The Montgomery County Zoning Board has approved construction of a six-story apartment complex for the elderly, a decision that residents of a Silver Spring community say they will appeal to the Circuit Court rather than let the 152-unit building go into their neighborhood without a fight.
"We have not run out of energy, and we've certainly not run out of outrage," said Edmund Rennolds, president of the Woodside Civic Association.
Rennolds described the zoning board's definitions of "neighborhood" and "compatibility" of the planned building with the Woodside residential community as "patently ludicrous."
Last week's ruling reversed an earlier decision by a county zoning hearing examiner to deny Oxford Development Enterprise Inc.'s request for a special exception to build the Springtowne apartment complex on an 4.9-acre lot zoned for single-family dwellings. That ruling said the L-shaped complex, planned for the southwest corner of Second Avenue and 16th Street, was too massive and dense to be compatible with adjacent two-story homes.
In testimony before the zoning board, developer Gerald D. Glaser said Springtowne's density was only about half the size of a typical elderly-housing project and said his group had eliminated one story from the proposed building, added landscaping and pushed the building's facade farther from existing homes to make it more compatible with the neighboring community.
Glaser said the Oxford group has built 21 other projects for the elderly with a total of 2,900 units. He said Silver Spring has about 6,500 households with people age 65 and over within a three-mile radius of the project.
Rennolds said the zoning appeals board's broad new definition of "neighborhood" in its ruling will have a significant impact on future development adjacent to residential communities.
Despite the residents' claim that the southwest side of 16th Street is the natural boundary for the Woodside community, the zoning board included higher-density town houses and multifamily units in the Park Sutton development on the northwest side of 16th Street when it was defining the Woodside neighborhood. "That definition is patently ludicrous," Rennolds said. "Sixteenth Street is a six-lane highway. It is one of the most profound natural barriers existing."
Another resident, Benjamin Woodbury II, said the North Silver Spring Sector Plan defines the boundaries of the 175-home community as 16th Street on the west, Georgia Avenue on the north and east and the Baltimore & Ohio tracks and Spring Street on the south.
But the zoning appeals board said that, in special-exception cases such as this one, a "neighborhood" can be more like a floating zone. ". . . Since the Oxford proposal is for a medium-rise five- to seven-story building, there is no apparent disharmony with the residential uses high-rise town houses across 16th Street."
Rennolds said the zoning appeals board's finding should "strike fear into the hearts" of other citizens groups because it set forth a visual, rather than a geographic, definition of a neighborhood. "From my home, I can see high-rise buildings in Silver Spring's central business district," Rennolds said. "Does that mean that that commercial area is part of my neighborhood?"
Nancy Floreen, the attorney representing the Woodside Civic Association, said, "Woodside has a lot of cause for concern with the board of appeals ruling. What they did was enlarge the definition of neighborhood. It's a real question whether the high-rise buildings across 16th should be included."
Floreen said neighborhoods bordering central business districts are particularly under siege from developers and community service groups who want to locate homeless shelters and soup kitchens as well as fast-food establishments and town houses near the more-densely-populated areas.