2016 | Government

Elizabeth Square Project Partners Questioned about Planned Recreation, Aquatic Centers

County officials update council members on major redevelopment in downtown Silver Spring

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A rendering showing the proposed aquatic center facing a public plaza at the Elizabeth Square project.

Courtesy of HOC and Lee Development Group, by KGD Architecture

Montgomery County Council members asked pointed questions Monday about plans to establish an aquatic and recreation center during the redevelopment of Elizabeth Square in downtown Silver Spring.

County staff briefed council members on the public-private effort to renovate and expand the affordable housing complex and made a case for bringing public swimming pools, gyms and community spaces to the development between Fenwick Lane and Apple Avenue. But council member Nancy Floreen wondered aloud whether the vision had strayed too far from its original focus on housing.

“I mean, is this the project of all things to all people?” she asked partway through the presentation.

Those involved in the redevelopment—including the county’s recreation department and housing opportunity commission—said the amenities will benefit the broader community and energize a sleepy corner of the city’s downtown.

“This facility will be for our older adult population, our millennials, our young families, and I think it will just add another fantastic public amenity to an important region of our community,” Gabriel Albornoz, the county’s recreation director, said.

The proposed ground-level aquatic and recreation center would span 90,000 square feet and include an indoor pool, splash park elements, a full gymnasium and a social hall, he said.

When pressed by Floreen to provide a ballpark cost, Albornoz said it’s too early to offer an accurate estimate for the amenities.

Council member Hans Riemer praised the idea of transforming the development into an activity hub.

“I really do like the emphasis in allowing people to live in complex communities. The way it is now… it’s a quiet, kind of lonely-looking building from the outside,” he said. “But why wouldn’t people want to live in a more vibrant setting?”

The project’s first phase is expected to kick off in January and will focus on renovating the Alexander House, a 16-story building that includes 311 homes for families of various income levels. Later on, the project’s private partners, Lee Development Group, plan to tear down Elizabeth House, the existing 160-unit building that provides affordable housing to seniors. In its place, developers will construct two high-rises—a 15-story building with 267 units of senior housing and a 19-story building with 274 apartments for families.

The project, targeted for completion in 2021, will bring an additional 42 affordable homes to the community, county staff reported. Work on the aquatic center would begin early in the project, but construction of the recreation center would come during the later phases.

Council member George Leventhal asked whether Elizabeth Square residents will object to having their pool open to the general public and urged project partners to communicate their intentions clearly.

Stacy Spann, executive director of the Montgomery County Housing Opportunity Commission, said those involved have worked hard to keep residents in the loop as the redevelopment plans move forward.