In Silver Spring, “The Turf” is gone but not forgotten.
The half-acre patch of artificial grass at Fenton Street and Ellsworth Drive, laid down in 2005 as a placeholder in the heart of the redeveloping downtown, became a popular village green for picnics, music and just hanging out. But three years later, it gave way to construction of the Montgomery County Civic Building, Veterans Plaza and an ice rink.
“I still think it’s one of the best things we ever had there,” said Montgomery County Council member Hans Riemer (D-At Large).
The yearning for green space in Silver Spring’s urban core has remained unrequited since the artificial grass was pulled up. Parkland never figured in the vision for downtown’s revitalization in the 1990s and early 2000s, when hard-surface plazas were in vogue with planners. Builders who created raw public spaces by setting their office towers back from the street often received “density bonuses,” allowing them to go bigger or higher.
Older urban areas such as the District built parks into their early design. Silver Spring residents of a more mature vintage recall Kughn Park, between Ellsworth, Fenton and Wayne, created in the early 1990s by developers of the then-new City Place Mall as a required public amenity. That, too, was swept away by new construction.
ARCHIVES | See past Washington Post coverage of the Silver Spring Transit Center.
How should the problem be remedied and who should foot the bill?
The facility was criticized on social media following the release of a report deeming it unusable.
The result has been a city peppered with small pieces of concrete open space, most open to the public but in private hands. A 2010 Montgomery study counted 57 public-use spaces in central Silver Spring, covering 32.6 acres. Forty-seven are hardscape.
“There has been no holistic vision for the redevelopment of downtown Silver Spring,” said Evan Glass, chairman of the Silver Spring Citizens Advisory Board and a candidate for County Council in the June Democratic primary. “Everything has been piecemeal.”
Glass said he sees a few possibilities for new green space, including the site of the current Silver Spring library, on Colesville Road, which will close when a new one opens this fall, or the Montgomery police station on Sligo Avenue, also set to be replaced.
But interest is growing in creation of a park from what supporters describe as the last viable piece of publicly owned land in Silver Spring. It also happens to be adjacent to an embarrassment for the county: the Silver Spring Transit Center.
A sloping two-acre site just east of the center could become a green respite within Silver Spring’s concrete, backers say. Riemer, along with former Montgomery Planning Board chairman Gus Bauman, has asked Chairwoman Francoise Carrier to explore the creation of a park on the parcel, which is bounded by Colesville Road and Wayne and Ramsey avenues.
The land is owned by Metro, which will eventually operate the bus and train hub. The center is about three years behind schedule and tens of millions of dollars over budget because of design and construction issues. County officials plan to resume repair work in the spring, and no opening date has been set.
“This might be something that, if it’s done right, is a little payback for the debacle,” Riemer said.
Metro had originally contemplated using the land for a mixed-use development of offices, condominiums or perhaps a hotel in a joint venture with the transit center’s general contractor, Foulger-Pratt. But Foulger spokeswoman Jessica Tiller Trzyna said this week that the company and Metro had “mutually decided to end negotiations for development rights.” No reason was offered.
It wouldn’t exactly be Central Park, but as “The Turf” proved, green open space doesn’t have to be vast to be successful.
Whether Metro wants to sell is the key question. Spokeswoman Caroline Laurin said in a statement that the transit agency “strives to find the best uses for its properties that align with local jurisdiction planning priorities and achieve our joint development objectives.” Which does not exactly sound like a “For Sale” sign.
Laurin said the transit agency has always envisioned park space in the plaza between the transit center and the Metro station entrance. But Bauman said that is likely to be a duplication of the same old mistake: more hard surface.
Prime real estate in the center of Silver Spring would not be cheap. But Bauman expressed confidence that a deal can be struck.
“Arrangements can occur,” he said. “All it takes is some vision and wherewithal.”