Infill development is fundamental to any region’s sustainable growth and evolution. The Leesborough townhouse and condominium development in Wheaton exhibits excellent urban planning and creates a sense of place on the human scale.
In the long run, the region needs more urban-formatted infill housing in order to address its affordable housing problem.
In Montgomery County in particular, where a mere 4% of land is still available for greenfield development, and more space is devoted to roads and parking than to buildings, a growing population will have to be accommodated into existing areas. Well-designed infill can increase density without decreasing amenities and quality of life.
As a Wheaton resident, I enjoy seeing good transit-proximate walkable urban development in the area. In Leesborough, the Wheaton Metro Station is a 10-minute walk south on Georgia Avenue. The Y family of Metrobuses stops at the gate of the development, too.
In contrast to most housing developments in recent decades, the Leesborough development in Wheaton has a good sense of place with human-scaled complete streets. I was very pleasantly surprised when I took a walk through the nearly complete project.
While each townhouse has a two-car garage, it addresses car storage in an otherwise sensible, urban format. Rather than having wide streets with long driveways, the townhouses and condominiums in Leesborough address the street, which has parallel parking, while the garages around back open up to an alley, much like older row house neighborhoods in DC.
The rear placement of garages eliminates curb cuts from the primary streetscape. If you’re walking from your house to the Metro on the sidewalk, you don’t have to worry about getting hit by someone pulling out of their driveway.
The streets were built by the developer but will become public. If you visit a resident of the development by car, you won’t have to worry about being towed like at most existing car-oriented apartment/condo buildings. It’s like visiting someone in a traditional neighborhood.
The Leesborough development also boasts a small urban park. I live near this emerging community and I could walk to it and enjoy this common space. It’s not gated or set back behind acres of parking.
Leesborough is not perfect, obviously. It is a single-use housing development. There is no neighborhood-serving retail like a convenience store or a dry cleaner. Like most new construction, it is also expensive. I wouldn’t call it “affordable” in any way.
The affordable housing problem is not something that we can correct by waving a magic wand. It exists because there are more real estate customers who want transit accessible housing in walkable, urban-style developments than there are existing units.
Meanwhile, the collapse of resale values in many far-flung, car-dependent developments implies that there is more of this type of housing than the market demands. It took many decades to reach our current imbalance and the only way we can address it is to build more developments like Leesborough in closer, transit accessible neighborhoods.