work in the downtown and 7,500 more will be employed in already approved buildings.
In debating the numbers, the council tried to avoid discussing the perceived merits or drawbacks of individual projects, which are subject to approval by the county Planning Board.
However, it was apparent that council members want a formula that would allow housing as well as two proposed retail projects: a regional office and retail mall proposed by Lloyd Moore for Georgia Avenue and Colesville Road and a mall of specialty stores proposed for the Hecht Co. building at Colesville Road and Fenton Street.
Moore's project, controversial because of its size but appealing because of the apparent interest by the Rouse Co., which developed Baltimore's Harborplace and several other projects, and two major department stores, would require about 5,300 jobs and the proposal for the Hecht site would need 1,085 jobs.
The project that appeared in jeopardy involves plans by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Adminstration to consolidate its offices in Silver Spring, a move it says would require construction of additional office buildings because of security considerations.
Crenca said she thought there were enough empty offices in Silver Spring and quoted a 36 percent office vacancy rate for the downtown area.
Ferrara said NOAA is a high-class federal agency that the county has been trying to attract since 1975 and that has bargained with the county in good faith.
Kramer's plans for enactment of a transportation management district in Silver Spring in which employers and developers would be required to work with the county government to encourage use of mass transit and car pooling also appeared in doubt, with some council members questioning its estimated costs and chances for success.
Leggett had harsh words for the process council members were using to arrive at numbers.
In a lecture that drew applause from citizens opposed to Kramer's plan, Leggett reminded his colleagues that all of them, as well as the county executive, were elected last year on a ticket calling for balanced growth. "It's not balanced to pull numbers out of the air because of political expediency."