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In Long Branch, specter of gentrification looms as plans move ahead

December 13, 2010 - 01:08 PM
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Long Branch
Local business owner Jose Rodriguez shares his concerns about changes to Long Branch during a Dec. 9 meeting. (Photo: TBD Staff)

The Purple Line will change Long Branch, that's for certain. The area will have two stops on the mass transit line and talk of reinvestment around those stops has been going on for years.

But now that there is finally some movement to plan that reinvestment (granted, it's in the form writing a sector plan), planners will have to tackle an inevitable question: how do you make a community vastly more desirable to live in while still keeping it affordable?

In other words, how do you reinvest without gentrifying?

That seems to be the balance that Montgomery County planners want to strike with their initial recommendations [PDF] for a sector plan, which they laid out during a Dec. 9 community meeting. Their ideas, which they garnered from community feedback sessions, will be used to write the plan. The gist of the recommendations is to preserve housing affordability, improve pedestrian mobility and mass-transit access, and create mixed-use zones to spur reinvestment in commercial areas.

“The key to this vision and what we heard from the community is building on what's the existing base now, and basically the vision is a mixed-use community that keeps its multicultural identity,” planner coordinator Kathleen Reilly said during a Dec. 9 community meeting on the plan. “They want to be transit-oriented and looking forward to the enhancement with the Purple Line, but they want to preserve the existing businesses and protect affordable housing.”

Long Branch has never had a sector plan, and getting one is kind of a big deal; it means development in the area gets targeted and specialized attention (no more living in downtown Silver Spring's shadow). This plan will provide analysis and recommendations on how to develop Long Branch, and planners will turn to those recommendations for the next 15 to 20 years to help them make decisions on what projects to approve or what to require of developers.

And yes, Montgomery County does require new developments to set aside a portion of their units for affordable housing, but still, the county as a whole isn't exactly the cheapest place to live in the D.C.-metro area. Long Branch is one of its last bastions of affordability, so longtime residents are rightfully fearful that they could be pushed out with renewed reinvestment.

Alba Moreno has lived in Croydon Manor for five years now and spoke on behalf of her tenants' association on Dec. 9.

"The community wants to stay in this building and we don’t want this building to be destroyed," she said in Spanish. “Your recommendations say that the affordable residences will stay, but you’re not giving us specific details on how these affordable buildings are going to come to be.”

In fact, the lack of specifics is what has so many residents miffed. CASA de Maryland attorney Zorayda Moreira-Smith has been meeting with numerous small business owners and apartment dwellers. She said during the Dec. 9 meeting that while the planners recommend keeping housing affordable, they also call for the creation of new housing near the Purple Line which could attract professors and others from the University of Maryland.

"It’s indicative that the plan’s focus is not to protect affordable housing, but attract new residents," Moreira-Smith said.

Other recommendations in the plan include creating two commercial centers that allow five to six-story buildings and the possible historic designation of the Flower Avenue Shopping Center and Theater.

But all these recommendations, as Reilly said, "is just a tip of the iceberg." Planners still have yet to submit their draft to the Planning Board, which is supposed to happen this winter or spring. Then, comes the public hearings and work sessions. The board won’t send its final draft to the County Council until fall 2011.



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