Live blogging from the February 16, 2010 meeting of the Planning, Housing and Economic Development Committee of the Montgomery County Council. The topic for today is the “staging” portion of the White Flint Sector Plan. Staging is the timing of various implementation elements of the Plan. The Planning Board prepared its own staging proposal, and the Committee staff has suggested some changes in the staging plan.
Dan Hardy, head of the Vision Division of the Planning Board and the chief transportation planner, began the hearing with a presentation on the Board’s recommendations. Since the Board finished its proposal last year, the Council and the PHED Committee have made various changes in applicable laws and policies, so Hardy’s presentation was intended, in part, to conform the Board’s proposals to those changes.
The Board proposed a three-part staging plan, including Rockville Pike renovations in the third phase. Phase One focusses on the “core” of the Sector: Market Street, realign Executive and Old Georgetown Rds. In Phase Two, focus on the eastern side of the Sector. In Phase Three, reconstruct the Pike because would have the roads in place to route traffic around the Pike during construction. We were thinking about creating a “sense of place” and responsibility to residents during construction.
Planning Board Chair Royce Hanson then pointed out that the Board’s proposal looked at what needed to be in place for each phase of construction to occur. We understood what everyone wanted done first, but we needed to have the workaround before that could be done. Concern in that was whether you would get a good bit of the right-of-way dedicated, which you would if you stage it our way. Otherwise you have to buy it and that adds a good bit of cost to the project.
Marlene Michaelson, PHED Committee staffer, then described the staff’s recommendations, as set out in the staff memo, available here: http://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/content/council/pdf/agenda/cm/2010/100208/20100208_PHED2.pdf
Nancy Floreen, Council President. That’s how we’ve done it in the past, and honestly, nothing gets done. The roads don’t get built. If you say subject it to some sort of intersection test, most projects can avoid the obligation to build a road or pony up the cash to build what we really want. Isn’t this the time to prioritize and decide what you want?
Michaelson: we’ve tried to do that. Where it serves a transportation purpose that can be served by another road. Glenn Orlin, Committee staffer: then we wouldn’t get plan. We don’t know what order things will occur in White Flint. You build a road if that’s where the growth is. If there’s an intractable problem in one area, that stops the whole thing. That’s why we want to condition this on performance. Michaelson: by focussing on mode share as opposed to projects, we are pushing developers to be as aggressive as they can be to promote alternatives to drive, so we don’t need the roads. Whatever creative ways that keeps the traffic flowing.
Floreen: but that doesn’t get you what you need to get a community. Orlin: there are exceptions which are needed for placemaking aspects. In terms of general circulation to get around White Flint, we can’t project how fast development will happen. So we don’t have specific projects. The goal isn’t to build a project, but not to have too much congestion.
Floreen: Seattle has specific projects. You go and build what you need. Michaelson: it’ll be easier if you look at where we need streets. Hanson: there’s relatively little debate about where that is. Michaelson: staging lists caps for each phase. What happens if those targets aren’t met for housing if the rest is ready? We thought having a specific limit was too limiting. You might have information showing that some projects are about to go into construction which would put everything into balance. gives us flexibility to reflect the reality of what’s on the ground. Councilmember Marc Elrich: how would that work? Michaelson: they’ll have to look at what’s pending. Looking forward, they’ll be monitoring and taking into account all the information they have.
Chairman Mike Knapp: so the Planning Board would have a hard stop at the end of each phase if not everything was done. That’s not how it’s done in the real world. But what’s the process you’ll use to make sure the staging actually works? How do we make sure these things are actually happening daily in a meaningful way? Michaelson: Pp 70-71 of the Plan, the Board is recommending a monitoring facility. They built that into the Plan on a biennial basis.
Councilmember Roger Berliner: should we have an automatic response if the Plan is failing to meet its numbers by a significant percentage? If the Plan deviates from the schedule by X percentage? Michaelson: we were comfortable that the Planning Board would do something if the Plan were way off the mark, but we could put in an automatic. Hanson: at any one point, probably out of balance. There are areas where more residential is recommended than commercial and vice versa. So some of those areas, because of market conditions, might produce more commercial than we thought, but not a whole lot of residential. Silver Spring is a good example; in some areas where we thought we’d get commercial, we’re getting condos and residential. The market changed. Monitoring solves the problem of the variation in the market; just have to deal with that and bring it back to the Council if there’s a need for an amendment. Performance of mode share targets will be heavily affected if the residential doesn’t come in the way we planned.
Berliner: won’t the CR zone help flexibility? Michaelson: there’s an unknown because of how the CR Zone was applied in this Plan. Monitoring will tell whether we are leaning toward an outcome that wasn’t planned.
Diane Schwartz-Jones from the County Executive: we were going to recommend the same thing as the staff on monitoring, so we can tell what’s happening.
Elrich: but just saying that commercial cools doesn’t mean that residential will heat up. Maybe nothing happens. Michaelson: yes, and the Board will have to make that assessment. Elrich: lack of specificity of where you want your residential and commercial to be. Michaelson: did have a few.
Michaelson: one of the guiding principles in staging is fiscal responsibility. Knapp: we’re getting infrastructure recommendations from Planning Board, developers, and others, and at our next meeting [Feb. 23] we’re going to put it all together with financing plan.
Orlin: Staff memo, pages 2-4 deals with staging plan beginning on P. 74 of the Plan draft. School test will continue to apply regardless of the Plan. Anything done here will have to meet that test.
Orlin: use transportation tests as adapted by recent Committee decisions. Hanson: this is a problem. We require a financing mechanism, which will require taxes. To do that AND add LATR is inequitable and may require something be done twice. To both require payment for the improvements, but also add the LATR tests, which require that the intersection be redone a few years later is wasteful. that’s the function of doing this through time, through a road system which can be put together. Much better to create a street than just a place.
Knapp: why not do that? Orlin: because we don’t know exactly where development will go. The market will drive that. The monitoring will tell us what’s needed. Edgar Gonzalez, from Montgomery County Dept of Transportation: we think LATR is very important. We have people coming through the planning area, and we shouldn’t be penalizing them. if you don’t do something, the ques will extend outside the planning area, and people will go around the planning area on neighborhood streets.
Elrich: we’ve been assured over and over that everything will work when it’s built. So someone shouldn’t have to build something temporary that will have to be redone.
Orlin: some things are already underway. “Missing link” for Montrose Parkway — Chapman Ave. — is already planned and is in design stage. Hardy: monitoring will help with that. Concern is that there needs to be a lot of monitoring. Hanson: there’s a cost involved in saying nothing. Elrich: my interest in LATR is as a verification process. Orlin: that’s an example of why you don’t want specific projects as triggers. Chapman construction will begin soon, and we’ll have a continuous route north from White Flint Mall within a year or so. We don’t have that on the west side right now, but we will have that.
Berliner: LATR not about funding intersections, but to determine if traffic moving. It is to trigger CIP amendments to be sure that government does its share. Three tranches of dollars: one, developers taking on as their part. Two, development districts. Not talking about those two, but the third, which is the county’s obligation. So if LATR signals that county is not meeting its obligations, it’s a signal.
Orlin: test allows you to program money in a pro-active way, like the school problem of last year. You saw a problem and put money toward fixing it. Hanson: schools problem was a formula. Mechanical calculation. LATR, however, there’s a traffic study. $40-50,000 traffic study, and to do the improvements is a big unknown, so there’s a big difference between the schools test and LATR. Because the Plan is premised on having a funding mechanism in place, having a monitoring process in place to see if there are problems. But having LATR generates problems because the test requires certain things whether or not there’s something else going on. Berliner: but it’s also a performance measure. So the goal’s something I believe it. How close are we to ensuring our community does not have a traffic nightmare? Hanson: irony here. If it doesn’t work, it may improve the modal split. Elrich: no, because it won’t have access to transit.
Floreen: schools says here’s a child, we need to find a seat for that child. LATR, until it’s changed, is a very academic exercise. So you buy in to some sort of tax, and all these tools that will allow you to develop this whole vision. Otherwise you get focussed on some individual problem and you won’t get the community access for this. Otherwise you drive decisions based on a transportation balance mode I don’t think we want to have in the future. doesn’t reflect reality. How else do you get the public sector and the private sector in a position to do these things? Orlin: Shady Grove is that way. We haven’t built a single road under that Plan.
Elrich: financing piece is critical. You can’t just say Pike serves White Flint; it serves the whole north of the county. Can we model each road? Orlin: Planning Board did that. Hardy: we have that already. What we need is to establish the standards for each. In a sense, that’s what the whole Planning Board process is.
Natalie Goldberg, White Flint Park/Garrett Park Estates: the question is whether this Plan will work within the Growth Policy. Your growth policy should define your transportation standards and this plan should work within those standards. if it doesn’t work, the onus should be on someone to make it work, or it should stop until it does. This plan should meet the standards, not exempted from one standard or another.
Don Briggs, Federal Realty Investment Trust: big difference here is that we, the development community, is willing to pay for future improvements, for the common good. In exchange, we are asking for certainty that things will work as we say. Development is lumpy. At any single time this Plan will be out of balance. We have proposed a mechanism tha tover the long haul will smooth out the lumps. Now it says do it now or not at all, and you tell property owners that they have to pay for everyone else. You want us to work in a collective fashion, and we are asking in return that you give us something certain. I’m ok with that, but don’t use this as a limitation after we’ve already been doing our part for some time. this is about economic development in this County and we are asking you to do your part.
Orlin: working through memo points on P. 3. Community “protections:” all we’ve heard so far is from the people who want the protections, but once you start into this process, you’ll have to have votes. History shows that more such plans fail than pass. they’re very divisive. Diane Schwartz-Jones: terrible to see neighbors pitted against neighbors. Orlin: most of these plans don’t go through because of divisiveness. Floreen: not right to minimize neighborhood issues that way. Important to be clear about the public process about resolving these issues. That will help this conversation. It’s a challenge for us, but far more for those communities. Hardy: one concern we heard is that we didn’t consider future traffic growth. so we did that. We should change the process to do that. Orlin: I agree with that. Floreen: we want some language that reflects that intention.
Orlin: Phase 2 (bottom of p. 3 of the memo). Mode share goals changed, so we changed the recommendation for non-auto mode share (number of people not using cars to get around White Flint) to 35%. Otherwise you won’t get to the higher goals you want. We have to start working our way up to 50%. And at end of Phase 3, you need to be at 45%, because by then some 80% of development will have been completed.
Francine Waters: Lerner Enterprises, and former director Bethesda Transportation District. Need the infrastructure because added transportation incentives were part of moving our mode share up.
Orlin: Phase 3 comments, top of P. 4 of the memo. Move the completion of the core roads to Phase 2. Placemaking standpoint. Michaelson: this would also help with getting dedications for the Pike. Hanson: we would have loved to move it forward, but we didn’t think that was realistic because of financing and other things. What would be realistic is to have the reconstruction be in the CIP [county capital improvement plan]. Schwartz-Jones: this is expensive. We don’t see any flaws to implementing it. But the further forward we move it, the more problem we’ll have. The more we get dedication and the streetscape, the better off we’ll be. As opposed to placemaking.