The old library in Silver Spring and proposed site for new development.  Image by the author.

Montgomery County wants to turn the old Silver Spring Library into affordable apartments for seniors and a child care center. Last week, the county presented two options for how to do that–however, due to neighbors' opposition to any homes being built here, one proposal would put those apartments “somewhere else.”

Ever since the new Silver Spring Library opened two years ago, Montgomery County has sought a new use for the old library, located a few blocks away on Colesville Road in downtown Silver Spring. Last fall, the county announced it wanted to replace the library with affordable housing and a child care center, and put out a call for development proposals. They've narrowed it down to two potential projects, and both development partners presented their plans at a community meeting last week.

Here are the two proposals

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

The first proposal comes from Victory Housing, which builds and operates several affordable housing developments around Montgomery County. It envisions replacing the former library with a four-story building containing 92 senior housing units, 72 of which would be affordable units, many of them “deeply affordable” for households below 30 or 40 percent of the area median income.

The building would also house a child care center for 80 to 100 children, as well as community space for meetings. While the proposal does not specify age ranges for children served, it would be operated by Communikids, which currently runs facilities accepting children between one and a half and five years old. The library's existing parking lot and driveway would stay, and contain 92 parking spaces.

MBGCDC/CentroNia's proposal would turn the library into a child care center and do nothing else. Image used with permission.

A second joint proposal from child care providers Martha B. Gudelsky Child Development Center (MBGCDC) and CentroNia would turn the existing library into a daycare center for 125 to 150 children, ranging from infants to five-year-olds. The building would get a two-story addition in the back, and the existing parking lot would remain.

Despite the county's requirement that development at the old library include some housing, MBGCDC/CentroNia would instead put 15 affordable apartments somewhere else in downtown Silver Spring, paying down the rents of market-rate apartments to make them affordable.

Victory Housing Proposal MBGCDC/CentroNia Proposal
Housing units constructed 92 0
Child care spots proposed 80-100 125-150
Age range for child care provided not specified, 2.5-5? 0-5
Parking spaces 92 Not specified
Maximum height built 4 stories 2 stories

Neighbors continue to fight this project

This project has a lot of community support. We circulated a petition last fall that got over 300 signatures, many of which came from Silver Spring residents who talked about the high cost of housing and the need for affordable rental options.

But since the county announced this project last year, two sources of opposition have emerged. The Silver Spring Historical Society wants to see the old library building preserved, as they consider the 1950's-era building a significant example of mid-century modern architecture.

Another group of neighbors doesn't want any housing built here, and would rather the site be turned into an extension of Ellsworth Park, which is next door. Many of those neighbors unsuccessfully fought a townhouse development across the street from the old library called Chelsea Heights, which dragged on for several years before the townhouses were completed in 2016.

Not building housing here would be a waste

Redeveloping this site would be a perfect opportunity to build more housing, which is in high demand in such prime downtown Silver Spring locations as this. The site is a half mile from the Silver Spring Metro station, which will also soon be a stop on the Purple Line. It's an even shorter walk to two grocery stores, dozens of restaurants, a mall, and many other stores. A child care facility would also be a huge asset to Silver Spring and meet a critical community need.

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

A mid-rise building like the one Victory Housing proposes would be a good transition between Ellsworth Park and Colesville Towers, a 12-story apartment building next to the former library. (In fact, given this location, this building could be even taller!)

But MBGCDC/CentroNia's proposal, which would provide a child care center and nothing else, is a missed opportunity. Their proposal does not set out why this location in particular would be ideal for this center and nothing else. I asked the presenters to respond to this, and one told me that most locations in the area would be on the first floor of an office building, which would not be what parents want.

Setting aside that my children's child care center is in an office building in downtown Silver Spring, there are plenty of other sites available for just a child care center. That's not an excuse to deny people access to housing in a close-in area.

Your feedback is crucial

The county's next step is to select a proposal, but both proposals may require rezoning the site, which currently allows only single-family homes. That means both the Planning Board and the County Council will have to approve rezoning, which will give both supporters and opponents of housing the chance to weigh in.

Both of us live near this site, are homeowners, and strongly encourage our neighbors to support the Victory Housing proposal, while advocating for improvements such as expansion of the child care center's scope to include infant care, and reducing the amount of the site taken up by surface parking and roadways.

Sign up below and we'll keep you updated on how to best get involved as this project moves forward.

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