Several times recently, I've been walking past The Hampden apartments, at Hampden Lane and Woodmont Avenue, and seen people aiming cell phone cameras toward the building.
They're not house hunters. They're not investors. They're snapping photos of large signs that foretell doom for The Hampden, and sharing them online.
The signs are touting The Lauren, which may eventually be the most exclusive address in downtown Bethesda. As part of an edgy, frank marketing push towards the few who can actually afford condos starting in "the several millions," the signs have succeeded in getting attention. But it hasn't been all the right kind.
"Today...in Bethesda this huge obnoxious sign caught my eye, along with some other people who were taking pictures of it as well," a Robert Dyer @ Bethesda Row reader (who asked to remain anonymous) emailed me. "They all agreed it was distasteful, couldn't they print 'High Luxury' instead of 'several millions?' I hope I'm not the only one who finds this offensive."
"I understand that development is important in our area. I just dont agree that it needs to become such a high end place on the market. I feel like Bethesda is growing, and I welcome that, but I feel the sign was in poor taste. I understand that they wanted to stand out with their signage but they may be pushing it a bit too far."
So one issue is the marketing message itself.
For me, as I noted in the original article on The Lauren (linked above), the concern is the net loss of affordable units with this project. If there were 12 affordable units in The Lauren, and current tenants of the relatively-affordable Hampden had first dibs on them, I would probably be able to support the project. But, the fact is, there aren't, and those current residents are going to be out on the street.
One of my followers on Twitter has similar concerns. @Casielee tweeted a link to my original Lauren piece yesterday, and added, "Wow. How long until you drive my middle class out of Bethesda, Bethesda? So sad."
The lower and middle classes are, without a doubt, the big losers in the countywide "smart" growth developalooza.
Poor residents are about to get tossed out in Wheaton, Silver Spring and Glenmont, to make way for new apartments they can't afford.
Two other sites in downtown Bethesda are about to suffer the same fate. Affordable housing for young people and seniors on Battery Lane is going to be demolished. And a small apartment building at the corner of Sangamore Road and MacArthur Boulevard is facing the wrecking ball, as well.
Developers are building like mad, but we've yet to see the "affordable housing" urbanization proponents have facetiously claimed was the raison d'etre for such development.
Not long after the signs got citizens talking about the affordable housing crisis in Bethesda, a leading advocate of urbanization and smart growth made a shocking admission.
Roger Lewis, a Washington Post columnist, architect and proponent of massive infill redevelopment (like The Lauren), suddenly acknowledged Saturday that the DC area building boom won't provide the promised affordable housing after all.
In a 180° turn from the unified message of developer-backed smart growth advocates, Lewis wrote:
"Future metropolitan Washington real estate growth will be substantial. In every municipal and county jurisdiction, plans for redevelopment of existing properties as well as new land development envision tens of thousands of housing units, mostly at high densities, and mostly unsubsidized.
"Yet low- and middle-income families will be unable to afford these new urban and suburban homes," Lewis concluded.
This is a frank admission of what I, and other responsible growth advocates in the county, have been saying for years. And really, it's just acknowledging the reality all around us.
If even an advocate of demolishing affordable apartments and urbanizing the suburbs like Lewis can have an epiphany on affordable housing, isn't it time to reexamine our growth and affordable housing strategies in Montgomery County?
When even the proponents admit we're failing, it's time to face the facts: it's not working.