Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Zone NOT Left Alone

You may have noticed that many a development projects in downtown Silver Spring take far longer to come to fruition than they have any right to - The Fillmore, transit center, library, and the Purple Line to name a few. In many cases, some or all of the delays associated with these projects are a result of the the unrelenting efforts of The Community to keep everything exactly the same, or in some cases, exactly as they supposedly were in some sort of idealized circa-1950's Silver Spring.

Last year we were introduced to "Leave the Zone Alone", a SOECA-based movement whose objective is preventing the construction of townhouses on the former site of the Chelsea School, located just a single block from the DTSS development. Back in January the group suffered a setback when the Planning Board approved a plan presented by the developer for the construction of 64 townhouses, despite LTZA's request  that only single-family homes be permitted.

A movement on its last legs?

Now, after listening to arguments from both the developer and The Community, the Hearing Examiner (disclosure: I don't entirely know what their role is) has decided to make the recommendation to the County Council that the parcel be officially re-zoned from single-family to townhouse.

Masochists may enjoy reading the entirety of the 112-page findings from the hearing, particularly ones who find subjects such as comparative examples of Do Not Enter signs of particular interest. There's also quite a bit of space dedicated to things like the angle of sightlines around the Riggs-Thompson House, a 19th-century structure that probably only a few dozen people even know exists.
The Community did manage one tiny victory, as the recommended zoning is a slightly less dense version of the RT-15 townhouse zoning the developer originally wanted, though to me the difference seems immaterial:

The only level of bureaucracy now standing in the way of the this perfectly-reasonable townhouse development is final approval of the re-zoning by the County Council. Of course, that may ultimately end up being a significant hurdle, considering that some councilpersons' positions can frequently be swayed by the protestations of just a handful of voters...


- Not that you haven't probably heard quite enough about the transit center boondoggle by this point, but the Post ran yet another story on the subject this week. (This time with infographics!) Perhaps the only new information here is that although it was not made public until earlier this year, they were aware of the concrete issue way back in October of 2010.

- The National Museum of Health and Medicine re-opened on Monday after moving to Silver Spring from its old home at Walter Reed.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

United Therapeutics to Own Even More of Downtown Silver Spring

United Therapeutics, which has has greatly expanded their downtown Silver Spring presence as of late, is reportedly set to purchase from the county the parcel located at the corner of Colesville Rd. and Spring Street. The parking garage that current occupies this space abuts an existing UT building, and has been closed for some time due to safety issues. (Surprisingly, it has its own Yelp page. Who uses their limited time on Earth to rate a public parking garage?)

I'm a big fan of the existing United Therapeutics buildings, what with their skybridge and giant external TV's and all. I also like the touch of the ground lights representing individual elements from the periodic table. The planning and construction of the new building could take five years (or more, because construction delays tend to happen around here), so we won't be seeing it anytime soon. Hopefully they will choose to incorporate some street-level retail into their design.

As an aside, the story of the founder and CEO of United Therapeutics is absolutely fascinating. In addition to creating satellite radio, having a sex change, and founding a biotechnology company despite not having a life sciences background, she also commissioned an android version of her wife.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Silver Spring News 'N Notes

- DC Urban Mud has posted some photos of the Silver Spring library construction site, which quite honestly doesn't look a whole lot different than it did a year ago. The good news is they are in the process of selecting a contractor. A fiver says it's not Foulger-Pratt.

- Big ups to the folks at the Pure Energy Team for putting on their Spring Carnival in Silver Spring a couple weekends back.  Who else gets a pony for their suburban front yard and invites all the neighborhood children to take a ride? And that's in addition to a petting zoo, magic show, moon bounce, cupcakes, cotton candy and more, all free of charge.

- Here are some details from the Planning Department regarding Silver Spring's future bikeshare station. It will occupy the space that the Post Office vacated just this week.


- The next actor to appear at a Q&A at the AFI Silver will be Matthew Modine, who you may remember from such films as Full Metal Jacket and Vision Quest. (He's also in the upcoming Batman movie.) I'm still bitter I was out of town for the Office Space anniversary screening/Q&A a few years back.

- The most recent Washingtonian has a rundown of the various MoCo food trucks, all of which have spent some lunch hours parked around downtown Silver Spring. 

Friday, May 11, 2012

Blemished Gem: Jewel of India Disappoints on First Visit

After reading a glowing review in the Washington Post, I was finally persuaded to make my first visit to Hillandale's Jewel of India last weekend. After a Saturday spent in eager anticipation of the scrumptious Indian delicacies I was to enjoy that evening, my experience at the restaurant proved to be a disappointment, and I didn't even make it to the meal. While a cricket metaphor might be more apt in this situation, I don't fully comprehend the rules of that particular game so I will rely on an overused baseball reference and say that Jewel of India struck out.

Strike 1: Nobody puts baby in a corner. When we arrived (toddler in tow) the restaurant was at best a quarter full, yet the host attempted to seat us in a tiny space located between the entrance and the host stand. While I had initially assumed this to be a waiting area, upon closer inspection I saw that it was indeed a seating area, though it contained just a pair of two tops that I would imagine would only be used when the dining area was completely full. I guess it also serves as their baby ghetto, never mind that there was no space at the small tables for a child in a high chair. There was already an older couple sitting there waiting for the rest of their party to arrive, so it was a bit awkward when we made the move to seat ourselves on the host's instruction. The tables were also positioned directly underneath a HVAC vent dropping a constant stream of chilled air, making the prospect of remaining there for any extended period of time an uncomfortable one.

Though he acquiesced when we decided to request that we be instead seated in the main dining area, when asked why we couldn't have been seated there to begin with the host responded "you have a child". (For what it's worth, Sligo Jr. is very well-behaved at restaurants and has yet to create a scene that disturbed other patrons. He also really loves Indian food, based on past experiences at Ghar-e-Kabab. There they never fail to provide him with a complimentary, baby-sized mango lassi.) 

Strike 2: Stale papadum. This is a standard appetizer in many Indian restaurants, so you'd think they'd be serving it regularly enough to maintain a fresh inventory, however this was not the case on this particular evening. Disappointingly, the crackers served to use were quite stale. Ultimately this was the only food I ended up eating at the restaurant.

Strike 3: Complete neglect by wait staff. Thirty minutes after being seated, we had not yet been provided with menus. Despite repeated attempts to flag down one of the employees floating around the dining room, there was no acknowledgement of our presence. I couldn't even find a waiter working our section. Meanwhile, the aforementioned stale papadum was gone and our emergency Cheerios supply was nearly exhausted. While Sligo Jr. might be relatively well-behaved at restaurants, every small child has his or her limit when it comes to being confined to a high chair without something to do/eat. With bedtime fast approaching, we made the decision to abort the dinner and pick up Chipotle on the way home.

To his credit, when we got up to leave the manager (?) was extremely apoligetic and offered to put our meals at the top of the kitchen queue, but by that point it was too late. While my experience at Jewel of India is probably atypical, it's almost enough to turn me off for good. I still really want to try their food, so I'll likely give them another chance, though perhaps next time I'll go for the buffet.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

US Postal Service not Abandoning Downtown Silver Spring Altogether

With all of downtown Silver Spring's post offices closing, it looked as if a bustling urban residential and commercial area might be left without easy access to a constitutionally-mandated service that Americans have come to expect since the founding of our country. The USPS's initial recommendation to residents was to simply use the post office in Four Corners, an impractical option for many.

The solution they ultimately arrived at is marginally better, though still not particularly convenient. According to a sign posted at the current post office, the Silver Spring branch will be relocated to 8653 16th Street, most recently occupied by something called "Dollar Power". This space is at the far end of the 16th street strip mall, and while the location may be closer to downtown, it isn't easily accessible by foot - particularly for those who might be lugging packages to be shipped. The official close date for the existing location is May 12th, and the new post office will open two days later.

Small upside: It's an excuse to eat at the nearby Popeye's.

H/T to reader TM for the tip and photo.

Saturday, May 05, 2012

For Those Who Still Doubt the Laxity of Enforcement at the Whole Foods Parking Lot

Either the lot was mistaken for a trailer park or some family requires a mobile command center for supermarket trips.

Friday, May 04, 2012

Transit Center to Open in August, or Not

Remember back when the public was only on the hook for $35 million for the construction of our magnificent transit center and the work was only supposed to last a couple years? That sure seems like a long time ago. After years of delays, the price tag of this charlie foxtrot has ballooned to over $100 million, and now they're tacking on another $11M to the total cost as a result of delays caused by the concrete-pouring boondoggle and "unexpected changes to construction and utility work". Provided the worst-case scenario of a complete tear-down doesn't occur, it could even be open as early as this August, but I'll believe that when I see it.

A vision of the very distant future

Why the hell does everything have to take forever around here? When they construct a big new apartment building, you could blink and miss the entire process, but when it comes to a public building like our new library, we have to wait an eon. (At least they are making some progress on that one.) It's amazing the amount of uproar we see over something like a little county support of a private venture like the Fillmore, but at least the Fillmore actually opened in a reasonable amount of time and is now providing residents with entertainment and the county with tax revenue. Granted, the transit center project is a little more ambitious, but still.

You'd think after this debacle Foulger-Pratt wouldn't be able to get another construction contract from the county, but no doubt a few well-placed political donations will clear everything up. (I don't actually know if they donate to any county councilmembers or state reps, but good ol' Al Wynn was on the payroll back in the day. They sure do love Mitt Romney and hate gay marriage - though those facts are neither here nor there.)
On the other extreme, I guess we could be like Virginia and abandon worthwhile transit projects before they begin because we don't feel like paying any taxes or supporting union workers.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Silver Spring News 'N Notes

- Already a destination for collectors of vintage vinyl, Silver Spring will be hosting the DC  Record Fair on June 17th at the Fillmore.

- Jewel of India, which opened last summer in the Hillandale strip mall, just received a glowing review from Post food critic Tom Sietsema. I need to make a concerted effort to finally get out there and try it this weekend, particularly after looking at these photos.

- The second Taste the World at Fenton Village takes place this Sunday afternoon from 1-5. 24 restaurants are participating, and each will offer appetizers and small tasting plates from $2-$5.

- Also this weekend: the second annual Downtown Silver Spring Art Festival. It's the 86th ranked art festival in the whole country, guys!!! (Who actually ranks every single art festival? Apparently this guy does.)

- Silver Spring's so-called "Homicide House" remains unsold over a year after first hitting the market. In the strong DC metro housing market, it's surprising any reasonably-priced house would remain on the market for an extended length of time, though clearly this one comes with an exceptionally unfortunate history. It does look like it may have undergone some renovations since it was originally listed.

- If you receive of these coupon mailers from Downtown Silver Spring, don't immediately toss it in the recycling bin - there's actually some decent deals inside. (25% of Fro Zen Yo, for one.) I did find it odd that a booklet promoting DTSS businesses also includes an ad enticing people to move to National Harbor.

 - Thanks to its combination of walkability and (relative) affordability, Silver Spring made this year's cut of Washingtonian Magazine's "Best Places to Live". While article from this month's issue isn't available online, you can take a peek at the portion dealing with the Silver Spring segment below.