Montgomery County just spent millions to build a new parking garage in Silver Spring. Just one block away, another garage is so underused that the county wants to hand half of it over to the Discovery Channel for pennies on the dollar.
The 592-space Kennett Street garage in south Silver Spring sits mostly empty. Montgomery’s Leggett administration has just proposed leasing 300 of its spaces to Discovery for the cable company’s nearby offices. The proposed deal would give Discovery exclusive use of the spaces for 13 years at an annual rate of $240,000, or just $800 per space per year.
Only a few weeks ago, a 152-space public garage opened around the corner on 13th Street. The cost of this garage is difficult to estimate because it was part of a package deal that also built affordable housing, but a garage under a similar mixed use project in Bethesda cost $64,000 per space.
The $800 per space per year that Discovery would pay won’t even cover the interest on a $64,000 parking space.
So many things are wrong with this deal that it’s hard to list them all. It’s an unnecessary giveaway to a prosperous private company that has already received millions from the county. 300 parking spaces currently open to the public will be fenced off and unavailable to others. And everyone will suffer from the traffic and pollution that subsidized employee parking creates.
Meanwhile, neighbors who park in the Kennett Street garage are upset because they will soon be charged double what Discovery would pay.
Public parking is out of control in Montgomery County. It’s heavily subsidized by taxpayers; the bonds sold to build garages in Silver Spring are paid off out of the county’s general fund. Yet the county went to the expense of building a new parking garage when an existing garage one block away is full of empty spaces.
When Montgomery can’t find anything better to do with its garages than give them away, it’s a strong signal that it’s time to stop building new ones. In a county desperately short of affordable housing for people, affordable housing for automobiles does not deserve to be a priority. Parking should pay for itself in Bethesda and Silver Spring.