And So It Begins . . .

And So It Begins . . .

The Montgomery County Council begins its consideration of the White Flint Sector Plan tomorrow morning. The Planning Board proposed its version of the Plan last year, and the Council held two days of public hearings last October. Then the Plan was sent to the Planning, Housing and Economic Development Committee and the Management and Fiscal Policy Committees, which are still not done with their consideration of the Plan. The two Committees continue their meetings on the Plan tomorrow morning after the initial Council look.

The Council staff has prepared a 125-page package of memoranda and appendices for the Council on the Plan, detailing various Committee actions and changes from the Planning Board proposal. The first 82 pages cover transportation issues, with a ten-page Council staff memo covering an overview of the issues; the remainder deals with “land use” and similar issues, with a staff cover memo beginning on page 83 and running for 26 more pages. The memo package can be found here: http://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/content/council/pdf/agenda/col/2010/100223/20100223_4.pdf.

The transportation cover memo covers a general statement of planning principles (essence: even if you make choices here, a later Council or group of citizens can change them) and ten issues:

A) The pesky “balance” issues long discussed, meaning the old tests of how fast cars move through intersections. The cover memo points out that, to achieve the ambitious reduction in automobile use, the Council will have to get serious about “traffic demand management” and other measures to entice people out of their cars. Not mentioned in the memo is the Executive’s recent plan to reduce funding for the Transportation Management Districts which implement the County’s “traffic demand management” plans.

B) The Median Transitway option. Friends of White Flint and many other observers support the Glatting-Jackson proposal for a transitway located in the median of a renovated Rockville Pike. The memo recognizes that consensus, but only adopts thePlanning Board’s recommendation for a right-of-way, rather than moving all the way toward adopting the Transitway. The reason is that the County’s Bus Rapid Transit study is still underway.

C) Revising the intersection of Old Georgetown Rd and Executive Boulevard. The Committee accepted the Planning Board’s recommendations for the revision of this complex intersection, because the revisions hold the best opportunity to remake the “core” areas into a pedestrian-friendly location.

D) Changing the boundaries of the White Flint Metro Station Policy Area to be the same as the White Flint Sector in the Plan. This was a controversial decision, and the PHED Committee split 2-1, with Councilmember Mark Elrich voting against. Elrich preferred an earlier version of the expansion. As with the “balance” discussion above, the difference is whether the older automobile-oriented tests would govern or the new, transit-oriented White Flint Plan.

E) The MARC commuter rail station. The Planning Board recommended a southern site, on Nicholson Court, for a new commuter rail station. The PHED Committee originally supported the northern “Montouri” site, but has since backed off that position. Planning Board Chair Royce Hanson predicted that the northern site would mean no station would be built. And the Randolph Civic Association and the Town of Garrett Park have just come to an agreement supporting the Nicholson Court site; this had been a major bone of contention between the two neighboring communities. Now the Committee does not recommend the northern site, but hasn’t made a recommendation on the Nicholson Court site.

F) The designation of four streets as Private Public streets. Private streets can be closed for special events and may not have to meet regular road code requirements.  The new streets, part of the expanded road networks, would be public, meeting all regular road code requirements, unless eight specific conditions were met to make them private.

G) Special road standards for each street segment, including special treatment for a newly-built portion of Woodglen Dr. This is a new requirement for Sector Plans.

H) Approval of the bikeways portion of the Plan.

I) Changes in the White Flint Mall section of the Plan, including for Nebel Street extended.

J) Some miscellaneous transportation requests from the Montgomery County Dept. of Transportation. The Committee rejected a proposal to retain the surface parking lot south of the new Montrose Parkway, noting that, as White Flint becomes more urban, surface parking lots should go away.

The land use memorandum (beginning on P. 83 of the package) also touches on a variety of Committee changes in the Planning Board draft Plan. On schools, the Committee recommended a site at the southern edge of the White Flint Mall parking lot (behind the current medical buildings on Rockville Pike), and deleting the recommendations to help Randolph Hills by re-opening a closed elementary school there.

On parks, the Committee accepted the Friends of White Flint proposal that the Civic Green park in the “core” area be larger than one acre, but rejected a proposal by the White Flint Partnership and the White Flint Coalition that the Civic Green be two acres. Instead the Committee said that the Civic Green should be between one and two acres.

On community facilities, the Committee staff rejected the Friends’ proposal for a multi-generational community center and instead adopted a recommendation by the Executive for a community recreation center without any discussion of generational services. Although the memo had earlier recommended “co-locating” facilities, there was no discussion of that option in this section. On the whole, this was a surprising disappointment, given the Committee’s discussion during its meeting.

On new emergency services, the Committee (and Executive) supported a new proposal to place new fire and emergency services on excess State Highway Administration land on the east side of the Pike, rather than on the west side by Mid-Pike Plaza.

On a new Regional Services Center, the Committee suggested that a new center be co-located with a new library. The size of the proposed library was the subject of considerable discussion, and the Committee is now proposing that a library somewhat bigger than the originally-proposed “express” size be offered in the “core” section of the Plan area.

The Committee staff memo also reviewed a number of land use recommendations in each District of the planning area. Most of these supported the original Planning Board recommendations, but added a few, such as the Friends of White Flint proposal to permit the Forum condominium to use the new CR Zoning to participate in the transit-oriented aspects of the Plan. The staff did delete the recommendation for a “community playhouse or theater” from the Mid-Pike district, but Friends of White Flint had requested only more arts or entertainment emphasis, rather than a stage venue. At Edson Lane, the staff recommended lower heights and densities reflecting a transition to the surrounding communities.

Both the Council session and Committee hearings will take place at the County Council Office Building in Rockville.

Barnaby Zall

Barnaby Zall

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