- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 6, 2002

A Montgomery County planning agency is considering moving its headquarters from Silver Spring to Wheaton, setting up a battle between two aging suburbs that have struggled to revive themselves.
The Montgomery County Department of Park and Planning wants to consolidate its three offices in Silver Spring into a single location. It has narrowed its options to two sites: the department's existing downtown Silver Spring headquarters at 8787 Georgia Ave., which would be expanded, or a new office complex planned near the Wheaton Metro station.
"We're definitely running out of space. It's been a problem for years," said Charles R. Loehr, the department's director.
The department has been based at 8787 Georgia Ave. since the 1950s. About 175 department employees are based in the building, which has about 50,000 square feet and is owned by the department's parent agency, the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, which handles planning for Montgomery and Prince George's counties.
In addition, the department has about 80 employees at a 20,000-square-foot site at 9500 Brunett Ave. and 20 employees in a leased 5,000-square-foot office on Spring Street.
The department is studying whether to expand its existing building or move to Wheaton. It plans to conclude the study in June and forward its recommendation to the County Council for final approval.
Silver Spring business leaders have decried the potential move, saying it could threaten the revitalization of downtown Silver Spring.
Montgomery County Council President Steven A. Silverman, at-large Democrat and a former Greater Silver Spring Chamber of Commerce president, stressed that the move is not definite.
"The train has not left the station. In fact, the train hasn't even come into the station," Mr. Silverman said.
The county doesn't want to "play Silver Spring and Wheaton against each other," he said. "Both of these communities need revitalization."
The department will consider the need to revitalize both communities in making its decision, Mr. Loehr said.
The department helped plan the downtown Silver Spring revitalization project. If the agency moved to Wheaton, Mr. Loehr said it would ensure its Georgia Avenue building was "used in a manner that is compatible with the redevelopment."
For example, the building could be converted into apartments, Mr. Loehr said.
The redevelopment of Silver Spring has brought a Fresh Fields, Baja Fresh Mexican Grill and Hilton hotel to the once-decaying suburb. A Borders Books and Music store also is planned.
Cable-television giant Discovery Communications Inc. is building its new headquarters downtown, and a $40 million project with new offices, apartments, shops and hotels is planned near the Silver Spring Metro station.
In December, the American Film Institute signed a lease to occupy the old Silver Theater in downtown Silver Spring, which Montgomery County is spending $20 million to renovate.
In Wheaton, Metro has chosen a development team to build more than 300,000 square feet of new office and retail space near the Wheaton Metro station. Several luxury apartment projects and upscale town houses are also planned.
The county's Wheaton Redevelopment Task Force also has proposed sprucing up older buildings and urging developers to build additional restaurants and nightclubs in the unincorporated town.
"Wheaton is noted as a possible up-and-coming area, but it's been described as an up-and-coming area before and that has never come to fruition," said Alexander L. Paul, Mid-Atlantic research director for Delta Associates, a real estate information group.
Of the 5.9 million square feet of office space available in Silver Spring, 17.9 percent is vacant, Delta said. The combined Wheaton-Kensington area has 1.3 million square feet of office space, of which 3.5 percent is vacant.


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