Lyttonsville, one of Montgomery’s oldest neighborhoods, braces for change

By Kathy OrtonFeb. 3, 2021 at 8:00 a.m. Washington Post

Whether they have been there for decades or only recently moved in, residents have pretty much the same answer for why they live in Lyttonsville.

“We’re a very diverse community of people from all over the world,” said Pat Tyson, whose family has lived in the Montgomery County neighborhood for 100 years.

“It’s a family-oriented neighborhood where people know each other and make friends easily,” she said. “I like the fact that it keeps its character, neighbor knowing neighbor. I’ve got neighbors up the street that will call and say, ‘Do you need anything today?’ If the snow comes, I don’t have to worry about digging my driveway out.”

Map of Lyttonsville in Maryland
Map of Lyttonsville in Maryland

Abe Saffer hasn’t lived in the area in west Silver Spring as long as Tyson has. He and his wife moved there in 2014. But they love it just the same.

“For us, we love that it is such a diverse neighborhood,” he said. “Not just in terms of ethnic or racial background but also there are families that have lived here their whole life . . . and then there are new families like ours. There’s a very good sense of community in the area. Once you live here, everyone is very welcoming. The neighborhood is great. We love the people around here. That’s part of the reason we continue to stay here.”

Lyttonsville is one of the county’s oldest neighborhoods. Although it was once much larger, it now covers 68 acres bounded by Lanier Drive on the east, Brookville Road on the west, Talbot Avenue on the north and Lyttonsville Place on the south.AD

“It is a notable example of an early community built by free African Americans prior to the Civil War,” said David S. Rotenstein, a historian who researches and writes about historic preservation, industrial history and gentrification.

The community is named after Samuel Lytton, who bought his first four acres in what would become Lyttonsville in 1853. Little is known about Lytton, but it is often erroneously said he was a freed slave. “One of the many inaccuracies about Lyttonsville is that Lytton was enslaved at one time,” said Rotenstein. “There’s no evidence to suggest that he had ever been enslaved.”

Rotenstein, who formerly chaired the Montgomery County Historic Preservation Commission, started interviewing Lyttonsville residents in 2016 as part of his research for a book he is writing on gentrification.

“Over time, Lyttonsville developed an importance in Montgomery County as a place, because of racism at the county level, where county policies enabled poverty to set in and enabled environmental racism to run rampant through the community,” he said. “So by the time Montgomery County embarked on its urban renewal program in the 1960s, Lyttonsville was already suffering from substantial disinvestment, environmental pollution issues, and was desperately in need of assistance. And in all of Montgomery County’s urban renewal documents, Lyttonsville was identified as the number-one area in the county that needed assistance.”

Lyttonsville remained an almost exclusively Black community until the mid-20th century. Under the policy of urban renewal, the county seized much of Lyttonsville, replacing it with an industrial park, a Ride On bus depot and a Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission service center. Many of the older homes were replaced with large apartment complexes.AD

“We lost more than 60 percent of the residential [area] when urban renewal came,” Tyson said. “The county just sold it to Brookville Road’s developers. The houses went and the church went.”

In Great Falls, Va., a close-knit community surrounded by nature

Lyttonsville has been thrown into upheaval again with the arrival of the Purple Line, a 16-mile light-rail public transit system that will extend from Bethesda to New Carrollton in Prince George’s County. One of the Purple Line’s stations will be near Lyttonsville Place and Brookville Road.

“I think for many people in Silver Spring, in the county, in the region, Lyttonsville was kind of off the beaten path,” said Dan Reed, an urban planner who blogs at Just Up the Pike. “I think the Purple Line will give it a lot more visibility, both as this community with this rich African American history, but also as a place where a lot of interesting things are already happening.”

Opinion: Lyttonsville could get a second chance at development

Spurred by the arrival of the Purple Line, Montgomery County in 2014 released the Greater Lyttonsville Sector Plan, which included not only Lyttonsville but also its surrounding neighborhoods. The master plan, approved in 2017, envisions 1,200 new homes — a mix of apartments and townhouses — and a half-acre plaza near the station surrounded by apartments, retail space and a small-business incubator. More than 25 percent of the homes would be set aside for low-income households. Phasing would allow residents of existing apartments to move into new apartments without being displaced.AD

Evan Goldman is executive vice president of development at EYA, a Bethesda developer that was part of the master planning process and is working to develop a few of the sites.

“Lyttonsville is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to create a model community uniquely located midway between the county’s two largest job centers, Silver Spring and Bethesda, that is inclusive, walking distance to transit, parks and retail amenities and provides much needed mixed-
income housing to support new jobs,” Goldman wrote in an email.

Saffer is skeptical of the ambitious plans.

“I was actually really involved in the neighborhood’s response to the sector plan,” he said. “I’m very familiar with EYA’s plans. I would say I’m not banking on it. . . . Hopefully, I’m wrong. I wouldn’t mind the Brookville Road area being upgraded a little bit.”AD

But Saffer said he doesn’t need more amenities in the neighborhood. He’s more interested in having access restored to the Georgetown Branch, soon to become the Capital Crescent Trail, which has been disrupted by Purple Line construction.

“My wife and I didn’t move here because it would be walking distance of whatever, other than nature,” Saffer said. “I don’t look at this as a walkable community.”

Besides the trail, Lyttonsville has access to Rock Creek Park and includes Rosemary Hills-Lyttonsville Local Park, where the Gwendolyn E. Coffield Community Center is located.

Part of historic Maryland bridge will be preserved along Purple Line trail

Living there: Debbie Cook, a real estate agent with Long & Foster, describes the housing stock in Lyttonsville as “eclectic.”

“It is a broad range of styles from 1930s bungalows, 1950s and 1960s ramblers and 1940s Colonials, mixed in with a few recent newer infill spec homes,” she wrote in an email. “It also includes a group of townhouses built in 1984.”

Three homes sold in Lyttonsville in 2020. The highest-priced was a five-bedroom, three-bathroom Colonial for $599,000. The lowest-priced was a three-bedroom, three-bathroom townhouse for $525,000. The average sale price in 2020 was $553,000. There are no homes for sale.AD

“The average sale price has skyrocketed in the last few years,” Cook wrote. “It is now a seller’s market, not a buyer’s market.”

Schools: Rosemary Hills elementary, North Chevy Chase elementary, Silver Creek middle. Lyttonsville is attractive to many families because it is the only part of Silver Spring that feeds into Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School.

Transit: Besides the future Purple Line station, Lyttonsville is served by Metro and Ride On buses that connect to the Silver Spring Metro station. The Red Line station is about 1½ miles from the neighborhood. East-West Highway is the closest main thoroughfare.