Planning Board — Land Use Decisions Begin

Planning Board — Land Use Decisions Begin

Live blogging from the April 29, 2009, worksession of the Montgomery County Planning Board. Topic is Land Use. Live streaming is available at www.montgomerycountyplanning.org.

New technology providing a composite look at the “end-state” of the Plan and proposed development. Piera Weiss, lead WF planner. Luis. Planning staff. Anything anyone has proposed. Composite of all different development proposals. New road network. Open space. Recreation Loop. Two pieces, trails following roads, and then local trails to reach other sites, including parks and other existing trails. New computer CAD system will focus on particular issues where there is discontinuity. Design guidelines will lay out a framework for addressing those holes.

Weiss: density proposals. Concentric ring proposals with transfer of density along the Pike. Recap of property owners’ presentations. No requests for more than 4.0 FAR. Lower requests at the edges of the Sector. Some proposals for moving density between properties. Community response was that density was too great and heights too tall, especially at the edges. Collaborative’s elliptical concept along Rockville Pike beneficial to properties along the Pike. Staff looked at assessments and found no discernable pattern of land value along the Pike.

Robinson: current assessments or future assessments? Weiss: never brought into play. Robinson: value of what’s there is now. Not future value. If you believe walkable parts are along Pike and we’re going to allow most activity on Pike, then must conclude that greatest economic value will be along the Pike. So higher FAR on the Pike will have a higher public utility return. And this schematic doesn’t address that. I can’t make the logical connection between what I see here and the point that is being advanced: FAR downstream. Hanson: by rezoning, we can inflate or deflate property values, and we have to be cognizant of that. Cryor: this isn’t a housing development and we are creating wealth. We’re not taking away any wealth, but varying degrees of wealth will be created by what we are doing. So hard to do planning when you don’t have one of the most important variables available to you. So you have to guess at it. I know it’s going to be more.

Robinson: Page 15 of staff memo (available at www.montgomeryplanningboard.org). What can I do with my property? What’s there now is not relevant. Right now I have an allowed FAR, and I don’t have to participate in the process. What this table tells me is two mirror images: doesn’t tell me what the current opportunity to develop (and participate in the process) or what the exposure of the community is. Hanson: what DOES it tell us? Robinson: doesn’t tell me what I need to know. Hanson: this tells me that we’re not assuming that the choice remains to have existing or new zoning. The zoning will not be a base of whatever it is now; it will be what the new zone applies. Would a new zone base of right’s density be equal to or less than the existing development on the land. And then the question is how much more than that. Not unusual for the base to be less than existing. Robinson: if property owner gets no new benefit from zoning, why should they participate? Presley: if they get an incremental benefit, they have an incentive to participate. Robinson: same incentive for all. Hanson: we prepared a financing plan that captures incremental wealth. You don’t get a choice in the plan or in the revenue method under the plans we’ve talked about. Special assessment tax. If you don’t improve, your ratio of tax to value diminishes. Piera Weiss: we’ll talk about that in three weeks. Robinson: we need to define things now to provide appropriate expectations. Whole thing is linked together. Hanson: we need to start somewhere. where should the density be located and how much of it?

Hanson: general idea is closer to Metro station the more density you get. Modified by some things that fall inside or outside the lines. Assigning density to a part of the area, there are some things that are there now that will still be there 25-30 years. Some just being built today, and it’s unlikely that a 280-ft building that’s under construction today is going to build in the next 10 years another twelve feet, even if it could. Some will decide to use less than maximum density.

Robinson: we have a 10 minute walking ring and a half-mile ring. They aren’t the same. Hanson: no problem having big tent and small tent in creating identity in the various districts we have. But don’t want to generate adverse effects in other districts. Presley: very difficult to make concrete decisions about density without the right information. So lay out the vision and then adapt the densities to accomplish that. We need to know what the effects will be. I’m not prepared to accept that can’t do that, but trying to keep all these things in mind as we look at densities. Cryor: this is an in-fill. Two tracks: one is density, the other is economic advantage. We want to be where they cross. But we don’t know where advantage is, so that’s why it’s hard. It isn’t really one big piece; it is sections. The questiosn haven’t gotten any easier; they’ve gotten more focussed. Basics of it are still right there. Where do they cross and are we there? If we aren’t, the voices will get louder. We should anticipate problems.

Hanson: we’ll never have all the information that we want. We have more information than any plan I’ve ever been involved with. Quite extraordinary. Economic information. Landowners’ positions. Why don’t we try an easy one? Metro west at conference center. Big chunk of land. Hotel and conference center. They want 4.0 FAR, staff recommended 4.0 FAR. Prime corner. So, 4.0? [Agreement] OK, check that one off.

Piera Weiss: base requirements and bonus requirements (see presentation). If do anything beyond the base, have to provide a transit bonus requirement, and then get optional bonuses if they want. Theoretically you’d want to be sure you get everything you need under the base, and the bonuses add what makes it a very good place to be. If everyone used their maximum bonus, we’d get all of the density; if they only used some of their bonuses, we’d only get a part of this. Hanson: some developers may, for good reasons, decide they don’t want some or all of the bonuses. Trying to set some tentative density ceilings with the understanding that as we go back and look at what’s within the ceilings, we ask if it works. We have to spread it right for it to produce the things that make this an effective plan.

Robinson: difference between walkability and distance rings is about 150 feet. Weiss: actually the walking is pretty much the same. Just our tests were a little different. Ten minute walk gets pretty much 1/2 mile throughout the Sector. Robinson: WF Mall start. Difference. Weiss: part of the property would get a 3.0 FAR and part would not. Robinson: many properties may have that kind of split. Hanson: we would apply one zone to the area. Design guidelines would say where the massing and height of the buildings on the property should go. Rollin Stanley, Staff Director for Planning Board: we’ll put something together to show you how this works together. Hanson: most important with new state legislation that says how this process must work. Requires consistency in development pattern. We can require consistency by linking the zone to the plan. We’ve been ahead of the state on linking for some time.

Cryor: must repeat in the first paragraph that density and height of buildings is not the same. People still find that confusing. Not deeply into it, but right up front. Weiss: we’re going to bring heights down in the new CR zone, and point out in the Design Guidelines where a podium or other design will be appropriate. Cryor: third paragraph has to be the relationship between walking and density.

Hanson: next week we want to lay out the public realm issues that have to be addressed.

Presley: if we achieve what we say, people will want to walk and walk further than we see now. Weiss: amazing how short the walks were. Hanson: did we lose any staff members? Presley: want to see how the density decisions will affect the walks. Weiss: can get pretty much anywhere within ten minutes. Hanson: won’t walk on the Pike. Take interior streets. Biking might be interior or on paths. Stanley: new development will make even the Pike a pleasant walk. Hanson: how pleasant was the walk? Weiss: some were quite pleasant. It was hard to cross some streets.

Weiss: constantly hammering at the concept: Core, transition and edges. Core, 1/4 mile from Metro. Two transition areas: 1/2 mile from metro and 1/8 from MARC. Edges, on the south. Chart on P. 15. Close on calculations from the theory to the proposals for almost all properties in the chart. So that was our test of the concept. The Plan didn’t control the FAR, but the zone did. Hanson: I look at the rings as illustrative, not regulatory. How in general we’re organizing the area. But zones apply to specific pieces of property. Weiss: take into account transfers or “combined properties.”

Weiss: heights should also follow the same concepts as density. Higher closer to Metro. Robinson: rings are guidance, not regulatory. Something outside the ring could still be higher, depending on zoning and guidelines. Have a desireable height that could not be breached.

Next week will be completion of the public realm.

Barnaby Zall

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