Downtown Silver Spring, Maryland, is an old, inner suburban central business district abutting Washington, DC. Currently undergoing revitalization, one of Silver Spring's challenges is the large number of small, piecemeal lots sitting on narrow downtown streets. Our client picked up three of those lots totaling 17,000 square feet at an intersection on the downtown's edge, only a block away from an established single-family neighborhood. Sitting on those lots were three early 20th century houses converted to commercial uses some forty years ago.
Our client's idea was to raze the converted commercial buildings and put up a 60-foot tall condominium project, which would be the tallest building in that part of town. Most of the uses in the immediate vicinity were commercial. Accomplishing the client's plan required a resubdivision of the three existing lots into a single buildable lot. It also required detailed site plan approval by the County Planning Board because the downtown edge lay under a special "overlay zone," aimed at protecting the nearby single-family community.
Beveridge & Diamond, P.C., after meeting with the client, mapped out a strategy of overcoming several hurdles in order to obtain Planning Board approvals of the resubdivision and site plans. The project as envisioned would require reduced street right-of-way dedications, reduced building setbacks from the two streets it would sit upon, a waiver from having to place underground utility wires, and a 50 percent allowance for off-site parking. In addition, the local historical society began a campaign to save the oldest of the three houses sitting on the site. Finally, the 60-foot building height had to be justified, particularly because the twenty-four condos to occupy the site would be in a four-story structure.
The client responded by designing a striking building that was both urban and urbane. On the inside, the condos were to be "loft" condos with soaring ceilings, requiring the 60 feet in building height. On the outside, the developer/architects crafted an imaginative streetscape with wide sidewalks and mixed materials for the building's exterior. The roof would incorporate "green roof" technology, the first of its kind in Montgomery County. The client publicly offered the oldest (and largest) house sitting on the site free of charge to whoever wanted it (there were ultimately no takers because of the expense in moving it).
After many productive meetings with county government staff and planners as well as a plenary session with the adjoining neighborhood association, the planning board approved the client's resubdivision and site plan with all requested waivers. The board praised a creative housing development in a hodgepodge commercial area. Opposition from the historical society melted away. The single-family citizens association testified in support of the development. And a couple of its homeowner members quietly requested information from Beveridge & Diamond's client on the particulars of buying one of the coming loft condominiums.