Monday, March 24, 2008

Use for Property at Hillmead Park

This week the Washington Post details the ongoing controversy about the potential use of an existing house on the County’s newly acquired parkland in the Hillmead neighborhood. While the County proposes placing a 14-member homeless family in the house or using it as special needs housing, neighbors argue that such plans represent an inappropriate use of County resources. At this time, we don’t know the cost of making the house habitable. You can learn more by visiting the links to the right. “Post: Hillmead Property” chronicles the history of the controversy while “HOC Strategic Plan” provides details of affordable housing needs and strategies in the County.

Folks may not be aware that currently Montgomery County has over 21,000 families on waiting lists for housing help of one sort or another. With the foreclosure crisis, this number will no doubt grow. While affordable housing issues have been studied every which way for many years, we really have not made tremendous progress in addressing the basic needs--increasing the supply of new affordable housing and protecting existing affordable housing. But one thing all the various reports and studies have recommended is that the government use public land to support the effort.

The proposal to save the existing home on the property that the County has just acquired for an extension of Hillmead Park is a small step in that direction. Certainly, there are a lot of variables to work through. But, the need for more housing that is affordable (or at least a stop-gap solution for families and individuals in crisis) is huge. The Hillmead solution could be a win/win--saving a lovely piece of green space in perpetuity for public use and using a small part of it to serve folks who need a hand.

What do you think? Here are examples of the emails I’ve been receiving on this issue:

Excerpt 1: “I am writing to you to express my support for the joint DHCA and DHHS proposal to use the recently purchased Hillmead House to provide a home for a family exiting homelessness. As you know it is extremely difficult to find suitable housing for large families; in many cases their homelessness is prolonged for this reason alone. It seems like a perfect solution to put a family in such a wonderful neighborhood, utilizing a home already owned by the county. I know that you have traditionally supported inclusive communities throughout the county and hope you will do so in this case as well.”

Excerpt 2: “Since when is the county in the business of buying and developing some of the most expensive real estate in the country for housing homeless at the expense of taxpayer money when those funds can be more effectively used to provide services for a greater number of needy families? The house on Hillmead could generate revenue of about $10,000 a month. That is enough to cover the rental of FIVE to SIX single family homes for homeless families--a far more effective use of taxpayer money. What is next? Do we start housing homeless families at the Four Seasons, when there are more affordable options out there that will serve more needy families with the same funds?"

Friday, March 21, 2008

Time With Family for Spring Break

As the Council starts its spring recess, I’m looking forward to spending time with my 91-year-old mother-in-law who unfortunately has not been in the best of health lately. I’m also looking forward to seeing my two sons. Since they live in San Francisco, I don’t get to see them as much as I’d like. I hope you also will have the opportunity to enjoy time with your family. The Council will have its plate full when we return on March 31.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Action on Transportation CIP

While I was disappointed that the County Executive’s recommended FY09-FY14 Capital Improvements Program for transportation included the smallest increase in 8 years when adjusted for inflation, I feel good that the Council has approved $100 million over the next six years for a number of much needed projects.

So far, the Council has tentatively approved action to fund construction of part of the North County Maintenance Depot to house Ride On buses. Currently, the County has room to park only two more Ride On buses. This plan will ultimately provide room for 250 more.

We also are funding the construction of the Bethesda Metro’s southern entrance (at Elm Street). While we need it whether or not the Purple Line gets built, it is a key connection for that line, just like the Silver Spring Transit Center at the other end.

We also are funding the Montrose Parkway East, a four-lane road with parkway features between Parklawn Drive and Veirs Mill Road. This project will be a next step in completing the full Montrose Parkway between I-270 and Veirs Mill Road and is the only project in the County’s transportation budget that will actually address congestion. (Montrose Parkway West has recently opened, so take a ride and try it out.)

To learn more about these and many other projects, including neighborhood enhancements, street trees, bikeways and sidewalks, click on “Transportation CIP” to the right.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

One Step Toward a Music Venue in Silver Spring

Our approval of $2 million for the project takes us one step closer to a music venue in downtown Silver Spring, although it is by no means the last step. The deal still needs concurrence from the Planning Board, and further negotiations are needed among the County Executive, the Lee family and Live Nation. We don’t know exactly where the plan will go from here, except that the landowner is being asked to make the property available to the County. We do know, though, that businesses in Silver Spring are counting on a major splash from the music venue to generate foot traffic. I had a terrific lunch at Nicaro on Georgia Avenue today. More needs to be done to encourage shops and restaurants like it in the area. And one more thing--I’m really disappointed that NPR is not in the mix anymore. What a great addition that would have been.

The Silver Spring Music Venue economic development project provides for the J.C. Penney site on Colesville Road in Silver Spring to be converted into a Live Nation Fillmore brand entertainment venue. Lee Development Group will donate the land to the County and the County will own the concert hall. Live Nation will lease the hall from the County. The J.C. Penney facade is historic and will be maintained. This week's funding brings the project to its final total of $4 million. For more information click on the Silver Spring Music Venue link to the right and scroll to page 5.

Communities Recognizing Their Best

I want to thank the Greater Olney Civic Association for inviting me to their awards ceremony on Sunday. They did a great job in recognizing the members of their community who have made the most impact. My hat is off to GOCA and the other civic associations who celebrate civic leadership in this way. Congratulations.