The Montgomery County Council usually warns participants that it rarely hears more than 30 people during a public hearing, but last night’s public hearing on the 2009-2011 Annual Growth Policy featured almost 50 speakers, and they all were heard respectfully and fully.
Here the Council listens to Jim Humphries of the Montgomery Civic Federation (flowered shirt) say that the Annual Growth Policy, which measures the amount of traffic going through intersections, was not an appropriate measure for the County to use to address carbon emissions.
Most of the hearing was devoted to an attack by many witnesses on the traffic congestion measurement known as the Policy Area Mobility Review, or PAMR. PAMR is the regional test of traffic congestion, measured by county staffers driving at various times of the day up and down various routes, timing how long it takes to get from place to place. The local version of PAMR is known as LATR. County Executive Ike Leggett told the Council that PAMR was “fundamentally flawed.” GiGi Godwin of the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce said that PAMR “does not provide a solution to problems.” Sharon Dooley of the Greater Olney Civic Association said that “PAMR is too easy” to be useful, and that no intersection ever fails PAMR testing. Ben Ross of Action Committee for Transit said that “PAMR treats the symption — congestion — not the underlying problem: too many cars.”
In my testimony for Friends of White Flint, I noted that “PAMR might produce uncoordinated and piecemeal infrastructure investments,” and that the Annual Growth Policy process was “automobile-centered policy” which could endanger a sustainable, walkable community plan like the White Flint Sector Plan.
It wasn’t all PAMR all night, however. Other issues brought up included school funding and congestion, with many speakers requesting more money for school construction and others pointing out that the White Flint Plan will generate $50 million in school impact fees from development. Liz King, a parent, said that the $50 million “was a good start,” but Paula Bienenfeld, an opponent of the White Flint Sector Plan, called it “a drop in the bucket” and a “Ponzi scheme.”
In my FoWF testimony, I said:
“Quality of life is not measured by how fast cars move. We must reduce our environmental impact, increase walkability, and utilize our investment in transit. The [Annual Growth Policy] is a blunt instrument; the White Flint Plan is much more precise and holistic.”
“The White Flint Plan, for example, considered congestion at local intersections, but also considered how best to move traffic. Not just “fastest,” but “best.” “Best” includes walkability, sustainability and community amenities — in short, quality of life.”
“Hundreds of us, working over three years, using some of the finest walkability and sustainability consultants, have finally created a modern community for White Flint. Sustainable. Walkable. Pedestrian-friendly. Transit-oriented. Let’s not use an automobile-centered growth test to condemn it before we even start.”
The evening’s long parade of witnesses ended with Jennifer Ramsey, a forty-year resident of the Forum, a high-rise condominium on Rockville Pike. She began: “It’s appropriate that I bring up the caboose, because we bus riders always have to go last.” Ramsey noted that she used transit to commute for decades, beginning with the old D.C. Transit bus service, and continuing until her retirement five years ago “when I bought a car.” Ramsey endorsed the Rockville Pike redesign proposed by the White Flint Partnership as part of the White Flint Sector Plan, because she said she supported the additional transit lanes proposed in the median of the new Rockville Pike Boulevard.
On the whole, it was a long, but interesting evening. Dr. Royce Hanson, Chairman of the Montgomery County Planning Board, and speaker at tonight’s White Flint Town Hall, noted that Montgomery County was projecting a substantial increase in the number of residents and jobs. He said that using “smart growth” was necessary to meet all the competing goals of carbon reduction, traffic management, and maintaining quality of life. Gary Stith, representing County Executive Ike Leggett, praised the Council for considering quality of life issues. Sally Roman, of the county’s Housing Opportunities Council, endorsed all the new affordable housing opportunities in recent master plans such as the White Flint Sector Plan.
Paul Meyer, representing the Wisconsin condominium, discussed the overall needs of the county in terms of amenities for residents. But he also said he works closely with Friends of White Flint, which brings all sides into the discussion, because he knows that businesses are essential to the health of the community. “I want them to make a lot of money,” Meyer noted. He also said that developers were an important part of any discussions about the future of White Flint.
Some observers had predicted that opponents of the White Flint Sector Plan would use the Growth Policy hearing as a way to attack the White Flint Plan, and they apparently tried. Many of the individual witnesses predicted that there would be congestion in White Flint, which would affect their ability to drive. The Mayor of the Town of Garrett Park, Chris Keller, one of the first witnesses, told the Council that his community already had the “quality of place” which the Planning Board intended for White Flint, and they were concerned that improving White Flint would disturb their “fragile” quality. He predicted a “sharp rise in traffic congestion” from White Flint development.
Natalie Goldberg, a member of the former White Flint Advisory Group which worked on the White Flint Sector Plan, wrote her assessment on a list-serve late last night:
The public hearing Tuesday night lasted three hours, and while there was community support for continuing to balance new development with the infrastructure to support it, there were hoards of developers, business organization, Friendsof White Flint, out there supporting exceptions for White Flint. We need to let the Council know that our message has broad community support.
If you wrote to the Planning Board on this subject, write again. You can even say the same thing.
Many of the proposed policies affect both schools and traffic. There is a lot of pressure coming from the development community to substitute Smart Growth criteria instead of the usual traffic and school capacity analysis. The current proposal exempts the White Flint Sector Plan area (between Montrose parkway and Edson) from traffic analysis and allows development to proceed based on a preconceived plan that hasn’t been decided yet. It also raises the congestion standard at Edson Lane and Security (meaning its okay to have more traffic).
Friends of White Flint’s full statement from the hearing is available here: AGP Statement