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Here’s why this old Silver Spring library should become affordable homes

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Earlier this month, Montgomery County released two proposals for what to do with the former library in downtown Silver Spring. But only one proposal includes much-needed affordable homes, and that’s the one county officials should pick.

Since the new Silver Spring Library opened in 2015, Montgomery County has been trying to figure out what to do with the old library, located on Colesville Road four blocks from the Metro station. County officials have settled on putting affordable housing and a child care center there. In the meantime, the 1950s-era building is currently home to the Friends of the Library’s used bookstore (and is worth checking out!)

There are now two proposals for redevelopment. One proposal from affordable housing developer Victory Housing would replace the library building with a new four-story building containing 92 apartments for low-income seniors and a daycare center. It's similar to a building they're completing in White Oak this winter.

The other proposal, from the Martha B. Gudelsky Child Development Center (MBGCDC) and CentroNia, would simply turn the existing building into a daycare center. Instead of building any new affordable housing, this proposal would simply subsidize the rent of 15 apartments “somewhere else.”

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Map of how the site looks today. Image by the author.

Last fall, over 300 Silver Spring residents signed a petition circulated by myself and neighbors Gray Kimbrough and Amanda Hurley supporting affordable housing at the old library. But there’s also a vocal group of neighbors who oppose new housing in the area and want to turn the old library into an extension of Ellsworth Park, which is next door. (A smaller group from the Historical Society just wants to preserve the library building, which they consider to be architecturally significant.)

However, housing and child care is the best choice for this site. Over the past 20 years, Silver Spring has had an amazing resurgence, and with it came rising home prices. Meanwhile, the supply of affordable housing here and nationwide is decreasing, and there's a risk that less affluent residents could get pushed out. They deserve the chance to live in this community too, and to be able to walk to shops, social activities, and the Metro. 

What happens next?

Sometime in the near future, County Executive Ike Leggett will choose one of the two proposals. If Leggett chooses Victory Housing’s proposal, which includes apartments, he’ll have to get the zoning changed, as today you can only build single-family homes on this property.

In order to do that, the Planning Board will have to approve the zoning change, followed by the County Council. Both of these processes involve lengthy reviews and public hearings, and will give opponents many opportunities to stall or block the project. Chelsea Heights, the townhouse development across the street which also required a rezoning, took over three years just to get approved!

That’s why it’s important to reach out to county officials now, including County Executive Ike Leggett and the County Council, and let them know that Silver Spring needs this project.

Click to email county officials

Top image: Victory Housing's proposal would replace the library with affordable senior housing and a child care center. Image by Montgomery County.

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