Sandwiched between Silver Spring and Wheaton along Georgia Avenue is Forest Glen, a place with its own Metro station, a major hospital and a vibrant mix of longtime residents, first-time homeowners and condo and apartment dwellers.
Riders on the east leg of Metro’s Red Line know this place, but they likely never see it.
The station is one of the least-used in the Metrorail system and with 2,443 average daily boardings in 2013, it’s the least used in Montgomery County by a comfortable margin.
Metro and some advocates of the type of transit-oriented development happening elsewhere in the county hope that’s going to change soon with the redevelopment of an 8-acre Metro parking lot just north of the Forest Glen station.
But many in the existing neighborhood are wary of too much development for a stretch of Georgia Avenue that’s already flooded with traffic thanks in large part to a set of entrance and exit ramps from the Capital Beltway.
Partap Verma, who two years ago built a new single-family home just 300 feet from the Forest Glen Metro station, organized a community meeting Wednesday with Dan Reed, an urban planner, author of the Just Up the Pike blog and smart growth advocate.
While on paternity leave in April, Verma created his own website, called Finding Forest Glen, with the idea that the community needed to organize and prepare for the redevelopment of the Metro parking lot.
“There wasn’t a forum, at least on the Internet, that sort of brought together this elusive community that has a Metro stop, that has significant residential and some retail but that, quite frankly, nobody knows anything about,” Verma said. “This Metro development was an opportunity to get the community together in a way that’s never been done before.”
Last year, Metro said it would put out a request for proposals from developers to build on the lot, which features 596 daily parking spaces, 45 short-term spaces, 42 bicycle racks and 16 bicycle lockers.
The Forest Glen Metro station parking lot slated for redevelopment. Credit: Aaron Kraut
The selection process of a developer for the parking lot is likely to last into next year and is part of the transit agency’s effort across the region to develop its property around Metro stations.
The actual development of the lot, which is now zoned for single-family homes and town houses, is unlikely to happen until Montgomery County revises its sector plan for the area. That process, which could include zoning for more density on the spot, is scheduled to start in 2016 and could take two years to complete.
That didn’t curb interest in the project Wednesday. About 40 neighbors showed up to the Montgomery Hills Baptist Church across Georgia Avenue from the station.
They discussed strengths and weaknesses of the existing site, plus opportunities and threats of a development project in a conversation that often highlighted competing viewpoints and branched out to how to make all of Forest Glen a better place.
“The Beltway is the wall for me,” said one resident. “I stay north of that wall.”
Northbound traffic on Georgia Avenue in Forest Glen as it passes under the Capital Beltway. Credit: Aaron Kraut
“This is not an issue of increasing ridership,” said another resident. “Metro wants to do this [development] for one reason: money.”
Some spoke about how the parking lot is in high-demand and often is full by 8:30 a.m. on weekdays, meaning replacing the existing parking would be vital. Others wondered if Holy Cross Hospital, just a few blocks east of the station, should be added to the Forest Glen station name as a way to attract ridership.
Most seemed to agree on two things: The traffic situation at Forest Glen Road and Georgia Avenue is almost unbearable and the residential-heavy area could use some neighborhood-appropriate service retail such as a coffee shop or drycleaners.
As residents dished on what they want to see in Forest Glen, a pair of Montgomery County planners who will be working on the Forest Glen Sector Plan listened and explained what can be a complicated development approval process.
Verma said he’s hoping to present a document highlighting concerns and suggestions to Metro before the transit agency hosts a promised public meeting in the fall.
“I think this will give us a better idea of what kind of issues are affecting Forest Glen,” Verma said. “It’s creating just a little bit of inertia that might stimulate further conversation.”