Monday, June 18, 2007

Downtown Silver Spring is Private Property?

I don't live in Silver Spring, I live in Rockville, but I go over there pretty often. My kids like to hang out in the new downtown area, go to the movies, shop, walk around.

So I was just reading at the Silver Spring, Singular blog about something weird that happened over there. I would quote the blog post, but the guy that it happened to actually told the full story in their comments section, so I'm going to use that instead -- he says he sent this letter to the papers, the city council, some officials.

I can see this turning into a real nightmare, where laws are overwritten with corporate rules and policies and we don't have any rights because we're always on private property. Let me know if this worries you any:
To Whom It May Concern:

I am a longtime resident of Silver Spring. Back in the mid nineties through my involvement with the Greater Silver Spring Chamber of Commerce and what was then called the Silver Spring Urban District, I participated in many of the activities leading up to the development of the new Downtown Silver Spring.

I have many hobbies and one of them is Photography. One could describe the kind of pictures that I take as "Urban Landscape". Through the popular photography website Flickr, I participate in a photography group known as "DC Neighborhoods" where we pick a neighborhood, photograph its character and ambiance, and then post it to this site to share with the group and others.

This past Tuesday, I went to downtown Silver Spring, had lunch, and then took out my camera and standing on Ellsworth Avenue, I began taking shots of the buildings with the blue sky and clouds as a backdrop. Almost immediately, a security guard approached and told me "there was no picture taking allowed in Downtown Silver Spring." "What do you mean" I said, "I am on a city street, in a public place, taking pictures is a right that I have protected by the first amendment." The guard told me to report to the management office.

There, Stacy Horan informed me that Downtown Silver Spring including Ellsworth Avenue is private property, not a public place, and subject to the rules of the Peterson Companies. They have a no photography policy to "Protect them from people who might want to use the photographs as part of a story in which they could write bad things about us." And she told me that many of the chain stores in Downtown Silver Spring don't what their "concepts" to be photographed for security reasons. There was also a concern that I might sell my photographs and that is not allowed. I told her that I was well aware of my rights to take pictures on public property, any pictures that I take I have a right to sell, and questioned how they could
have a policy that limits our individual rights when Downtown Silver Spring was built with public money.

I found out later that it is true Ellsworth Avenue was turned over to Peterson Companies through the process of condemnation.

So now I'm wondering: If this is a $1.2 billion public/private investment as stated in Tuesday's New York Times article about the downtown renaissance, where do the public's rights end and the private corporations policies takeover?? In discussing this with fellow Silver Spring residents I have been told that we are not allowed to campaign, petition or protest in Downtown Silver Spring. These are basic American values, true to our beliefs, and in the Downtown Silver Spring they are banned?? In this age of eroding individual rights should the people of Silver Spring accept this??

It is my understanding that the county continues to spend public funds promoting Downtown Silver Spring and I wouldn┬╣t discourage this, but I think that the county should have a conversation with the Peterson Companies about their policies in regards to these basic American values and freedoms.

I don't think that the people of this county are willing to trade their rights of free speech or the right to petition assemble and protest in their own downtown for a Starbucks or a Potbelly's.

The comments are pretty good, some people have looked up some stuff, somebody suggests a "group photo tour" of maybe 100 people.

I don't get how this happened. I know we have a few Silver Spring people who comments here, maybe you can explain how this happened. Is this right -- that the city built up this property and then condemned it, and this corporation bought it?

I don't want to judge this before we find out the facts, I do hope somebody will explain.


Blogger Orin Ryssman said...

Worry? I don't know...but it does concern me in so far as it impinges on what we all consider the rightful use of public places.

I was thinking and thinking and thinking, trying to recall where I had seen this before and then it came to me: Main Street in Salt Lake City.

Just google: LDS Main Street Plaza Controversy, and you will pull up the links needed to understand what happened. The Utah ACLU has a handy timeline, found here,

The "quick and the dirty"? What was once a public street with public sidewalks is now for all intents and purposes the private property of the Mormon Church. That means any speech, behavior or use of what is now known as Main Street Plaza can be controlled. Needless to say, it has left bad taste in the mouth of the non-LDS population, of which is a majority ONLY in the Salt Lake City.

It has much improved the look of the downtown area, but at a cost...

June 18, 2007 10:10 PM  
Blogger Tish said...

Newport Mill Road, adjacent to Mayorga, was also condemned and turned over to a private parking company.

A few years ago, a church group wanted to join a protest on Capitol Hill. I agreed to contact Union Station to find out where we could meet as a group after we came off of the subway. The manager said that we could not carry any signs through Union Station unless they were held down and out of sight. Drivers are not even allowed to hold up signs with names of people they have come to meet. "This is a shopping center and we can't have anything that might make people uncomfortable." So in Union Station, once you exit the subway, hide your words. What was it Jim said, "Don't annoy the Americans"?

June 18, 2007 10:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is disturbing. For a summary of the law in this area in the last half-century or so, check this out:

June 18, 2007 11:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't know how it became private property, but only the block of Ellsworth Avenue between Georgia Avenue and Fenton Street that's often closed to cars is private property. I've distributed leaflets in that area many times and security guards have told me I may not do so on that one block. But if I stand on any sidewalk at the intersections of Fenton and Ellsworth or Georgia and Ellsworth, that's public property as is all of Fenton Street and all of Georgia Avenue. Ellsworth Avenue is public property east of Fenton Street.

June 19, 2007 7:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

MCPS Mom is right. The recently developed area in question is one block long. It's never open to traffic and has the feel of an open-air mall. It's not surprising that it is owned by a private company. Prior to this, it was simply a seedy parking area behind a shopping strip and was in danger of turning into something worse. If you know some the history, we were actually spared the threat of the company that owns Mall of America in Minnesota from opening a similar behemoth in Montgomery County about a decade ago on the site.

It seemed quite nice when it first opened but the atmosphere has degenerated. I was there Sunday night and we decided not to stay for dinner. They have sidewalk cafes but who would want to eat there? There were gangs of teens roaming up and down the street shouting the F-word, babies running in the fountain in nothing but dripping diapers and rapid rhythm music in some foreign language blaring out of the common loudspeakers (another hint that it is controlled by a single entity, rather than public). Completely the effect was a phalanx of police officers at both ends of the block and excessive private security up and down the block, making one wonder why it was necessary. If anyone saw the recent movie, Children of Men, it reminded of the future London portrayed in that film. We wound up leaving and having a peaceful meal at the Red Dog Cafe on Grubb Road.

BTW, Orin, the Silver Spring block recently opened a CakeLove branch so if you come east, you won't have to go downtown. I took home a Turtle Cheesecake that was great.

Oh, and I have gone to the Thanksgiving parade at the Silver Spring block the last couple of years and took pictures both times undisturbed by security. If you think you should be able to hold protests there, write a letter to the owners and tell them you won't patronize the establishments unless they change their policy.

That oughta scare the hell outa 'em!

June 19, 2007 11:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Andrea- not anon
I think the Children of Men analogy is way over the top. We had ice cream at Ben and Jerry's one night last week. My main concern was that I was paying $4.50 each for three cones of ice cream. There are some loud kids but there are also a lot of "regular" people. I like Cakelove but as with Ben and Jerry's , paying $3 per cupcake concerns me(probably eating that much icing hsould concern me more). We generally eat inside at Lebanese Taverna, Eggspectation or Asian Bistro

June 19, 2007 7:28 PM  
Blogger chippy said...

This just in

Fox 5 News heard of this and hit the tax office today.They found that Montgomery County still owns the street.

Here is the response from Gary Stith in regards to the ownership of the street.

"It is owned by Montgomery County but PFA (the developer) has a long
term lease on this area. They are responsible for maintaining the area,
providing security and managing the area. There is a public use easement
on the area that ensures public access."

Key words there "ensures public access". Which means that people have the same right on Ellsworth as they do on anyother street. So the Peterson Companies have over stepped their bounds by stopping me from taking pictures on Ellsworth and pretending they owned the street.

I have asked for a copy of the lease.

Chip Py
The Photographer in question

June 19, 2007 7:49 PM  
Blogger JimK said...

Oh hey Chip, thanks for the information. Since you're the guy in the middle of all this, please keep us up to date, will you?

The concern here is simple for a nightmarist like me: I can imagine the whole urban landscape belonging to corporations who impose rules that strip away our constitutional rights. Can you imagine what it would be like if everywhere you went there was some stupid set of rules you had to abide by, and no way to appeal them?

I'm sure some people would love that. Not me.


June 19, 2007 8:26 PM  
Blogger chippy said...

I was asked by Fox 5 to do a piece on photographers rights. We met in Silver Spring and taped it this morning. It can be seen here or on their page at

Also Marc Fisher will write about this in tommorows Post.

That's the update.

June 20, 2007 9:44 PM  
Blogger JimK said...

Thanks. Interesting, they don't even mention the private/public property aspect of it.

We'll watch for it tomorrow in The Post.


June 20, 2007 9:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Andrea- not anon
So I see there is a big photothon at noon on July 4. Everyone who is around come out with your cameras to Ellsworth street and take pictures all together. I'm going for the guys playing chess outside Starbucks.

June 21, 2007 8:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm going to take my cell phone and snap pictures if the security starts beating the protestors.

You know those stairs next ot the fountain that lead up to Ceviche? They remind me of the scene in Apocalypto where the perform human sacrifices.

June 28, 2007 1:38 AM  
Blogger Wayan said...

If you've read the Baltimore Sun article, then you know that the Downtown Silver Spring developers have altered their policy to allow limited photographer access to Ellsworth Drive. That's great, but not what we're asking for.

Free Our Streets is asking for PFA Silver Spring LC to welcome photography, videography, and other filming on Ellsworth Drive, consistent with First Amendment rights as they would apply on any other public street.

The Downtown Silver Spring development includes $187 million in county and state funds and the once completely public property Ellsworth Drive, public investment that should come with public rights.

And so the Downtown Silver Spring Photo Walk is still on. A declaration of photographic freedom on July 4th.

June 30, 2007 12:09 PM  
Blogger chippy said...

Marc Fisher posted this at noon today in regards to the photo march on Wednesday at noon

Chip Py
Silver Spring

June 30, 2007 11:56 PM  

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