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Smart Growth

Make Development Decisions Predictable and Fair: 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 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 inner suburbs, it lost many of its stores to enclosed malls during the 1970s. Subsequent attempts to rebuild the retail base had been unsuccessful. When investors were unable to find funding for a proposed shopping center in 1996, the county decided to redevelop the area into a pedestrian-oriented, mixed-use, transit-oriented community.

To reduce obstacles to redevelopment, the county executive asked the Department of Permitting Services to accelerate the permitting and inspection process for the Silver Spring redevelopment zone. The Green Tape team draws from every part of the department's staff, including building, electrical, fire, mechanical, accessibility, zoning, sediment and stormwater management, subdivision plan review, and inspection codes and standards.

Applicants receive assistance with filing requirements, regulatory reviews, and inspections. When a project in the redevelopment zone submits an application to the department, Green Tape team members prioritize it. The program strives 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. 

Pre-design consultation and assessment inspections have proven valuable and can accelerate the permitting process. Team members meet with applicants before a project is designed, visiting sites to identify potential obstacles and suggest upfront solutions. The consultations have also helped business owners to identify zoning and code issues that might make the project infeasible. This assistance saves time and money and keeps properties from being tied up in litigation. 

Green Tape projects include new construction, rehabilitation, retrofits, and other modifications to buildings. These reviews have helped projects ranging from proposals to convert a town home into an office to development of the 500,000-plus square-foot headquarters building of Discovery Communications. 

Fountain in downtown Silver Spring
The fountain in this plaza uses remote sensing technology recommended by the Green Tape team to meet health departmental requirements.

When the designers of the downtown Silver Spring redevelopment wanted to include a fountain in a public square, Green Tape team members from the health inspection office recommended a remote water-testing technology that allowed the fountain to meet health code standards without onerous manual testing.

The Auras Building also benefited from a pre-design inspection and meeting during which the Green Tape team recommended 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 its commitment to revitalizing downtown Silver Spring. The market has responded by proposing over 750,000 square feet of retail and entertainment space, 500,000 square feet of office space, and more than 4,000 residences.

This case study was published in 2006.

Find other case studies in Smart Growth Illustrated that discuss the 10 smart growth principles.

Discovery Communications Headquarters building
Discovery Communications' decision to base its headquarters in downtown Silver Spring provided an anchor for the office market.
Historic building reused under Green Tape Program
Reuse of this historic building required design flexibility to incorporate an existing staircase as a fire exit.
New Apartments Built Under Green Tape Program
This former bottling plant is being transformed into new apartments.

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