Archives May 2009

New Red Line Metro Stop – Why?

I was reading today about a MoCo Councilmember’s proposal to put a new metro station between White Flint and Grosvenor, at a cost of $250-$300 million, and I can’t help ask the inevitable question; Why??? You can read about the proposal in several news articles, including this one: http://www.wtop.com/?nid=25&sid=1678097

The Councilmember’s argument is the following: “A new stop would serve a very important purpose, particularly given the growth that is expected in that area as we redo White Flint from a strip mall on steroids to a new urbanism model.”I just don’t see how adding a new metro station ½ a mile away from an existing station would help relieve transit. The area between White Flint and Grosvenor is low density and there is nothing there to walk to, so I would assume that most metro riders that would use that station would have to drive to it.  Also, in the White Flint redevelopment plans, there are no developments planned south of White Flint Mall, so I don’t understand what growth needs would the new station serve? Am I missing something here?

I think that money could be much better spent in other transportation projects to relieve traffic congestion around white flint; such as: 1) Accelerating the construction at Montrose Parkway East, 2) begin the transformation of Rockville Pike conforming to Glatting-Jackson’s design, or 3) developing the network of streets that would take the load off the Pike (also in proposed in Glatting-Jackson’s design).If there really is a need to add a new metro station, wouldn’t it make more sense to put it where there already is a high density, places to go to, and near-term expected growth; such as between White Flint and Twinbrook?

Posted by Waterford

CR Zone materials now available

One of the features of the new White Flint Sector Plan is the use of a new Commercial/Residential Zone, drafted by the Planning Board staff to provide flexibility in the development of new mixed-use neighborhoods. The CR Zone explanation is now available on-line at (note that this is a very large .pdf file and may take some time to download and open):

http://www.montgomeryplanning.org/community/whiteflint/documents/CRzonetoPB.pdf

Presentations Available on District Proposals

The materials presented to the Montgomery County Planning Board at last Thursday’s worksession are now available on the general White Flint planning page.

The morning session materials are available at:

http://www.montgomeryplanning.org/community/whiteflint/documents/staffpresentationmorningsession.pdf

The much-shorter evening session materials are available at:

http://www.montgomeryplanning.org/community/whiteflint/documents/staffpresentationeveningsession.pdf

The End Game Begins

The Montgomery County Planning Board conducts much of its work on the White Flint Sector Plan in worksessions arranged around various topics. These worksessions can last for many hours. But you can’t blink, or you might miss something interesting. Some thirteen hours into the worksession last Thursday, May 21, the Planning Board revisited some of its earlier work on the southern and northern edges of the Sector Plan, and fireworks bloomed.

That morning, the Board was working through the new “design guidelines” on the Master Plan by “districts.” There are six districts within the overall White Flint Sector. One of the last to be covered was also the largest in the sector, covering the existing White Flint Mall area. This has been a particularly contentious area in the Sector, with neighborhood groups railing against the Mall’s plans, and the two sides agreeing to negotiate various issues, including the design for roads near the neighborhood.

During the morning session, Robbie Breuer, an attorney representing the White Flint Mall, presented a new map representing what he said were the results of negotiations with Planning Staff and the surrounding neighborhoods on density and building heights at particular locations. Planning Staff immediately pounced on the new map, claiming that it was unfair to present it at the “eleventh hour.” Natalie Goldberg, representing the Garrett Park Estates-White Flint Park neighborhood, complained that the new map did not include some of the negotiated changes in the Mall’s plans. The Board put off consideration of the new map until later so that it could move through some less contentious issues.

With only a few minutes left in its session on Thursday night, after thirteen hours of work on the White Flint and other plans, the Board returned to the earlier discussion. Chief White Flint planner Piera Weiss said that the Mall and the neighborhood representatives had been meeting “literally all afternoon on this.” Weiss then presented the negotiated map and the staff’s map. At Commissioner Presley’s request, she noted that there were differences, in that the negotiated map had different densities, with more density and higher building heights being shifted away from the neighborhood and toward Rockville Pike. Weiss: as a planner, I’m not happy with the higher heights in the interior [of the Mall plan], because we’re trying to keep a gradation from Nicholson Lane. Chairman Hanson: what’s the different in overall FAR? Weiss: not much, but the negotiated one is what they think will work. Cmsnr Presley: you say you’re the neighborhood, but are you all other stakeholders and others won’t come out later? Goldberg: we’re representing the neighborhood to the best of our ability. The biggest concern for our community is the buffer, and there is an area that looks like a buffer. The lower heights are also very important to our community. Cmsnr Robinson: will there be a problem with the communities to the west of the Pike? Goldberg: they might with the 200′ but they’re very supportive of the heights south of Nicholson. Robinson: for this to work the same benefits need to flow to those on the west side. Hanson: so it’s 200′ all the way down on the Pike. No difference in the height as you go down. Why is the height in the interior so important because the FAR hasn’t changed? David Kitchens, a planner with the White Flint Mall, said that there was an existing mall to deal with so there is a bigger issue where they would have to “stack up the pancake” on the site to get to the FAR they feel they needed. The height limits that planning staff was giving the Mall planners would yield a lower overall FAR on the entire site. The Mall wanted to be compatible with the negotiations with the neighborhood, pushing heights to the northern and western sides of the site, and with the nearby properties, which had a 200′ height limit. Weiss: this is the most “patterned” of the areas, so there is a lot to tweak if it needs to be tweaked. The real question for the Board is how you take these patterns and translate them into a coherent zone, because you don’t want to have all these zones there. If you have too many zones, it will be difficult to prepare a proper site plan.

Weiss: the critical thing in White Flint is height, not so much the FAR. It’s the heights that are the problem. Goldberg: we also agreed with the developer that the 1.5 FAR section [the buffer] would also be residential. I just want the record to show that. Hanson: the record may show that, but we may not agree with you. Goldberg: our agreement was predicated on the fact that we don’t want any commercial development in that small piece of property. Robinson: the CR zone permits 100% residential. Hanson: I want to think about that. Weiss: we’ll bring you the patterns. We’ll add language to underscore some of the points which are not 100% apparent.  Kitchens: we want to be sure that the western sides are higher and the eastern sides are lower, so that we don’t end up with massive walls of buildings.

Weiss: so we’re going to make these few corrections, but we’re going to keep the building heights slightly higher at the northern end, and everything else at the lower end, but suppress the heights on the east side. We’ll bring this back to you with the zoning map. Presley: so agreement. Hanson: consensus.

The Board then turned to building heights at the Mid-Pike Plaza area on the northwest corner of the plan. Apparently this was the same type of issue as the Board had just discussed, involving heights of buildings permitted across a large development parcel.

Federal Realty Investment Trust, which develops this site, had had meetings with the Planning Staff, in which the Urban Design planning staff proposed that the heights on the property gradually decline from 300′ on the Pike to 200′ on the western side, with approximately 250′ in the middle section, rather than just abruptly shift from 300′ to 200′ at a line in the center of the parcle. Federal Realty apparently agreed to the suggestion. The map presented to the Board last Thursday morning, however, didn’t include the gradual reduction. Evan Goldman, a Vice-President with Federal Realty [and a co-chair of Friends of White Flint], sent the Board an e-mail pointing out the discrepancy.

Weiss: we got an e-mail sent at 2PM this afternoon with an issue on height with Federal Realty at Mid-Pike Plaza. Nkosi Yearwood, White Flint Planner: we met with Federal Realty and explored recommendation to the Board, so height could go up to 250′ with the same FAR. That’s what Mr. Goldman is referencing. I wouldn’t use the phrase “general consensus.” I don’t think we agreed to anything. [Note: the Planning Staff is divided into different sections, and the sections don’t always agree on matters.] Presley: how does this affect the Plan? Yearwood: we didn’t come to a conclusion to recommend to the Board. We’ll continue to provide a recommendation. 200′ for most of the property, but 300′ at some points. Robinson: the Pike side next to the 300′ zone is probably all right, but I don’t know about the western side.

Hanson: I don’t see what the problem is. If we’ve got something that ranges from 200′-300′ and they want to build something in the middle that’s 250′, why not? Cmsnr Alfandre: in all fairness, they don’t have anybody here, like the other guys [Mall] did. I think they probably have an answer for it. Hanson: the only thing I want to do with this is that someday this all has to end. I’m inclined to leave the Plan as we approved it this morning. If we have an opportunity to rethink it when we’re conscious [the reference is to the fact that this was going on fourteen hours into the hearing], then we can. We’ll talk about it when we deal with the zoning. We’ll adjust it if we need to.

This is the beginning of the end game for the White Flint Sector Plan. The Board is moving swiftly on major decisions, and given the huge scope of the plan and the myriad details, there are many of these types of issues to be worked out. What is interesting here is that some of these questions involve mis-communications, not only between stakeholders and the Board, but also between Planning Staff components.

Barnaby Zall

Dense Discussion of New Zoning

The Montgomery County Planning Board conducts much of its work on the White Flint Sector Plan in worksessions arranged around a topic. Earlier today, the Board went through the Sector, district-by-district, looking at particular issues in each neighborhood. Now the Board is considering a new CR Zone, proposed to match the White Flint Sector Plan, and intended to provide a balanced mix of commercial and residential development. Staff is describing various incentives and design features promoted in the design guidelines. Live streaming video is available at www.montgomeryplanningboard.org.

Vision for White Flint: Issues by District; The Mall throws in a curve (or no curve)

The Montgomery County Planning Board is working through the “design guidelines” for each “district” within the White Flint Sector. Live streaming video is available at www.montgomeryplanningboard.org.

White Flint Planner Nkosi Yearwood: Maple Ave. District: Issue: Historic Montrose School. One-room school building. Issues of access from Montrose Parkway. Recommendation is to retain the zone as C-2. Planner Piera Weiss: kind of cute. Cmsnr Cryor: it will have to be moved. Doesn’t have to stay where it is on that isolated property. Hanson: I think we should just leave it alone. Weiss: we’ll put something in the Plan on that. Yearwood: second issue: transfer of density. Not on the table within the CR Zone. Both of the Washington Real Estate Investment Trust properties have the same zoning, so it’s not the same issue. Support for that.

Yearwood: Metro East district. Issue: grandfathering protection for LCOR property (North Bethesda Center). Use of Montouri property (formerly considered for a new commuter rail station). Nebel District: apparently no issues discussed.

NRC District: WMATA asked only rezoning exempt their property. Eatzi’s property, with up to 300′ building on the site. More non-residential development at that site. Weiss: we don’t disagree. Narrow site. That’s example of the flexibility we mentioned earlier. Robinson: why leave WMATA industrial? Yearwood: we’re recommending that we rezone it. Robinson: we should rezone it. Weiss: it’s a non-issue. Robinson: unless they decide to make a lot of money and move somewhere else. Yearwood: Strathmore Court: any redevelopment should require significant amount of affordable housing.

Yearwood: White Flint Mall district. Broken up into several smaller blocks. Including additional FAR to Eisinger property to include more affordable, work-force housing. They’re saying workforce housing. Weiss: small units for workforce. All workforce housing. (Workforce housing = 20% above and below median income.) Presley: what kinds of jobs? Hanson: $70,000-$110,000 household income. Some families. Presley: are those people going to be able to afford to live in the area we’re designing. Hanson: would fit a big slice of federal agency employees or business or professional service firms in this area. An excellent location for housing. A lot of them will walk. A fair percentage will work in the area. The access to Metro is a draw. Cryor: one-room efficiencies. I would have thought you don’t want this. Why having a 19-story building with just efficiencies is a best use of this space, other than having them walk to Metro? Weiss: I agree with you. Almost 2000 units in a small space, but that’s not what you’re deciding here. You’re deciding if it’s a viable neighborhood. Variety of units. Poor investment. Hanson: what’s before us now is the amount of density to recommend for this property. When a plan comes before us, we can review these questions and we can expect lots of other things to be done. Presley: I wouldn’t set any sort of benefit for doing this sort of units. Alfandre: we’re doing a Master Plan for another generation, and we don’t have anything before us for that. So we don’t know if developer can do that at the time. I like the statement we are making to users of this Master Plan that we are thinking about the next generation and how they are going to live. I believe that’s how most people will be using this property in the future. It’s compatible with what we are trying to do here. I’m considered that we’re mixing two districts into one, and we’ll be stuck so one or the other won’t be allowed to develop its own character. This is access to a neighborhood that is very, very important, and if we don’t recognize that, we’ll miss the connection.

Weiss: Fitzgerald got 4.0 FAR. Robinson: I predicted he wouldn’t get that, but I was wrong. Staff has recommended that.

Yearwood: new White Flint park area. Area just south of Combined Properties land (Shoppers, Petco). 1.5 acres, zoned R-90. Not recommending this area for additional park land. Farquhar: would support youth size soccer field. Especially if we don’t have to accommodate parking on site, and neighborhood parks usually don’t have parking on site. Hanson: we met Monday night with the School Board and they were not thrilled with the position we were taking. Their view was that Rocking Horse would be more suitable for a Middle School; it’s large enough for that purpose. Not for an elementary school. They wanted a smaller site in the planning area. Presley: we considered that it could be both middle and elementary. Cryor: they didn’t want to lose any particular piece of ground. They didn’t have any reason for the small site. No groundswell for going back on the decision. But they don’t want to lose Rocking Horse for administrative offices. But as we know, it’s 187 people use that property. I didn’t hear that we want this site because it’s the best site; what I heard was that they didn’t want to let go of the land. Didn’t convince me. No school board member came forward. It was just that they would love to have more land all over the county. Presley: I’m still convinced of my first thoughts on it. Hanson: I don’t see any inclination to change. But we will end up with no elementary school site. In reality. Let’s go on.

Weiss: do we keep the park recommendation as it is and designate another public use space. Hanson: I would be reluctant to lose this as park space. What about the alignment of Executive Blvd? Weiss: for equitable allocation between properties and to slow traffic down. Alfandre: how do we incentivize green space? Weiss: it’s a requirement in the base zoning. Hanson: having open space to serve the residential component means that park space should be put in Eisinger space, or by the MARC station.

Weiss: White Flint Mall just handed me a new picture of their relationships and planning. Robbie Breuer, representing the Mall. I realized yesterday that all the pieces of connected communications had not occurred. Our planners concluded that, while the overall density was fine with us, but the heights that were assigned were not. We concluded that we can’t get to where we had planned. We’ve lowered the FAR near the Garrett Park community, and we’re continuing that dialogue. This doesn’t achieve our objectives or yours. Building heights are not high enough. OK by the communities, but by the Pike we need higher heights and FARs on the western, northwestern and northern parts of the Mall, and you can reduce them on the southern edges of the Mall. Weiss: this confuses me.

Presley: so you want higher on the Pike side, and lower on the community side. Natalie Goldberg, Garrett Park Estates/White Flint Park: this new map doesn’t include some of the things that we’ve already seen and agreed to. This is a surprise to us. We thought the Board had decided that this ring road will have a gentle curve, but this Mall map has the old road without the gentle curve. Presley: all this shows is the difference in FAR and heights. Breuer: I apologize. This is an awkward moment. Hanson: there was general agreement on overall FAR for the Mall. General vicinity of 2.5. Goldberg: depends on how it’s distributed. Hanson: of course; that’s why it’s an average. Areas of specific density and specific heights. We will deal with the buffer issue at the proper time. First of all let’s deal with the density and height. Weiss: impossible to compare.

Alfandre: I’ve never seen something with this level of complexity. Density allocations, transportation, districts, design guidelines and more. We don’t have this coordinated yet. For me to understand what I am voting on, I would like some overall look by district at how these things work together. We have to have one meeting where the Plan is pulled together so we know what’s going where, what’s going to get paid for. A summary would be nice. Hanson: if you’ll be patient, we’ll get there. Weiss: road network, open space network, heights, all put together on this slide. Presley: it’s easier for me to work from the overall to the pieces, than the pieces to the whole.

Weiss: I ordinarily don’t get upset, but coming in at the eleventh hour is unfair. Breuer: I apologize. A mathematical issue to where the buildings. Goldberg: for us it’s much more than a mathematical issue. Robinson: road network has been decided; this is a straightforward issue. Offsetting the lower heights on the part of the property near your neighborhood by higher heights on the parts that are not near you. Road network is a closed issue. Hanson: I don’t want to have another session on this. We have to get closure. Once we have seen the draft final plan, we still have the opportunity for any Board member to make any amendment. Robinson: a plan this complicated means that you have to do regional decisions. Staff’s methodology is appropriate because of the nature of the transportation network and zoning. Hanson: we’ll finish today the overall diagram and all the districts.

Design Guidelines: Vision for White Flint’s Future

One innovation of the White Flint Sector planning process is the development of “design guidelines.” Now used in other Montgomery County plans, the idea of design guidelines as a flexible, non-regulatory planning tool was pioneered in the White Flint plan process. The concept is that the Planning Board can illustrate, through pictures and descriptions, its vision for a particular area — in this case, the White Flint Sector as a whole, and individual portions (“districts”) within a larger Sector. (White Flint is a relatively large area for a Master Plan in Montgomery County, about the same size as Bethesda.)

Today’s Montgomery County Planning Board worksession on the White Flint plan is expected to be a district-by-district review of the staff’s recommendations for design guidelines for each district. Piera Weiss, chief planner for White Flint, opened the meeting: “this is the last informational work session. After this, these will be for decisions.” Accompanying Weiss is Luis Estrada, from the Urban Planning division.

Estrada: begin with Mid-Pike Plaza district. CR Zone provides flexibility to give variety of residential and non-residential uses. Weiss: we’ll bring you the ratios at the next meeting. 60-40% overall, but a sliding scale to allow flexibility of up to 80% residential. Ratio is an effort to get to traffic demand management goals. Trying to have enough “space” in the Master Plan to permit more residential in the far reaches of the Sector. Need the right “spacing.” Chairman Hanson: zones say that within your maximum FAR [a measure of density permitted], your ranges of residential would be this or this, to get full density. Weiss: but you’d need a minimum of each to get full density. Weiss: we listened to the tapes [of earlier meetings] and were able to pull in additional issues. Hanson: is the Board satisfied with this density and distribution? Seems that they are.

Estrada: Issue 2: how to plan area owned by State Highway Administration immediately north of Mid-Pike Plaza and Montrose Parkway? Public facilities and affordable housing. State plans for surface parking. Acre and a half, so park and ride. Hanson: unattractive, especially if paved. Estrada: we are asking for structured parking and use for public facilities on excess right-of-way. We can accomodate a fire and police station and still have room for additional public facilities. Weiss: area on the east after the Pike would have space for these facilities. Any parking should be structured parking. Configuration to the south, but not to the north. Hanson: looking at the surface parking lot to the north, it seems to me that we shouldn’t transfer the old Korvette’s parking lot to the north. But it would be an awful site for housing. Structured parking is not a bad use for it.

Evan Goldman, co-chair of Friends of White Flint and representing Federal Realty, developer of Mid-Pike Plaza: first time we’ve seen this plan, even after years of planning. We have major issues with a fire station at our entrance where we have lots of residential. We think it would be better on the SHA property on the other side. Weiss: we’ve talked to Fire and EMS, and we haven’t gotten to a recommendation for a best site. Cmsnr Robinson: there is a better intersection down at Old Georgetown Rd where there’s a signal. Hanson: did you look at housing on the south side? I like the idea of having the fire, rescue, police separated, but the key thing is having access. Let’s talk to Fire Dept. Less important to police, but Fire and Rescue it’s very important. Weiss: we’ll bring it back to you.

Estrada: Metro West. Issue is building heights at the conference center. Planner Nkosi Yearwood: Question about Civic Green size and location. Weiss: can location “float” or make it completely to the north of Market Street. Robinson: my perception was that we would have the Civic Green as displayed, and it might float left or right. Some discussion of complementary open space as part of a conference center project plan. Cmsnr Alfandre: I gotta go on record here. Best street here is the street to the left of Mid-Pike. We need to recognize that. Concerned about the money we’ll spend on that green. I’m concerned we’re not going to get the best bang for the buck. When we look at the cost for the entire improvements, we’re going to lose the value of that Green if it’s not in the right place and if it’s more than we should have paid. I’m not sold on Market St, more sold on streets bisecting it. So I say, let’s float it and allow it to be in the right location and let’s be very careful about the concept. Hanson: where it is on the block? Alfandre: yes. Hanson: I can see several ways to configure it other than as a north-south parcel. I’d like to see some matching space on the conference center. Part of it depends on how that block develops. Weiss: we wanted to use it as part of an assemblage. We can’t force it, so that’s why we have the two bullets. We should add the matching space point to the Plan. Complementary. Robinson: I agree that we’re showing the Civic Green within the block and we should float it. Weiss: we don’t want to purchase it all, but just enough. So we have some leverage.

Yearwood: building heights. We’re recommending 300 feet. JBG has proposed 390′ at the conference center. Weiss: JBG proposed an iconic building, but the CR Zone will propose a maximum of 300′. Presley: for residents, notion of height is a scary thing. For me, it’s not so much, because it depends on how it’s designed and implemented. What kind of effect does the additional 90′ get? Alfandre: don’t understand absolute height with the CR Zone if there’s a better reason in the zone. Weiss: zone can set any height you want. Alfandre: don’t know the whole story. Robinson: cap is established by the Master Plan. Alfandre: odd way of zoning. Hanson: we can write the zone to fit whatever you’re asking. Implements the master plan, so whatever height the Plan recommends, we’ll write a zone to match that. Cmsnr Cryor: what’s the 300 based on? Weiss: we brought a height map to the Board months ago. Showed that the tallest building (now under construction) was 289′. We wanted a tenting concept with highest at the Metro and stepping down to 50′ or less at the edges. So what’s a reasonable gradation at the core? Even increments caused us to develop a concentric circles plan. So we are now resetting it for each specific area. Reflects that concept of tenting and the fact that certain corners need specific heights. Alfandre: if we are choosing to limit this in the interest of public policy, I just want us to be clear about that. Hanson: unless you allow it all open, we have to do that. Recent legislation requires following the policies established in the plans. There’s no chance of getting five votes on the County Council for a Plan with no height limit. Robinson: in Twinbrook, the Council insisted we put in specifics in the plan. Alfandre: we’re following the plan with the zone. Arbitrarily picking a height, without knowing what it could be. Presley: is there a way to address certainty within the plan? Alfandre: not without the zone. Robinson: I disagree.

Robinson: limerick, ok for family. There was a young man from Peru, who found a mouse in his stew. The waiter said, don’t shout or wave it about, or the others will be wanting one too. That’s the problem with allowing a higher limit.

Hanson: now heights in CBD is 200′. TMX no height limit, but a development plan that must go to Council. I’m sympathetic to your point. But will have to have a height limit. We can tailor the zone to whatever height the Board prefers. Robinson: as a matter of law, the limit has to be absolute. Weiss: question is whether you can get better design at 390′ than 300? Estrada: you can get good design at any height. Alfandre: it’s not just design, but public policy. It’s what incentives you will get. It’s paying for all this, which can include good design. Robinson: if you’re concerned about the impact of a tall building and community expectations, I see no reasoned basis for choosing between comparable blocks.

Hanson: so 300′? Unanimous.

Yearwood: NoBe District. Intersection of Nicholson Lane and Rockville Pike. Weiss: question about the appropriate density for the NoBe project, when it’s right next to residential neighborhoods. Must have careful transition to the townhouses and to the properties across the Pike. We can put FAR as high as 4.0 but have language that the issue is compatibility. We should be emphasizing affordable housing, and so that incentive should be first. Master Plan should say that and we should encourage that in some districts as well. We want to have retail on the corners, green space on the streets, less intensity on the transition block, and more residential by the existing communities.

Weiss: Next problem is the Rockwall site. CR zone won’t be able to help this property. Yearwood: higher FAR than would be allowed today. Weiss: approved in late 60’s under old zone. Grandfathered. Yearwood: they want to add 10,000 feet of retail on the ground floor connecting to the NoBe Market to the north. Won’t be able to get there. They could add 7,500, but not more in the zone. Weiss: we’re taking transfers off the table, so this won’t work. Hanson: change to 10,000 addition? What’s good design and good planning for this area? Weiss: Security Lane is one of the better streets in White Flint. And this would get a better relationship of the building to the street. But maybe they can achieve that with partial changes to the street. Alfandre: we don’t need to do anything. Weiss: so we leave it at 3 and mixed use.

Yearwood: Woodglen and Executive Blvd. Water tower. If no longer use in the future, it should be acquired for parkland. 31,000 sq feet in size. Divided more intense development to the east, from residential to the west, along the Bethesda Trolley Trail. Our recommendation is that if no longer in use, should be parkland. Brooke Farquhar: although owned by WSSC, not inexpensive to acquire. On Rte 29 we had to pay market rate. We don’t disagree with recommendation, but only question is whether we could get language that private sector would do this through assemblage. We don’t want to miss this open space opportunity, but we have some issues. Safety concerns about keeping tower there. “Fall zone” if the tower were to fall. Hanson: we can over-worry that. That’s basically a standpipe. Greg Trimmer, Treasurer of Friends of White Flint, and representing JBG, which has tried to buy the property in the past. Size of the site is necessary for pipes underground and for painting and maintenance. Hanson: just saying it’s a good site. We ought to talk to WSSC about making some use of it. Presley: why don’t we just lease it and propose to maintain it. Yearwood: we just want to have some continuing public ownership. Alfandre: that’s too good a spot for WSSC to continue to use it that way. I don’t know why we would leave it. Only way it will be better is if you give it a life. Weiss: public use space.

Planning Board Worksession — May 21, 2009

The Montgomery County Planning Board does much of its work on the White Flint Sector Plan in “worksessions” arranged around a particular topic. Today’s topic is the Design Guidelines, which are the visual and descriptive representations of the plans for the six “districts” which the Staff has designed within the White Flint Sector. Live streaming video is available at www.montgomeryplanningboard.org.

Civic Green as Hot Potato

One of the more convoluted discussions in the White Flint Sector Plan is the siting of various parks. The biggest park in the Sector is the existing Wall Local Park, at the corner of Nicholson Lane and Old Georgetown Road; the Plan contemplates revising this park (which is currently largely covered by the Montgomery Aquatic Center and a big parking lot) by shifting the parking into a structure to the north and converting the parking lot into a series of informal park fields.

The second biggest park is the proposed Civic Green, suggested as a gathering place and event location for the Sector and surrounding communities. The Civic Green concept is appealing to many participants in the Sector Plan process, but neither the size nor the location has been finalized. At its last series of worksessions, the Planning Board considered both those elements, but matters were left largely unresolved.

Part of the problem is that the proposed site abuts the current Conference Center site, which is owned by Montgomery County itself, which has leased the land to the JBG Companies (an active Friends of White Flint member). The Marriott hotel is adjacent to the proposed general location for the Civic Green. As discussed by the Planning Board, the County is considering the location for some form of low- or moderate-income housing, and does not want to release the land for a Civic Green. Thus, the Board is being forced to consider purchasing private land for the Civic Green; only one of the owners of the several small properties in the area is reported to be interested in selling. So one major question is, since the land will have to be purchased, how large a park the Civic Green will be, and the other is that no one knows exactly where on that block the Civic Green will be placed. At its last meeting, on May 7, the Planning Board seemed to indicate that the Civic Green will likely be about one acre in size, and placed north of the proposed new Main Street (sometimes called Market Street).

The May 11 Staff memo contains a letter from Steve Robins, an attorney with Lerch Early & Brewer, taking issue with a Staff report that indicates that the position of the Civic Green may be somewhere south of Main/Market Street. Robins contends that the Board decided that the location of the Civic Green would “remain as proposed in the Draft Sector Plan — that is, north of the new Main Street.” See Pps. 53-54 of the May 11 Staff memo. The Staff memo indicates that Staff “listened to the tapes” and agreed that the decision was unclear, but continues to request that the location of the Civic Green be left ambiguous.

This matter may arise again during the next series of discussions.

Down to the Wire: Final Planning Board Schedule

The Montgomery County Planning Board has been working on the White Flint Sector Plan for almost three years, and the end of the process is finally in sight. The latest Staff memorandum contains an advance schedule, as usual, but this schedule contains only three items, and the last one is the final Planning Board approval of the Plan and transmission to the County Council. All sessions are scheduled for the auditorium, 8787 Georgia Ave., Silver Spring, and all sessions are expected to begin at approximately 9AM.

The upcoming schedule is proposed as:

May 21: Worksession #11, Design Guidelines, Density and Building Heights by District

June 4: Worksession #12, Zoning, the new CR Zone and Proposed Zoning Map, staging of implementation, Implementation including discussion of Rockville Pike, and Reconstruction (I believe this does not refer to the period after the American Civil War, but to some more recent plan).

June 18: Worksession #13, Review Final Draft

July 9: Worksession #14: Request to transmit Sector Plan to Council.

Some of these items involve many complicated decisions. This is an ambitious schedule, but it tracks what Board Chairman Royce Hanson discussed during the May 7 worksession.  

Barnaby Zall