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: http://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/content/council/pdf/agenda/cm/2010/100224/20100224_PHED1.pdf. 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.
(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.
(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.