Archives February 2010

The Birds and the BLTs

I visited the Audubon Naturalist Society’s bookstore at the Woodend Sanctuary on Jones Bridge Road yesterday and may again today (best binocular and birdseed prices around, especially with the 20% ANS member discount). And ANS and similar environmental groups are natural allies of smart growth and New Urbanism, as our long association with the Coalition for Smarter Growth shows.

But sometimes even friends can disagree. Those disagreements sometimes involve money. It’s like when the American Birding Association changed its bookstore policies so that you no longer get member discounts; the money goes to a for-profit bookstore which kicks some back to ABA instead. So we shop at ANS (which we might have done anyway, but still).

Maryland Ornithological Society Member

And like today’s kerfuffle. ANS and three other groups sent a letter to the Montgomery County Council about Tuesday’s hearing on the CR (Commercial/Residential) Zone. The environmental groups are concerned because an important project might get less money from developers under the CR Zone, especially in White Flint. The letter can be found here:

One of Montgomery County’s crowning glories in planning is the Agricultural Reserve. The Ag Reserve makes up much of the northern and northwestern part of the County. Density is shifted into the “down county,” while the land in the Reserve is preserved against development. The Ag Reserve is why you still see lots of green as you travel north on I-270 into Frederick. Montgomery County chose to be “green,” literally, decades before anyone else. And has kept it up over the years.

Developers pay special fees to support the Ag Reserve, which are then given to farmers who don’t sell their land to developers. The fees are known as Building Lot Terminations, or BLTs (nothing to do with the sandwich).

In older master plans, such as Germantown or Twinbrook, zoning (density) is intricately woven into a pattern of requirements on developers; they get certain rights to density. Those density rights start high, because the County requires the developers to provide certain amenities, with only a few incentives for a developer to choose from a menu of options for special amenities in exchange for higher densities. We make you do stuff, but we give you density to pay for it. Now, if you want more than we give you, you pay for more too. But only for a few things. BLTs are one of those few optional density incentives; the BLT “bonus payments” for added density can be paid on 30 percent of additional density.

In White Flint, however, that’s reversed. The White Flint Plan is innovative in many ways, and one of those is the CR Zone, which starts with low densities and provides a wide variety of incentives for providing options such as day care, green roofs or buildings, and so on. There is a maximum level of density overall and for height, with sub-limits for commercial and residential construction (to encourage mixed-use developments). But instead of requiring certain amenities, chosen by planners and forever locked in, and then giving automatic density bonuses, the CR Zone starts low and encourages the “right” kinds of amenities.

So the fundamental difference in zoning between the older zoning systems and the CR Zone to be used in White Flint is that, in the CR Zone system, density starts low, and developers can buy more density by providing things the County thinks are important. It’s carrot vs. stick — market-based planning vs. the old “central-planning,” top-down approach.

So, what about BLTs? Well, there are no BLTs required under the existing 1992 North Bethesda Master Plan; the White Flint Plan adds BLT requirements, making them one of only three mandatory exactions (in addition to workforce housing and streetscape improvements). But, instead of being a mandatory 30%, as under the old system, under the new White Flint zoning, the BLTs exaction could be as low as 5%. Developers could choose, as one of the incentives, to pay more for BLT added density, but they aren’t required to; they could choose to provide some other community amenities instead.  

What happens when you release people from a mandatory tax, even to provide something good? GASP, some developers might choose a different carrot — to pay for other amenities instead of the BLT fee. After all, density is density, whether you get it for paying farmers or for paying to provide day care.

That’s what’s got the environmental groups upset: the prospect that BLT receipts might go down in an incentive-based system. The Ag Reserve is far away and kind of abstract; day care is a crying need (sorry for the pun) right here. As their letter suggests, they would prefer a higher level for mandatory BLT exactions to start; they suggest 15% instead of 5%. Here’s a Washington Post story which covers this side of the question:

 How to resolve this clash? After all, the Ag Reserve is, in fact, one thing Montgomery does right, and it is certainly worth preserving. But how to balance that great need against all the other needs, and do so without upsetting the complicated White Flint package?

It so happens that the same person is the father of both the Ag Reserve (and BLTs to pay farmers for it) and the CR Zone. Dr. Royce Hanson is the Chair of the Planning Board, and developed the CR Zone. Decades ago, he also dreamed up and nurtured the Ag Reserve. He was brought back from retirement to reinvigorate the Planning Board after the Clarksburg scandals. He also drove the New Urbanism concept behind the White Flint Plan into Montgomery County’s planning paradigms. Call it innovation for both the 20th and 21st Centuries. Green all the way through.

Hanson told the Post “that he thought that increasing the payments on developers in White Flint could backfire. He said the Planning Board and County Council had struggled to find the right balance to encourage developers to build where ‘development is desirable,’ such as in areas served by public transit, and discourage it where more development could lead to more sprawl.”

So, the Planning Board already considered this question, with a clear mindset toward protecting the Ag Reserve. And came down in favor of incentives, not mandates, as the best compromise to achieve two County objectives which seem to clash.

This should all play out again on Tuesday morning.

Barnaby Zall

Council Considers Land Use in White Flint

The Montgomery County Council will continue its consideration of the White Flint Sector Plan on Tuesday, March 2, at 10:30AM in the County Council building in Rockville. This is the Council’s second recent hearing on the White Flint Sector Plan, and Council President Nancy Floreen recently said that she expects final Council action on the Plan by March 23.

Council President Nancy Floreen and Dan Hoffman

 (Council President Nancy Floreen and Randolph Civic Association’s Dan Hoffman)

As usual, Council staff has prepared memoranda for Council for the hearing. The memos can be found here:

The first topic will be financing of the Plan. The Planning, Housing and Economic Development and Management and Fiscal Policy Committees have been jointly working with the County Executive’s staff to develop options for paying for infrastructure development in White Flint. As the staff memo suggests, the financing plan does not need to be incorporated in the Plan itself, but the new package of improvements is extremely complex, and the Council has recognized that adopting a financing plan is vital to achieving the confidence necessary for the success of the White Flint Plan.

The staff memo reports that neither the Committees nor the staff has a recommendation for a particular financing mechanism. Though not stated, this is probably because the policy documents presented thus far do not reach far into the details of any option. Even though the Executive hired consultants last year to begin this process, the net result of the information provided so far is only to demonstrate, even to the previously-opposed Executive staff, that a financially-successful White Flint Plan is possible, rather than to identify a preferred option.

That prediction of success, while welcome, doesn’t have a lot of detail. So it basically dumps a lot of responsibility onto the Council itself to choose from a variety of options. High-level Executive staff, in discussions with me, were constantly referring to the need to consult with other staff before answering questions. This didn’t seem to be natural caution as much as indecision about policy choices and preferences. To be specific, more about having too many likely choices rather than none. Perhaps by next week they can have narrowed the field enough to provide more useful guidance to the Council.

The second topic, though titled “staging” (which is the timing of implementation of various infrastructure projects), is really more about all land-use elements of the Plan. The staff memo incorporates earlier decisions made by the PHED Committee on staging and infrastructure. So, for example, the memo shows which parts of the Planning Board’s draft Plan staging proposal have been deleted or changed, and the additions the Committee made. Some, such as the proposal to accellerate the improvements to Rockville Pike to the extent possible, were recommended by Friends of White Flint in its Report to the Council on the Plan last October. Others respond to issues identified during the PHED Committee hearings, such as continuing use of car-speed tests (such as LATR) until other mechanisms are in place, or the Council amends the Growth Policy.

Barnaby Zall

Draft FoWF Letter on Needed Improvements in WF Plan

It is the policy of Friends of White Flint to request public comment on public policy statements. The FoWF Board, in its meeting on February 26, 2010, unanimously approved sending a letter to the Montgomery County Council thanking the Council and the PHED Committee for incorporating many of the FoWF recommendations from our October 09 Report to the Council on the Plan. The letter should also point out the few remaining improvements recommended in the Report which the Council could adopt.

Here is a draft of that letter: Draft Council Ltr on WFSP

Comments on the letter are welcome, but MUST BE RECEIVED by 11:30AM on Monday, March 1. You may post comments here, or send them to me directly at

One comment already received is that the letter should also include the prior FoWF recommendations that the Council not use intersection-speed-related traffic tests, such as LATR and PAMR in a pedestrian-friendly White Flint.

Barnaby Zall

Now or LATR? And Perhaps Never.

Live-blogging from the February 25, 2010 meeting of the Planning, Housing and Economic Development Committee of the Montgomery County Council. Topic for today is a continuation of yesterday’s third hearing on “staging” in the White Flint Plan, with a likely emphasis on the use of automobile speed tests in White Flint and nearby areas. Some observers have suggested that use of these car-oriented tests would endanger the White Flint Plan because developers would not improve their properties due to uncertainty about the County’s commitment; others suggested that residents would not support the Plan (as they have in overwhelming numbers in the past) if they weren’t certain the County would fulfill its commitments. Today’s hearing is intended to work out these last-minute glitches. The Committee members, Chairman Mike Knapp, Council President Nancy Floreen, and Councilmember Marc Elrich, were joined, as usual, by Councilmember Roger Berliner, who sits in on the White Flint Sector Plan-related meetings.

PHED Committee and Berliner

 Chairman Knapp opened the meeting by referencing yesterday’s discussions, and noting that there may be “lots of issues remaining.” Council staffer Glenn Orlin commented that there will be a Growth Policy amendment dealing with local review, including White Flint. He predicted Council action by March 23. If a Growth Policy amendment could be drafted and introduced by March 16, which would give enough time to see if people were comfortable enough not to stop the Plan. But Orlin suggested that “everybody in the room” wanted clarification.

Elrich: this isn’t trivial. A good proposal on timing. Convinced there is a way to do this that meets everyone’s concerns, but it’s important to take the time to do this right. Yesterday’s development community made a good case, and the residents made a case that if the infrastructure isn’t done, we won’t get our part. I looked at the spreadsheet of road projects, and there are only five county-funded projects, and four of those are fully-funded. But there’s a long list of individual developers’ obligations, and a bigger question about when those will come together to form the grid. It won’t be the government that does something that crashes LATR, but one of the developers not doing something. Council Staffer Marlene Michaelson pointed out that approvals for projects are contingent on building their roads. Elrich: you can’t require any developer to actually develop; that could become a bottleneck.

Floreen: that’s this Council. This Council has failed to fund infrastructure from the beginning of time. The ICC, the Montrose Parkway. That’s the problem, but we’ll get over that. Put us in a position that we can get the rest. The Growth Policy has been used since the 1980’s to delay infrastructure. That is the challenge. How do we move forward? We have a Plan. We give people a creative environment in which to construct a financing plan to raise the money. We will give some flexibility to provide that money to allow them to move forward. This is a huge advance in the production of infrastructure. What you don’t want are rules that give you a reason to say no so you don’t have the jobs environment or business environment that allow you to support all the good things you want to see. This is a positive approach to tackling the problem in a constrained environment to create the community that everyone’s buying into. There is a certain amount of lack of clarity. I’d be happy to write this on a wall someplace that “WE’RE GOING TO DO THIS STUFF” because everyone’s worried about commitment. Can I count on being able to deliver a project to give you the revenue to do all this stuff. This is a great thing to do all this stuff. The dance we’re doing right now is whether the tools let us get there. But we’re really, really very close. But you can’t let a little amount of uncertainty get in the way of this excellent plan.

Elrich: No one’s saying this isn’t an excellent plan. But I thought people were saying government was the problem. I like the development district, but there’s a long list of roads that are the responsibility of developers. We have no control over that. This other piece could be a bottleneck and we don’t control it. What happens if developers don’t do their piece?

Berliner: I believe our commitment to the existing and to future communities is that we can have this economically-exciting piece available, so long as traffic moves as acceptable. Challenging notion. This Plan will generate significantly more capital than any of our other plans would have generated. This Plan gives us the assurance that these will be funded. The dilemma has always been that the Plan says if these roads are constructed, everything will be in balance. The problem is in the ten years it takes to build these. What happens then? The problem is that we had to trust a Plan that was totally mode-share governed. Some of us wanted more assurance that traffic would be okay, not great, but okay. Can it be liveable? I wanted to identify three elements to advance this proposition:

First, not have LATR as historically applied, but to have CLATR, comprehensive local area transportation review, paid for by developers and conducted by the Planning Board every few years. So we would know all the roads we would need to fund at every few years. Second, have this be a measurement tool, but divorce that measurement tool from the historical consequences of failing that test. Because if the development community were making this unprecedented commitment for 30 years, there should not be a red light that says stop. So, third, could we get a yellow light? A caution that says that a particular project could go forward with a higher mode share than they would otherwise have to do, so they are part of the solution, not the problem.

Knapp: this is not an issue that is unique to here. There is an element of trust. There is a commitment to the infrastructure and making the pieces work. To some degree, we have addressed that in the Plan itself. There’s an unprecedented level of detail in the Plan itself. First, there’s been a question about LATR application. Right now we have nothing in effect, so LATR would continue to apply. Once we have a financing plan in place, LATR no longer applies. Once there’s revenue generated, we won’t have LATR any more. That gets to what Mr. Berliner is discussing. We could take a few weeks, as Orlin has described, to flesh this out. Once we have financing in place and generating revenue, we’ll have certainty to replace LATR.

Second, we’ll have monitoring in place. Sets up a framework to proceed that we haven’t had in the past. There are a lot of variables that will be in play. Everyone wants to make this successful, so there’s incentives to make this work as soon as possible and as well as possible.

Berliner: both LATR and PAMR should apply until we have a financing plan. Orlin: anything that goes forward before the Growth Policy changes would be subject to both anyway. Elrich: are we going to write a Growth Policy amendment that makes PAMR disappear in White Flint? Orlin: yes. 100% agreement on that. Berliner: so Growth Policy would disappear on the Growth Policy amendment, while LATR would disappear under the Knapp plan in a year or whenever we get the financing plan. Doesn’t provide the certainty that our assumptions are sufficient. That’s why we are takling about ongoing monitoring.

Floreen: a lot of these details will be worked out in the financing plan. There are several lists, not just the Executive’s list. That’ll be a good thing for everyone.

Elrich: we want to identify problematic intersections. Floreen: that’s what we already discussed. Elrich: so what are the implications of intersections outside White Flint? Orlin: the models forecast the impact of outside development on the intersections. Knapp: presumably that’s why we’ve set up our capital improvements project process to cover all those. Elrich: we’re trying to align that all together. Michaelson: the monitoring will provide the information.

Orlin: every requirement in the staging plan is a red light, you must meet them to move on. Could do this CLATR for each phase. If everything is done and intersections are not failing, you can move to the next phase. Unless there is consequence for failure, nothing will happen. This has happened for the last 30 years. Knapp: consequence to whom? County has been the biggest problem in that. Orlin: yes. Michaelson: Glenn and I disagree. Once requiring developers to pay in far more than they ever have, County has a responsibility to program the improvements. Floreen: we’ve been neglecting these things for 30 years. Diane Schwartz-Jones for the County Executive, having them pay in for 30 years and then hold up development for political reasons raises a fairness issue. So could we have a LATR for the CIP? Put the names in the CIP and see what share the development district should pick up. Fundamental fairness question in that.

Knapp: so we have a framework for discussions in the next two weeks. What other issues?

Michaelson: issue on staging for affordable housing. Piera Weiss,chief White Flint planner, on P. 71 of the Plan says that affordable housing would not be included in the staging plan. Michaelson: just so that’s clear.

Knapp: mode share to move to Phase 3? Michaelson: if you’re not done with most of it by end of Phase 2, you’ll won’t have enough time to pull up the total. 20% of all WF development in Phase 3, so need the mode share requirement at the end of Phase 2 to be 40%. You’re setting an aggressive target, but you’ll have plenty of opportunities to adjust as you go through, since the Planning Board will be providing reports every two years. Orlin: as the area develops, you’ll find the mode share base is going to improve automatically.

Francine Waters from Lerner Enterprises and the White Flint Partnership, and an expert on mode share improvements from her experience in Bethesda: you have to set numbers that will be achievable based on the residential population. John King from the White Flint Community Coalition: we propose individual developments be assigned mode share requirements, based on their proximity to the Metro. Orlin: let’s let the Planning Board figure that out as the projects come in. It isn’t just the distance from Metro, it’s the intensity of development and other factors. If you put a residential development right on top of the Metro, you’d require a heavy mode share. Arnold Kohn from Tower Companies and former chair of the Bethesda Transportation Management District: you have to have marketing to build mode share. People don’t move in with a plan for how they’re going to move around. You’re not just marketing to the new people, but to the base. It’s like Francine said, it will parabolic.  Dan Hardy, chief transportation planner: that’s how it worked in Bethesda. We were in the mid-20s, and now that we have more residential, we’re in the mid-30s. Elrich: to me the most important is the end stage. Restrictions on parking make the most difference. Kohn: because you have a larger audience in the later phases, it’s more realistic to make bigger changes in mode share in the later stages. Elrich: as long as people can park, it’s harder to get them out of their cars. This is all premised on aggressive limits. Knapp: what was the Bethesda experience? Waters: the Bethesda 8 circulator was not in place at 26%. Knapp: we need more data to understand where non-driver mode share will happen. That’s the way we’ll have a better idea of when the various splits should occur. Floreen: by Monday.

Knapp: other issues? Evan Goldman, co-Chair of Friends of White Flint, speaking for the White Flint Partnership, the timing may force more public funding, so add language. Michaelson: we did. The word “substantially.”

Michaelson: so the Committee is fine with the rest of the staff recommendations? Knapp: yes. The Committee then adjourned.

Barnaby Zall

PHED Committee Meeting February 25, 2010

Live-blogging from the hastily-scheduled continuation meeting of the Planning, Housing and Economic Development Committee of the Montgomery County Council. Today’s topic is “staging” in the White Flint Sector Plan, which is the timing of the implementation of various infrastructure projects required as part of the renovation of White Flint. Yesterday’s hearing ended with a request from Councilmembers Marc Elrich and Roger Berliner for clarification of the role of a particular traffic test, known as the Local Area Traffic Review, or LATR. Some observers had thought that LATR was removed from the White Flint Plan along with a broader regional review (known as PAMR). LATR is one of the “balance” tests which measures how fast cars move through intersections, which may not be appropriate in a transit-oriented, pedestrian-friendly community such as the planned White Flint.

But the Councilmembers’ questions indicated that there was still some confusion about the use of LATR in White Flint, or in some cases, the use of the test outside of White Flint to block development or road improvements within the White Flint Sector. When the Committee ran out of time yesterday, today’s hearing was hastily scheduled. Discussions, some of them quite heated, continued after the hearing adjourned, in which the sense of confusion and ships passing in the night multiplied.

Barnaby Zall

Yes . . . But . . .

The White Flint Sector Plan appears to be rolling toward enactment in mid-March. The Montgomery County Council is pretty much on board with the transit-oriented, sustainability concepts behind the Plan. Even the most opposed residents have quieted in favor of those a little less prone to shrieking wildly over the evils of growth.

So, given this “kumbaya”-fest, would you think something could still kill the White Flint Plan?

How about the same old fear that has bugged this process since the beginning?

The fear that the County simply won’t live up to its promises of true New Urbanism: transit-oriented, pedestrian-oriented, bike-oriented. The fear that the County will resurrect those pesky tests of how fast cars move through intersections to block development, AFTER it’s begun. The fear that someone who has bought into the Plan will be blind-sided by a car (-oriented test), and left battered and shaking, by the side of one of the new roads.

“Did someone get the tag number of that truck that hit me?” “No, but it moved pretty fast through the intersection.” “Oh, that’s ok then.”

And so it was today. Today’s meeting of the Planning, Housing and Economic Development Committee zoomed into orbit on a curious ending note. Two Councilmembers, Roger Berliner and Marc Elrich, both of whom support the White Flint Plan (“yes, but”), brought up the Local Area Transportation Review, known as LATR. Berliner asked to have LATR tests linked to the White Flint Plan. LATR is one of those automobile-oriented tests which measure how fast cars move through intersections; if an intersection “fails,” future development is stopped unless and until some expensive remedial measures are undertaken. Most people thought we’d ended that discussion when the PHED Committee agreed that we would try to get people OUT of cars, rather than move them faster through White Flint.

But apparently that wasn’t clear after all. Only one of the two main tests (the broader PAMR) was dropped, and not necessarily LATR. Now LATR was back, perhaps not in White Flint, where we were told there wasn’t actually problem, but outside White Flint. Using LATR to block White Flint development because there was a problem at, say, Rock Springs, was one proposal. There was a quick and emphatic response to that proposal: Barbara Sears, representing the White Flint Partnership, told the Committee that using LATR that way to block White Flint improvements would result in no development in the area.  Using the LATR tests means that no one would ever know if their development would be permitted to continue, even after construction was begun. Hence, no development. No revenues. No bonds. No Plan. Cars rule.

The Committee didn’t have time to deal with the LATR questions raised late in the session, but they scheduled a new meeting for 12:30PM tomorrow. Chairman Mike Knapp said “so have your discussions in the next 26 hours.”

And they did, or at least started them. As soon as the hearing broke up, a scrum descended on Berliner and Council staffer Glenn Orlin (both right below), concerned about this new application of LATR:

Berliner in crowd

Eventually, the discussions expanded to the point that Berliner and Orlin, joined by Elrich, sat down with a group of about fifteen property owners’ representatives to discuss the problem. County Executive officials jumped in, including Diane Schwartz-Jones, Gary Ehrenreich, and Gary Stith. And a few residents, including Ed Rich, from Old Farm, and Della Stallsworth from Luxmanor, listened as well.

After meeting

The discussion revealed several problems with the proposal to re-impose LATR. People were using terms to mean different things, the most important being LATR itself. Orlin, for example, pointed out that “we haven’t figured out whether to use that in White Flint,” where Elrich said that he thought LATR itself wouldn’t be used, but some other test would be. Then Orlin noted that LATR would not be used IN White Flint, but would be used outside White Flint in a way to stop development if some effect were observed outside White Flint. Others thought LATR wouldn’t affect White Flint at all because, as transportation planner Dan Hardy observed to the Committee earlier, the Planning Board would be using more sophisticated tests throughout the area anyway as part of the biennial review process, so there wasn’t any need for LATR at all. Orlin: the Council’s going to change LATR in a month anyway, as part of the Growth Policy review, so why worry about it now?

In addition, there was a substantial amount of miscommunication on other topics; the Executive’s financing proposals are not sufficiently developed to allow anyone (even their representatives) to determine what would happen and when; and no one could agree on how the staging proposals would be implemented. Bottom line = in this discussion, no one knew what anyone else was really thinking about. And sometimes didn’t appear to know what their own proposals were.

“Why would anyone even START without a comfort level,” Barbara Sears asked. “Because we will have a development district,” responded Diane Schwartz-Jones. “We shouldn’t be uncertain about projects in the Plan,” said Elrich, “the uncertainty’s outside the district. The problem’s going to be in Rock Spring.” Planning Board staff said there wouldn’t be a problem satisfying the County’s Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance (otherwise known as the Growth Policy) in White Flint “at build-out.” Orlin: “there will be problems if you go out a ways, and everything is part of the Growth Policy.” Elrich: “No, I need a clear path forward. I need assurance that we’ll move forward, and not stop part way in between.”

There was unanimity on one point: if this one, automobile-centered test was resuscitated, no one could be certain any more what the County would be doing at any given time during the 30-year implementation of the White Flint Plan. 

And all that generated fear, which is the one thing that can kill the White Flint Plan so close to completion.

The Plan had been moving forward rapidly because people generally understood what was intended and they were confident that things had been tied up enough to generate some certainty. But the heat of interjecting yet another automobile-oriented emphasis into the White Flint Plan was enough to evaporate that confidence.

Tune in tomorrow for another installment in our continuing saga: “how the car turns.”

Barnaby Zall

LATR Hearing at 12:30, Not 1PM Tomorrow

If you were watching the PHED hearing today, you might have left with the impression that the continuation hearing tomorrow will be held at 1PM. That’s what was said from the Committee table. But after adjournment, Committee Staff came out into the audience to say that the hearing will actually be held at 12:30PM in the County Council Building.

Barnaby Zall

Now or LATR?

Live-blogging from the February 24, 2010 meeting of the PHED Committee of the Montgomery County Council; this hearing is to finalize the staging portion of the White Flint Sector Plan.

Committee staffer Glenn Orlin opened the meeting by pointing out that the staff memorandum for the hearing is largely the same as the last meeting, except for a few points identified in bold italics. The memo can be found here: The most common change is to permit further progress if prior work is “substantially done” rather than completed entirely; this change was to provide flexibility for the Planning Board in its monitoring of the implementation of the Plan.

Staff discussion

(L-R: Marlene Michaelson, Glenn Orlin, Rollin Stanley, Dan Hardy; background: Councilmember and Committee Chair Mike Knapp) 

On P. 4 of the memo, a new provision deals with the reconstruction of Rockville Pike. Orlin pointed out that their initial preference was to redevelop Rockville Pike in Phase Two, but conversations with county agencies indicated that this was unlikely. So the recommendation is to encourage accellerated development of Rockville Pike if possible, but not to require it to be done in Phase Two.

Committee Chair Mike Knapp asked about coordination of staging elements. What is in the Plan on that? Marlene Michaelson, council staffer, pointed out that on Pages 70 – 71 of the Plan, the monitoring process includes the staging of the Plan, and the Advisory Group recommendation also includes that area. Knapp asked that the information be provided to the Council early enough to be included in the CIP and other budgeting tools. Councilmember Roger Berliner asked to strengthen this provision on an on-going basis. Michaelson said she had no problem specifying that this report come to the Council. Orlin pointed out that this report needs to be coordinated with the North Bethesda Traffic Management District, which has the responsibility to monitor mode share and similar items.

Dan Hardy, chief transportation planner for the Planning Board, said they have had discussions of what needs to be done. We want to be sure that we are building on the work of other agencies, such as mode share. Michaelson: in Phases One and Two you can’t move ahead unless you’ve met mode share requirements, so only need this final type of reporting in Phase Three. Gary Stith, for the County Executive, asked to be sure that the County Executive is involved in the monitoring and the Advisory Committee.

Berliner said that the Advisory Committee in the Plan would only include people who are supportive of the Plan, and said that the Committee shouldn’t be limited to those who supported it, but should include those who opposed it as well. This, he said, had been raised by some of those who opposed the Plan, and the County has, in the past, included opponents of Plans on such committees.

Council President Nancy Floreen asked about the timing of these elements. Michaelson said they expected to begin in June or July. Floreen: expectation is that within a year we’ll have some financing mechanism. Orlin: so things will have to go to Council even before then. Floreen: that makes it a two-year effort, because we need a funding base. Orlin: some of these things are already funded. Hardy: many of the pre-Phase One things are already in the CIP. Floreen: we’ll have funding in place when? Orlin: summer 2011. Michaelson: they’re already working on it now; they’re not waiting. Floreen: what troubles me is that if we need a financing plan that will require some kind of taxing or revenue generation. If you do that, which tests will you apply to allow things to go forward? If some people are paying under this financing plan, are you still going to limit them to who can go forward? Michaelson: it will be anyone who’s ready to move ahead, can. but the last person who moves forward will be in the later stages of the Plan. Capacity will be used up.

Floreen: how will you define capacity? Hardy: mode share and limited parking. Key streets in the network are in the staging plan, so it isn’t just mode share, it’s physical capacity.

Berliner: fundamental difference in staff proposals for staging. Planning board had recommended that identified particular streets in stages. Council staff said don’t do that because don’t know where development will happen. Orlin: the core section, because of the “place-making” element, is the exception. Berliner: some people said we need to know where and when each of these key infrastructure elements will be implemented. You’ve said no, let’s just have performance metrics. That circumvents uncertainty. Michaelson: in the past, the Council didn’t actually fund what was in a Plan. could be holding up elements you want to proceed. And, in reality, we have deleted very few specific references to roads, because many of them were associated with placemaking, not transportation capacity. Stith: we need the flexibility to adjust for demand. That’s why we’re going to monitor. We want to put the roads in where they’re needed. By creating the financing mechanism, we’ll have the money in hand, which will make it much more likely that the Council will approve them. Berliner: that’s why I want to see the financing plan first. Some assurance in the staging plan itself. Hardy: maybe strengthen the amount of “looking forward” at the end of Phase One.

Knapp: I want to strengthen the actual getting of information from monitors to Council at the time we need it. That’s the bigger challenge. No good way to require that specifically, but if we can put the process in place, it increases the likelihood that we’ll get what we need. Berliner: this mechanism needs to work in a way that gives both Executive and Council the information they need to make this work. Otherwise we’ll “hear from people” if there’s a problem.

Berliner: you’ve proposed taking out parking and circulator. I think those should be in. Building from a base. A predicate. Orlin: don’t fall in love with a particular restrictive mechanism. Look to performance. Build in flexibility so you don’t hamstring the whole plan. Those two are both in the Plan; the flexibility is only in which phase. Michaelson: mode share goals are the enforcement mechanism. Berliner: we’re going to need every tool in the box. We worked on the CR Zone to give the White Flint community every tool possible to achieve those goals. Michaelson: do you want to lock in to one specific thing or just say that this is the goal. Orlin: you could use congestion pricing in parking as a mechanism, and that’s not in the Plan. Berliner: so don’t identify all of them, but identify those you believe will be require. Michaelson: we want to get to the goals any way.

Councilmember Marc Elrich: there aren’t any new things. We aren’t going to do teleportation. We have to do real world things. We’re really good a mythical solutions because we’ve done it a very long time. Then we say “I wonder why this didn’t work?” I don’t want to do parking pricing: we require building expensive garages then incentivize people not to park, even though we’re depending on the parking revenues. We need to work with what we know. There are a finite number of ways to solve a problem; I don’t believe the number of solutions is infinite. That’s just parking. These streets have to get done; they’re part of the grid to get relief off the Pike. If we’re not certain what we’re going to get done, and we just give out permits, that’s not going to work either. Maybe you don’t need the entirety of the grid on Day One, but you should be able to analyze what the next links that are necessary to make the project work. We don’t want temporary solutions. I’d be looking for a mechanism that raises the money for these requirements and doesn’t require those projects to compete with the rest of the County for money. We can’t raise the money here and use the money everywhere, because then these things won’t get funded here. We have to do this the best way. If Planning Board is saying you need to have this road for finality, then put it in. I’d like more certainty rather than less.

Marc Elrich

(Councilmember Marc Elrich) 

Gary Stith: a good number of those streets are already funded. They won’t be part of the financing mechanism. Elrich: I’m not worried about those pieces; I’m worried about the whole grid. If you can’t get out to the Pike, it won’t work. We’ll create a bunch of bottlenecks and not fix the Pike. I’d like to know that if the streets are needed, we’re going to put it in. Orlin: State Highway Administration is going to do Rockville Pike. They haven’t done the studies yet. Nebel St. is already in the pipe, so you have a workaround already. Only thing is between Edson and Nicholson. That may have to wait until the dedications are there. No one is disagreeing with the need to move forward in a positive way, but the more you put in the Plan specifying this comes first, the less flexibility you have. Only put in the things you feel you must have regardless. Michaelson: the monitoring mechanism will report to you about the critical needs if they are different than what we have said now. Not locking you into a particular choice.

Elrich: has SHA been part of this conversation? Hardy: yes, in the room.

Floreen: Executive Boulevard east of the Pike is critical. Is this a staging or a financing issue? Orlin: not a staging trigger. They’ll need that road, but if it is needed first, then it will go first.

Floreen: neighborhood protection language in the Plan itself [note: this was part of the Friends of White Flint recommendations last October]. I would like that point emphasized. Orlin: we will put that in.

Della Stallsworth, speaking for the White Flint Community Coalition, asked for some language on neighborhood protection. “We didn’t know what to put in, but we just wanted something in there.” Floreen: Well, I’m not sure we want that specific language, but maybe something general, not too restrictive. Orlin: we’ll put something in.

Berliner: We want to be sure that failing Local Area Traffic Review (LATR) is linked back to the Plan. Is that Growth Policy issue or in the Plan itself? We want an assurance tool to be sure that traffic is not a nightmare, but what it triggers is a different set of issues. Knapp: we have the Growth Policy and a Master Plan. They will work in concert. The Plan doesn’t take LATR out. Barbara Sears for the White Flint Partnership: this is a big issue for us. We understood that both PAMR and LATR would be carved out in this Plan. Knapp: otherwise they’d be paying twice. Elrich: I don’t think PAMR works. Knapp: no one does. Elrich: so putting in the measures themselves is critical. How are you going to write that? I don’t want LATR used in a traditional sense for a payment, but as triggering what sections of the infrastructure to which people are contributing are going to go next.

Knapp: we’ll come back at 12:30PM tomorrow and continue this conversation. Stith: somebody has to figure out how to use LATR. If a project is already accepted, then they shouldn’t have to do it twice. Purpose of LATR here should be to be sure we are programming the appropriate transportation improvements. If someone is doing something else, they need to fix it. Orlin: we can do this next month.

Knapp: we will come back at 12:30PM tomorrow.  26 hours to rethink that.

Barnaby Zall

PHED Committee Meeting February 24, 2010

Live-blogging from the February 24, 2010 meeting of the Planning, Housing and Economic Development Committee of the Montgomery County Council. Today’s topic is staging, or the timing of implementation, of the White Flint Sector Plan. Staging is critical to the success of the revitalization of White Flint because it helps to ensure that the infrastructure required to support the developments is available at the time it is needed. Having improvements on-time provides the confidence which residents and property owners need to support the billions of dollars in new investments in White Flint.

This is the third hearing on staging. Last week, the Committee decided several issues, but decided to put off final consideration of a staging plan until after it had held another hearing on financing options. Yesterday, the PHED Committee met jointly with the Management and Fiscal Policy Committee to hear more about financing options, but didn’t make any decisions; yesterday’s hearing was principally to receive the County Executive’s views on financing and cost options, which are required by state law.

What was significant about yesterday’s hearing, a prominent observer pointed out to me, was the distance the Executive (who was represented by County fiscal chief Jennifer Barrett) has moved in considering the financing of the White Flint Plan. When first asked, the Executive was very negative, saying, in effect, “this can’t be done.” Yesterday the mood was entirely different: “here’s how we could do it, step-by-step.” And the Committee’s responded in kind, with Council President Nancy Floreen, for example, suggesting that the County work with particular bond counsel (who rule the public financing world) who had positive evaluations.

So today, the Committee should be in a better position to finalize its work on the Plan.

Barnaby Zall

What Live-Blogging Looks Like

Dan Hoffman, from the Randolph Hills Civic Association, was our volunteer photographer this morning, and he insisted on taking a picture to show what live-blogging the Montgomery County Council meetings actually looks like. Not very glamorous.


And, as an aside, because Council President Nancy Floreen asked me the other day, my explanation of how live-blogging differs from “mainstream” news coverage: It’s like the difference between a painting and a photograph. The blog provides context and more personal content — an image or impression, not a transcript. I don’t take down every word (although I get a lot of them) or even every thought. I capture what I think are the words and thoughts which make up the essence of what’s being said.

And, of course, it’s entirely dependent on a good wireless signal, an electrical outlet (for those long meetings) and, speaking as a hearing-disabled person, officials who remember to speak into the microphones.

 Barnaby Zall