Posted: May 3rd, 2009 | Author: Rob Goodspeed | Filed under: Historic Preservation, Public Participation | Comments Off
“Help … give away $1 million in preservation grants to Greater Boston historic places” boast advertisements I’ve seen recently in Boston about a grant program sponsored by American Express and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The ads invite the public to visit the program website to vote for which of 25 historic sites should receive funds for historic preservation work.
Although the amount of funds guaranteed the winner is limited, the Partners in Preservation program is an interesting example of private example of online participatory budgeting, the growing practice of allowing the general public to determine funding priorities. Until May 17th, the general public can register online and vote once per day for which site deserve money for preservation. The winner is guaranteed funding for their preservation project (up to $100,000), and an Advisory Committee will determine how to distribute the rest of the $1 million, taking into consideration the voting results, “along with each historic place’s preservation and monetary needs.”
The top three leaders so far are Nantasket Beach’s Paragon Carousel, Old Salem Town Hall, and the Crane Estate. Other sites in consideration include a historic schooner in Gloucester, Paul Revere’s House, the New England Aquarium, and St. Peter’s Church in Dorchester (seen above). Although the website only contains a ranking, the Paragon Carousel seems to have drawn the most attention since Julian Koster, enigmatic head of the band Neutral Milk Hotel, has been campaigning for the funds to go to what he describes as a “beautiful machine that has been my dear neighbor for many moons.”
> For more information or to vote see: Partners In Preservation Boston
Photo of St. Peter’s Church in Dorchester uploaded to Facebook by Jillian Adams
Posted: March 10th, 2009 | Author: Rob Goodspeed | Filed under: Historic Preservation, Smart Growth, Urban Development | 7 Comments »
A red-hot urban development controversy will move one step closer to resolution at a hearing tonight at 7:30 p.m. in the 3rd Floor Council Hearing Room in the Montgomery County office building in Rockville, Maryland. At stake is nothing less than the purpose of historic preservation, and how preservation should be balanced with affordable housing and smart growth goals.
The case is regarding whether the Falkland Chase apartment complex in Silver Spring, Maryland should be protected under the county’s historic preservation laws.
The Falkland Chase Apartments is a garden-style apartment complex constructed in 1936 and 1937 to accommodate Washington’s urban growth. Financed by the then-new Federal Housing Administration, the 22-acre complex contained 479 units on 24 acres. Designed by a regionally-significant architect Louis Justement, the complex is an early example of garden style apartments, intended to provide a healthy alternative to city living for people of modest means. The architect took pride in his ability to protect existing trees, and arranged the buildings to take into account a small stream on the property Eleanor Roosevelt herself attended the ribbon cutting ceremony. Here is the complex plan, with the three sections under discussion labeled,
In the 1960s, planners targeted Silver Spring for the development of an urban node on the metropolitan region’s planned rapid transit system. County and regional planners hoped to focus growth at urban nodes served by transit to minimize urban sprawl. According to one article, in 1966 a developer proposed redeveloping all three parcels and replacing it with a 12-building complex with heights from 12 to 22 stories. according to the story the plan was shelved due to “militant community opposition.” The rendering, obtained by Jerry McCoy for a column in the Silver Spring Voice, depicts a modern train zipping along the planned right-of-way at the northern boundary of the site. As planned, the Silver Spring Metrorail station opened in 1978 just steps from the site. (As an aside, the proposed architecture is strangely reminiscent of many other buildings built in the region in this era, including the Washington Hilton, Watergate complex, and federal office buildings at Federal Center.)
However the apartments were unaffected by local development except for one portion. In 1992 to the chagrin of preservationists one portion of the complex containing roughly 34 units was demolished and replaced with a 400-unit 17-story apartment high rise. The remaining complex includes 450 units on 22 acres, arranged in apartments, duplexes, and townhouses arranged around open green space.
When the national apartment company Home Properties purchased the property in 2003, local activists began working to get the property protected from redevelopment, successfully getting it added to a list guaranteeing it would be evaluated for preservation before any redevelopment could take place.
The property owner then unveiled a redevelopment plan for the property. The north parcel, containing 182 units on 7.5 acres, would be completely demolished and replaced with roughly 1,000 apartments, 200 parking spaces, and 60,000 square feet of retail space, including a Harris Teeter Grocery store. The redevelopment would create roughly 125 affordable units on the north parcel, and over a hundred more in the rest of the complex and elsewhere. The south and west parcels, arguably more historic and contain the already-protected cupola building, would be protected and receive much-needed improvements.
Here are site plans for the existing north parcel:
… and proposed:
A perspective of the plan:
The Historic Preservation Commission issued a recommendation in February 2008 protect all three parcels, effectively forbidding the proposal. They concluded all three parcels were needed to tell the story of the historic complex. The matter then went to the Planning Board. After a lengthly work session last July (a wealth of documents are online), they decided to recommend preservation of only the south and west portions, which would allow the redevelopment plan to move forward.
The preservationists were irate. Dozens of letters, presentations, and testimony had been overruled. The YouTube videos of two of Washington’s best-known architectural historians, George Washington University’s Richard Longstreth and University of Maryland’s Isabelle Gournay, urging preservation of the entire complex, had gone unheeded. One major issue in the debate was captured by north parcel resident and a friend of mine from the University of Maryland urban planning program, Megan Moriarty, who described her position this way in a July 10th, 2008 letter submitted to the County Council:
Preserving the buildings of the North Parcel will not create any new subsidized units or even ensure rental rates do not continue rising. Home Properties’ plan for the north Parcel will provide desperately needed new affordable housing in downtown Silver Spring.
The other reason was smart growth. The Washington Smart Growth Alliance recognized the project in 2007, noting its open space, “much-needed” grocery store, and affordable housing. The redevelopment would replace 182 units with 1,000, boosting the density from just over 24 to over 132 units per acre. In the words of Montgomery county development blogger Dan Reed (and University of Maryland architecture undergraduate), “Anything short of fifteen-story buildings next to the Silver Spring Metro seems like a waste if we could be getting people out of their cars.”
Although all-for density, Dan’s not supporting the specific North Parcel proposal, and for good reason. He notes the project fails to create an urban streetscape, describing the site plan as “suburban,” concluding:
Falkland Chase sets a very high standard for anything that should go in its place. Call them ordinary, but they’re of better quality than most garden apartments in East County. If anything is built at Falkland North, it should be something that doesn’t just deliver density, but can create the kind of lively, pedestrian-friendly neighborhood that Downtown Silver Spring needs more of.
The sentiment is echoed by Greater Greater Washington.
Although the project will contain “affordable” units under the county’s Moderately Priced Dwelling Unit law. While people throw around the word affordable in these debates, when you examine the prices set by the MPDU law they can be surprisingly high. Set at 60% of area median income, the developer’s estimate puts the rent for a two-bedroom apartment for a family of three at around $1,000. However, under the developer’s plan the 282 affordable units would be located in the new building, the existing Falkland Apartments, and other properties in the county they own where affordability restrictions are expiring. (The duration of affordability restrictions was originally 30 years, meaning many are now expiring)
To Preserve or Not?
As is typical with preservation controversies, the issue of whether to preserve the specific building is tangled up with a specific proposal for the land. Although this may make sense in some cases where brutal anti-development realpolitik is called for to save a threatened gem, in this case I’m not sure it’s appropriate. I don’t think the entire complex warrants protection, but I also think the development proposal can and should be improved.
First, I’m not convinced the historical uniqueness of the property warrants protection of the entire complex. Although a good example of a garden apartment, the Washington region has no shortage of them and the specific building and architect are not exceptional. Unlike the case of the totally unique Comsat building which I thought ought to be protected. Additionally, many garden apartments exist throughout the region, and the nearby Greenbelt, Maryland, is a more unique and comprehensive example of the history of urban development in the 1930s.
Second, I think the need for Smart Growth and new deed-restricted affordable housing outweighs the preservation interest for the north parcel. The site, located across the street from a Metro station and near jobs and major roads should be developed more densely than it is currently. This image illustrates the greater context of the complex:
The relationship between affordable housing and historic preservation is nuanced. At times, preservation can serve affordability by protecting the existing housing stock and preventing large scale lot consolidation (particularly at the neighborhood level). However, as Megan points out, there’s nothing inherent with preservation that will prevent increasing rents and gentrification. In fact, I’ve seen some argue that historic preservation can serve as an agent of gentrification, boosting housing values. Although the MPDUs aren’t exactly cheap, they are legally protected affordable units.
Lastly, I think the existing proposal can and should be improved. Dan Reed hits the nail on the head in his assessment of the proposal: “”Falkland North puts density right where it’s needed, by the Metro. But what it lacks is human and neighborhood scale. Falkland North is a super-building, fifteen stories high and roughly a thousand feet wide.” He points out it would be larger than many existing buildings in Silver Spring’s downtown. As a model for a more urban proposal, he points to a conceptual drawing created by county planners in the 1990s.
Tonight’s hearing marks the end of the formal process for deciding what to protect, however I have a sense the issue is far from settled. Not only could legal appeals draw out the final decision, but the current economic situation means the existing proposal will likely be delayed. None of these reasons are likely to dilute the rhetorical pyrotechnics at tonight’s meeting, however, for which we have a July column from Washington Post columnist Marc Fisher as a preview, where Richard Longstreth is quoted as likening the proposal as ripping the corners off a Michelangelo and Silver Spring preservationist Mary Reardon complains Smart Growth isn’t supposed to “mow down everything near a transit hub.” Fisher lets the developer have the last word in his column: “We all know we need the housing. If not here, where?” Where indeed.
> Montgomery Planning Board Falkland Documents from July 2008, Planning Board Amendment November 2008
> Just up the Pike Blog: “Another vision for Falkland’s North Parcel,” “Ordinary or not, falkland chase sets high standard for redevelopment”
> W. Post: “Redevelopment Plan Angers Residents of Silver Spring Apartment Complex” (2/26/09), “Yesterday’s Charm, Today’s Convenience” (11/29/08), “Nostalgia May Trump New Housing in Montgomery” (6/5/08)
> Wash. Business Journal: “Falkland Apartments in Silver Spring face historic review” (5/16/08)
Posted: February 29th, 2008 | Author: Rob Goodspeed | Filed under: DC Shaw Neighborhood, District of Columbia, Historic Preservation, Housing, Smart Growth | Comments Off
The weekly newsletter circulated by my representative on the D.C. Council, Jack Evans, contains this personal plea for community members to attend an upcoming zoning hearing regarding a mixed-use redevelopment of the O Street Market:
O Street Market needs support from residents
The DC Zoning Commission will hold a Public Hearing on the O Street Market project on March 6 at 6:30 pm at the Zoning Commission Office, 441 4th Street, NW Suite 210S.
“I am personally asking those concerned to show support for this important project in the heart of Shaw by attending this hearing,” Councilmember Evans said.
If you wish to testify, you can sign up at the meeting. For more information, contact the Office on Zoning at 727-6311 or Evans’ Shaw liaison, Windy Abdul-Rahim.
The site currently contains a Giant Supermarket, surface parking lot, and abandoned market structure. The developer is asking the Zoning Commission to re-zone the parcel from C-2-A to CR or C-3-C, commercial zones supporting higher density. The official notice generated by the zoning commission contains a description of the request and information about how to testify.
For more discussion of the project see my original post, or this interview where Roadside Development founder Armond Spikell discusses it with DCmud.
Posted: October 10th, 2007 | Author: Rob Goodspeed | Filed under: Historic Preservation, McGregor, Slums, South Africa, Urban Development | 4 Comments »
This summer I spent one month in South Africa completing a planning study in McGregor, a small town roughly two hours from Cape Town. (See it on Google Maps)
This post summarizes the contents of our report, which we presented today to students and faculty in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning at the University of Maryland.
The research was conducted by a team comprised of myself, Jocelyn Harris, and Brooke Taylor from University of Maryland, Matt Monroe from Rutgers University, and Iris Patten from the University of Florida. Our faculty advisor Prof. Sidney Brower. The report contains a survey of the housing and economic conditions of McGregor, and proposals for how community members might address problems in these areas. Like many towns and cities in South Africa, many residents of McGregor are living in substandard housing. We argue the solution to this problem must include not only well-designed new government housing, but also strategies to address the underlying cause: the social and economic inequality that exists in the town. The report is divided into four parts. We conducted extensive research with young residents of the town who have been working with the South Africa Heritage Resources Agency to document the town’s heritage.
Team members talking with local residents during the planning process:
Part One contains a summary of the system of local governance, population, private sector groups, and previous plans for McGregor. It also includes a summary of the broader provincial and national policy context for housing production. Proposals to adopt design review for new buildings and subdivision zoning to maintain the historical character have been adopted, however proposals to provide assistance to low income residents to maintain their homes have not been enacted. I described the country’s national housing policies last summer in a post titled “Government-Built Sprawl.”
Part Two contains a summary of the existing housing in McGregor. The town contains a collection of distinctive thatch-roofed cottages. Combined with the natural setting, the architecture has made the town highly desirable for vacationers who stay at several small inns, vacationers who have purchased or build vacation homes in the town, and retirees who have chosen to reside there. However, housing in the colored community, who make up the majority of the population, is generally substandard.
The wealthy upper town:
And lower town:
Part Three contains a discussion of new housing for the community. It contains an analysis of each potential site discussed for new housing including site plans obtained from the municipality, and a proposal for a site selection criteria and committee. It also includes a discussion of alternative designs for government housing and a proposal for a home renovation fund for the poor.
Lastly, Part Four contains a discussion of both the economy of McGregor and its region, and a consideration of the relationship between the economy and housing provision. The report argues a successful housing strategy must address the town’s poverty through diversification and policies that result in greater direct participation in the local economy.
While there are no easy answers to the problems the town is facing, we were inspired by the vision and dedication to self-improvement among town residents. Graced with world-class natural amenities and a unique building tradition, the town’s heritage itself is a rich resource. We hope the citizens are able to use our report to accommodate more equitable housing and economic opportunities for all residents.
> Download a PDF of our full report (scroll to bottom)
> See all my photos from McGregor
The project team and McGregor heritage workers.
Posted: August 13th, 2007 | Author: Rob Goodspeed | Filed under: Historic Preservation, Housing, Milwaukee, Urban Development | 2 Comments »
Soon, Pabst-loving hipsters will be able to live in the buildings where the beer they saved was once brewed.
Founded in Milwaukee in 1844, the Pabst Brewing Company’s flagship beer earned its name during the 1893 Columbian World’s Exposition in Chicago, where it was awarded the blue ribbon as America’s best beer. However, economic realities began to catch up with the company in recent years, and they closed their massive Milwaukee brewery in 1996, transferring all production to the Miller company in 2001. However, after decades of declining sales, around 2001 Pabst Brewing Company sales executives discovered sales of Pabst Blue Ribbon were beginning to pick up in unlikely places — cities like Portland, Seattle, San Francisco, and the Williamsburg neighborhood in Brooklyn. The beer’s low price and working class cachet had led to a modest rebound in popularity among hipsters across the country.
From the start, the brewery’s former facility in Milwaukee was eyed for redevelopment. Located adjacent downtown Milwaukee, the complex contains a collection of ornate 19th century buildings almost begging to be converted into hip lofts. The first redevelopment proposal, a $300 million behemoth called PabstCity centered around the conversion of the complex into an entertainment district, collapsed when city officials voted down the subsidies demanded by the developer. The project became controversial in the city as citizens questioned the long-term viability of the plan, and its potential impact on downtown. Since I first wrote about the PabstCity project on this website, hundreds of people looking for more information have found their way to the site from search engines.
A year and a half after the first deal collapsed, real estate investor Joseph Zilber purchased the land and design work for $13 million. He moved quickly to draft plans for a much more pragmatic scheme to redevelop the complex into a mixed-use district with multiple owners. City officials approved the plan last year, and an official groundbreaking was held in January. Although unfortunately isolated from surrounding neighborhoods on two sides by freeways, the project seems on track to become a successful rehabilitation of a unique collection of historic buildings. The project’s first residential building, dubbed Blue Ribbon Lofts, will target low-to-moderate income artists and entrepreneurs. Other buildings will contain offices, shops, and yes, even possibly a brew pub.
> The Brewery Project Website
> Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Pabst Project Moves Ahead (8/06), Pabst Revamp Coming Together (1/07)
> Undercity: Abandoned Pabst Brewery
> Previously: Pabst City? (2003), Pabst City Project Falls Through (2005)
Photos courtesy The Brewery