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What do you want? (Lydia DePillis)

Around 130 people packed in to an auditorium at Walter Reed’s Delano Hall last night to upload their thoughts on what ought to be done with the 62.5-acre plot of land, in the first meeting of a public comment process that will steer development into the fall.

First, though, they got a crash course in urban planning from the master planning firm Perkins + Will, which went through a battery of slides explaining the physical characteristics of the site. As wide as the range of possibilities is—23 proposals include educational, residential, commercial, artistic and humanitarian uses—the area isn’t a blank slate. It already includes 1.5 million existing square feet of building space, half of which is historically protected in some way; a master plan couldn’t just level the campus and start over. Options for the site are also confined by the specific proposals that the Local Redevelopment Authority (LRA) has recieved, which will have to be vetted for legality and feasibility.

This time, the community wasn’t asked to address to specifics. After the presentation, a diverse crowd of nearby residents sat around small tables to talk over their priorities and ideas, moderated by volunteer facilitators from the non-profit group AmericaSpeaks. In between conversations, participants filled out brainstorm forms that will be processed by the LRA in an attempt to quantify what residents want.

At one point during the evening, a member of the LRA Committee’s “theme team” threw up a powerpoint slide of feedback as it was collected. And at the end, LRA Committee members reported back from a few of the tables, providing an advance flavor of what had been discussed. Many were concerned about the period over which the site will lie empty after the Army picks up stakes, which will impact businesses on Georgia Avenue. There was a strong push for senior housing over K-12 educational uses, some enthusiasm for a hotel, and a burst of applause for keeping out liquor stores and fast food restaurants. Green space and a “campus feel” was also popular.

“We don’t want downtown Silver Spring repeated at Walter Reed,” one table representative said.

The next community workshop, to review options formulated by the LRA committee, will take place on July 10. Meetings will proceed apace, with a final plan to be presented to federal agencies in September.