Smart Growth Illustrated
Green Tape Program, Silver Spring, Maryland
Montgomery County's Green Tape program is making redevelopment in Silver Spring, Maryland, faster and more cost effective by speeding up the permitting process for development in the mixed-use city center. Downtown Silver Spring was a dynamic retail center in the post-war years but, like many other urban centers, it lost many of its stores to enclosed malls during the 1970s. Subsequent attempts to rebuild the retail base had not been successful. When investors were unable to find funding for a proposed festival-style shopping center in 1996, the county decided to redevelop the area into a pedestrian-oriented, mixed-use, transit-oriented community.
County executive Douglas Duncan knew that slow permitting and inspection service would hinder the redevelopment, so he ordered his Department of Permitting Services (DPS) to speed service in the Silver Spring redevelopment zone. The Green Tape team draws from all parts of the department staff, including building, electrical, fire, mechanical, accessibility, zoning, signage, sediment and storm water management, subdivision plan review, and inspection codes and standards. A permit technician heads the team and assists applicants with filing requirements, regulatory reviews, and inspections. When a project within the redevelopment zone submits an application to the DPS, Green Tape team members make it a priority over their non-Green Tape work. The program aims to issue permits within two weeks of receiving the application. While this is not always possible with very large, complex projects, developers are usually surprised by the speed of the permitting process.
The pre-design consultation and assessment inspection has proven extremely valuable. Team members will meet with an applicant before a project is designed, visit the site, identify possible barriers that the site creates, and suggest up-front solutions. Projects that take advantage of pre-design consultations have received permits in as little as two days. Pre-design consultations have also helped business owners identify zoning and code barriers that make projects infeasible before they have signed a lease or contract for a given location. This saves them time and money and keeps properties from being tied up in litigation and bankruptcy hearings, which slow the redevelopment.
The Silver Spring Green Tape program has reviewed or is reviewing more than 20 major developments and numerous smaller projects. Green Tape reviews have helped projects ranging from a proposal to convert a town home into a law office to development of the more than 500,000-square-foot headquarters building of Discovery Communications. The projects include new construction, rehabilitation, retrofits, and other modifications to buildings. Even sophisticated developers and designers have benefited from Green Tape reviews. When the designers of the downtown Silver Spring redevelopment, a half-million square feet of retail and entertainment space including a 22-screen theater, wanted to include a fountain of dancing waters in a public square, Green Tape team members from the health inspection office recommended a remote water-testing technology to the fountain designers that allowed the fountain to meet health code standards without onerous manual testing.
The Auras Building also benefited from a Green Tape pre-design inspection and meeting in which the Green Tape team agreed on design modifications that allowed a beautiful open staircase to meet standards as a required fire exit.
By instituting the Green Tape program, Montgomery County demonstrated it was serious about revitalizing downtown Silver Spring. The market has responded by building or proposing to build over 750,000 square feet of retail and entertainment space, 500,000 square feet of office space, and nearly 2,000 residences.