Close Call for the Silverwood Development in Rockville

Rendering of 15955 Frederick Road by Lessard Design

The housing crisis has had ramifications not only for the overall economy, but the auto industry in particular was hit hard and has not recovered. It has yet to return to pre-recession levels. Where vehicles are the next-in-line purchase after real estate for most people, monthly vehicle sales—at one time during the recession—dropped to a level not seen since the early nineties. The hard hit American automakers left a trail of closed dealerships across the region as they cut back on their dealership networks.

Several dealerships are now shuttered along Rockville Pike (MD Route 355), and cash-flush investors see these properties—including the former Reed Brothers Dodge Dealership at 15955 Frederick Road—as an opening to take advantage of.

Developer Mark Silverwood is President of Silverwood Companies, which includes Silverwood Investments, LLC. Basedin Reston, Virginia,Silverwood sees the abandoned dealership as an opportunity to redevelop the 4.37-acre property into a residential mid-rise building, despite current County zoning that restricts the site to nonresidential uses only. But the city of Rockville recently annexed the property and has rezoned it as mixed-use transit district (MXTD) which will become effective November 24, 2011, and Silverwoodis moving forward with the residential development intended the mixed-use transit site.

The 15955 Frederick Road site does not have a marketing name yet, according to Silverwood’s attorney Robert Harris. The planned six-story, 75-foot, wood frame construction project includes a total of 417 multifamily units, with an above-grade parking garage surrounded on three sides by the residential units. Lessard Design (formerly the Lessard Group) is designing the building; this design group has had a helping hand in implementing high-quality projects around the region.

Silverwood intends to lease the units as apartments—42 with Junior One bedrooms, 229 with one bedroom, 64 with one bedroom and a den, 63 with two bedrooms, and 19 with three bedrooms. According to the developer, rents would be as much as 75 percent lower than rents in Bethesda.

Of course, the big white elephant in the room is the fact that this $90 million project will be only several hundred feet from the Montgomery County solid waste transfer station. Officials are concerned about odor and noise affecting future tenants at the apartment project. The County Planning Commission had a lengthy debate about the development, for a variety of reasons. Early in the meeting, however, a majority consensus emerged that was on the fence or opposed Silverwood's project.

"There is absolutely nothing that you can do or say to convince me that after five years of Montgomery County denying you building rights on this property that this is the ideal place for residential units, and for you to say otherwise—despite some of our commissioners going out to the site and noticing the stench and noise—is absolutely absurd at this point," Planning Commissioner Kathleen Cook stated.

Planning Commissioner Dion Trahan found the noise test study inadequate because none of the data pertained to the effects from the proximity of trains at the nearby Shady Grove Metro Station, even though the study had collected noise data from airplanes and roads. Commissioners were also concerned about the design of the entrance and exit on Route 355, because southbound motorists would have to make a U-turn.

To appease the planning commission, Silverwood reduced the number of parking spaces by forty; reversed an architectural error by flipping the exposed parking deck facade facing the southern access road to the Shady Grove Metro Station to the opposite side of the project, where it would be less visible; and agreed to full disclosure to potential tenants of the proximity of the waste facility.

The Planning Commission discussed postponing a vote on the project. But after more than five hours of debate, the Commission approved the project in a 4-1-2 vote (Commissioner Cook voted no, and Commissioners Hadley and Hill abstained).

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