Tonight the Historic District Commission held its regular meeting and encountered a few issues that touch the larger community:
1. The new “Green” section of the Building Code has been long overdue but as a result, should be easily adopted. Indeed, it probably doesn’t go far enough. The code has different levels of expectations (e.g, Rockville Certified, Rockville Silver) based on the number of points scored on a menu of tasks (e.g., if you install solar panels, you get X points). To achieve the “certified” level, you must have a minimum number of total points, and for “silver” it’s a bit higher. What level you need to achieve is based on the size of the building. What’s odd is that non-residential (aka, commercial) and multi-family (aka, apartments) need to achieve “certified” if they’re larger than 7,000 sf. Low rise residential (aka, single family homes) must “certified” no matter the size. Actually, certified shouldn’t be that hard to reach, especially if you have any interest in saving energy. For me, all new construction–residential or commerical–should reach the lowest “certified” level no matter the size. Why are small office, retail, and apartment buildings exempt? Aren’t we all supposed to be good citizens and save energy? If you have comments, send them to the City by the end of May so they can be incorporated into the next draft in June.
2. We recommended that a home at 224 Elizabeth Avenue in Lincoln Park be designated historic. It wasn’t a unanimous decision and I predict that the Mayor and Council will have a difficult time deciding this one. However, what did come up was that the Zoning Code allows churches in every zone of the city, including residential. Coming from California, this is a strange notion. My former hometown only allowed churches in residential zones as conditional uses because of the traffic and parking lots–it really disrupted a neighborhood, especially on weekends. In Rockville, I’ve become accustomed to churches tucked in neighborhoods and it seems to be a good thing. But once they reach a certain size (say, over a capacity of 100-200), they really need to move to a more suitable location on a highway or in a non-residential zone that can handle the traffic and parking, or receive a conditional use permit to demonstrate they won’t have an adverse impact on nearby homes. Right now, churches can buy adjacent houses and turn them into parking lots, or simply grow in size on their existing lot and leave the parking on the streets. That doesn’t seem right. (And just to confirm, I’m not opposed to churches, just excessive traffic, noise, and congestion in residential neighborhoods.)
3. The historic Pump House in East Rockville is finally being rehabilitated into a proper community center. There will be very few changes to the exterior but many improvements inside to allow it to be used for meetings, workshops, and classes for the neighborhood. Historic buildings can often be reused for new purposes rather than demolished, and this distinctive industrial building provides a great example. Isn’t this much better than constructing a concrete block box with steel windows for a community center?
And I’ll make my apologies now. The story of the community coming together to provide a home for a single mother, her eight children, a nephew, and a grandmother in the 1950s (this is the house at 224 Elizabeth) was remarkable, and I went so far to say that you don’t see that today. I was wrong. Actually, it does happen all the time, but usually not as dramatically as the moving of a house. In Twinbrook, neighbors get together to clean up the parks and streams, work on community plans and policies, lobby for neighborhood improvements, and much more. And it happens throughout Rockville as well.