Archives July 2010

Berliner: “NO” to taxes on current WF residents

Taxing Current Residents of White Flint is Not the Answer

Although I still do not know what County Executive’s proposed financing plan will look like when it comes over to the Council for our review, one thing is certain:

I cannot and will not support a plan that taxes the current residents of White Flint.

A robust financing plan is necessary if we are to ensure that the needed infrastructure in White Flint is built in a timely, reliable manner. However, this plan must not come at the expense of the approximately 2,000 current residents — people who live in places like The Forum ((note:  the surrounding older residential neighborhoods like Luxmanor and Garrett Park Estates outside the proposed development district are totally unaffected by the County Executive’s proposal).

Taxing the current residents was never part of the public conversation surrounding the White Flint Sector Plan and doing so would, in my view, break faith with our residents.

Roger Berliner
Councilmember, District 1

County Executive’s financing plan includes raising property taxes for existing condo owners in White Flint

Earlier this week at a public meeting regarding how to finance the public infrastructure improvements needed to fulfill the vision of the New White Flint Community, a financing plan was presented by some County officials that would tax EXISTING CONDOMINIUM OWNERS in the White Flint Sector Area.We, the property owners and members of the White Flint Partnership, want to make clear that any such plan to tax existing condominium owners is not acceptable to us, individually or collectively.We, the White Flint Partnership, have consistently stated our willingness to assume most of these public infrastructure costs directly and/or through a tax as long as the County provides a sense of certainty that the improvements will happen on a timely basis and that a portion of the tax revenues raised from commercial property owners here in White Flint will remain in White Flint to cover these costs. A tax on existing condominium owners is not necessary or advisable in our opinion.  We look forward to working with the County and our friends and neighbors in White Flint to develop a financing plan that is sufficient, effective and equitable to us all. 

If you would like to be kept up to date on this issue, please visit www.whiteflintpartnreship.com and register to recieve updates, or continue to read the FLOG. 

Best regards,

The White Flint Partnership

[posted by Evan Goldman]

White Flint Financing Raises Questions

I have just returned from a finance meeting that involves the White Flint Sector Plan directly and the entire County indirectly today, but directly in the future.  These meetings are due to the approved White Flint Sector Plan and the need to come up with a financing mechanism to pay for the transportation an infrastructure improvements needed to move this sector plan forward and accomplish the goals that were laid out over the past 3 1/2  years.  

The three meetings I have attended so far, have been hosted by our County Executives office and involve the highest levels of finance, transportation, law, bonding issues, and administration on the County side and major property owners, developers, their attorneys, MNCPPC representatives that were directly involved in the sector plan, and citizens among others.

I am reporting on this because I was on the White Flint Sector Plan Citizens Advisory Group, appointed to the White Flint Sector Plan Steering Committee and I’m on the Board of Directors of this group (Friends of White Flint).  To say I have been involved in the White Flint Sector Plan process is an understatement, with participation in well over 100 meetings in the past 3 1/2 years.

What I heard today is very disturbing………………If you will remember, a key component for financing the transportation and infrastructure improvements comes from a special tax on the commercial and retail property owners, which they have agreed to.  These owners consistently stated that their financial models “DID NOT INCLUDE A SPECIAL TAX ON THE RESIDENTIAL PART OF ANY EXISTING OR FUTURE DEVELOPMENT.”  It seems that everyone during the past three plus years kept that in their equation even when there was push back from the County Executives office which was not on board because they wanted to control the way the money was raised and leave all options open.

Today, the Executives office presented their DRAFT financing plan and guess what…??? They propose that everybody in the White Flint Sector Plan gets taxed at the same rate because it’s easier, less complicated legally, and that’s what THEY want to do.  

When challenged about this, and the implied agreement we the citizens understood when the Sector Plan was unanimously approved, the answer was WE NEVER AGREED NOT TO TAX THE CURRENT OR FUTURE RESIDENTS OF WHITE FLINT.

To say I was shocked is an understatement.  When others in the room concurred with me as to their understanding of the tax, and who it was to be applied to, it wasn’t received very warmly.

The developers agreed early on not to figure the residential components in any special tax and they some how managed to make their proformas work.  Why can’t the County?  We all understand this is an expensive proposition and it will not happen overnight.

 I really feel betrayed that the Executives office is taking the easy way out by taxing everyone when the developers agreed not to include the residents in their projections.  I believe we have a very short fuse burning to get this right, and if we don’t, we will not get the White Flint we worked so hard on.

 Contact the White Flint Partnership (www.whiteflintpartnership.com), your citizens association or HOA leadership, the County Executives Office and ask them how can we make this work as it was proposed in the Sector Plan.

Do it now.

Ken Hurdle

Not Sew-Sew

Looking for some quick local culture, or maybe a place for a reception or even a kids’ educational field trip?

Try the Dennis and Phillip Ratner Museum on Old Georgetown Rd at Lone Oak (east). [Disclosure: the museum is a client of my law firm, which does tax-exempt organization law.] The first floor, as you walk in, has the rotating exhibits and this month’s is a doozy. “Threads of Change” is textile art, with the emphasis on art, rather than the medium. If you think textile art is just samplers or quilts, you need to see how artists can work with and in textiles as a unique medium. Six artists offer stunning stories on fabric, including commentaries such as “I Can See Russia From My House.” World-class works. It’s quick, local and free.

But hurry. The exhibit ends on July 27, and the Ratner is closed during the month of August. The September exhibit, “Intersect: Glass meets Art,” begins September 7.

 The regular exhibits, mostly on the second floor, include sculptures by Phil Ratner, whose works grace the Statue of Liberty Park, United Nations and elsewhere.  

Sculpture of Alexander Gustave at the Statue of Liberty

Ratner is a local, but his works primarily interpret the Old Testament. 

Phil Ratner at work

 The separate galleries in the back building offer sculptures of children’s story and popular entertainment characters (for “adults,” there’s W.C. Fields, Groucho, and others the kids won’t recognize), as well as work from special artists, including masks painted by wounded warriors from Navy Med and other hospitals.

The museum is free, and only open limited hours Sunday-Thursday.

Barnaby Zall

Not a Typo Agaiin!

Have you driven by the old Houston’s restaurant site on Rockville Pike, across from Office Depot, and seen the big sign saying “Open Agaiin?” And wondered if it was a typo, and Houston’s had risen from the dead?

It hasn’t. But something else has. And it’s not a typo. “Agaiin” (pronounced “ah-gwen”) is Gaelic for “come with us” and this is the brand-new Twinbrook/White Flint outpost of the popular D.C. restaurant.

The Weiss Group kept most of the Houston’s decor, including the gas-burning wall sconces and the brick arches. But the menu is now . . . eclectic, “British-inspired” with a French-trained chef. They’re already on their second menu, as the kinks are being worked out. They are trying to balance patrons’ expectations from the old Houston’s steak-heavy fare with their locavore ideas. Today’s soup, a local corn chowder, was outstanding, as was the chocolate pecan tart (free because it fell below the pastry chef’s standards for visual appeal). Not as purely French as Mosaic Cafe up the street, but still pretty good for a new place.

Barnaby Zall

FoWF July 13 Board Meeting Speakers

The Friends of White Flint Board of Directors meetings are rarely sedate affairs. They are open to the public and everybody talks, whether Director or not.

Even so, next Tuesday’s FoWF Board meeting promises some juicy discussions, including three big ones:

Bicycles in the Suburbs: Everyone who runs a community organization or list-serve in Montgomery County knows that one of the hottest topics is usually bicycles and bicylists. (Friends of White Flint started as a residents’ and bicyclists’ discussion forum.) Casey Anderson from the Citizens League of Montgomery County, who is also active in MoBikes (Montgomery Bicycle Advocates), will be giving a presentation on the future of bicycling in MoCo.  (1) where do bikes fit into the suburban-but-urbanizing transportation network, (2) why don’t more people ride bikes for utilitarian purposes in the suburbs, and (3) what are the implications for public policy of the answers to the first two questions?. At the 2010 White Flint Town Hall in June, Casey, other bicycle enthusiasts and government planning officials held a three-hour planning session with Ian Lockwood of Glatting Jackson.

Neighborhood

How Should FoWF Handle Development Proposals? As the White Flint Sector Plan begins (we hope), developers will want community comment on their proposals. Greg Trimmer and Rod Lawrence, from JBG Companies, one of the most active developers of properties around Metro Stations, will lead a discussion of how Friends of White Flint should review and evaluate those proposals. JBG has extensive experience with the two organizations which FoWF uses as models: Rosslyn Renaissance and Clarendon Alliance in Arlington County; both of those organizations have a regular process in which residents, businesses, and other developers review and critique development proposals. At this meeting, Federal Realty will disclose its preliminary plans for Mid-Pike Plaza (shown below), which anchors the northwestern section of the White Flint Sector, and ProMark will show its preliminary plans for the Fitzgerald and Nicholson Lane properties.

Mid-Pike Plaza today

White Flint Financing Plans: The Montgomery County Council unanimously approved the White Flint Sector Plan in March, but we still don’t have a proposal from the County Executive for financing the needed infrastructure. The delay is supposedly caused by continuing reviews in the office of the County Executive, which proposed several alternative options last year. Last night, Council President Nancy Floreen revealed that she has directed County staff to finalize those options before the end of July, so that the Council can finally move forward again. David Freishtat, a Friends of White Flint Board member representing the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Chamber of Commerce, will moderate a discussion on the financing stalemate.

Executive and Council discuss financing 

The FoWF meeting will be held on Tuesday, July 13, at 7PM, at the office of Federal Realty, 1626 E. Jefferson St., in Rockville. FoWF Board meetings generally last about two hours.

Please join us.

Barnaby Zall

Leventhal, Floreen Dazzle White Flint Crowd

George Leventhal, an At-Large member of the Montgomery County Council, held one of his periodic Town Hall meetings last night at the (non-air conditioned) one-room Rec Center at Tilden Woods Neighborhood Park on Tilden Lane. Council President Nancy Floreen, who lives nearby, dropped by to join in. The meeting was moderated by Dan Hoffman, Chairman of the new Citizens League of Montgomery County and Vice-President of Randolph Hills Civic Association.

 (Dan Hoffman (l), Councilmember George Leventhal (c), and Council President Nancy Floreen)

(Dan Hoffman (l), Councilmember George Leventhal (c), and Council President Nancy Floreen, at White Flint meeting)

Given the history of planning in Montgomery County, some might have expected raving hordes to appear to denounce the public officials for some aspect of the White Flint Sector Plan; after all, some continuing foes of the Plan claim that there is still a great deal of opposition to the Plan. Didn’t happen, though. Seems that the communities in White Flint are more anticipating the Plan than opposing it. Just as in previous Councilmembers’ meetings in White Flint, despite prodding from the speakers, the audience simply didn’t complain; asked for the biggest challenges in implementing the White Flint Sector Plan, the audience reacted with . . . “being sure everyone is talking together,” “including Randolph Hills,” and “the County keeping its commitments.” Indeed, the White Flint Sector Plan was touted as a path to the future, and a way to help the County out of its economic stagnation.

One important bit of news: Council President Floreen revealed that she had directed the Council staff to prepare materials  “by the end of the month” to resolve the long-delayed question of financing the White Flint infrastructure. This had been discussed privately all week, but this was the first public announcement that Floreen, who has a hard-won reputation as being able to prod the sluggish MoCo bureaucracy into action, was turning her attention back to moving the White Flint Plan, now that the big budget battles are done.

Dave Freishtat, a Friends of White Flint Board member representing the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Chamber of Commerce, is already scheduled to moderate a discussion on the financing stalemate at next Tuesday night’s Friends of White Flint Board meeting. Details on the FoWF Board meeting. Floreen’s announcement should enliven the debate.

The big discussion topics for the night were the budget crunch and the County’s communications on the recent water restrictions. Leventhal described the recent budget discussions as “shock therapy,” and pointed out that the Council had adopted a six-year plan for the County which assumed flat or no revenue growth for at least two years. “We just don’t have the money,” he said. He praised Floreen for her leadership in driving through the new “realistic” budget plan, and pointed out that it got no coverage in the media because, even though it was important, “it’s boring. No crime, no dead bodies.” There was some discussion of the role of the powerful public employee unions in Montgomery County politics and budgeting, but Leventhal pointed out again that “there’s no money. I’m a big supporter of collective bargaining, but there’s just no money.”

Barnaby Zall

Conflicts on Tuesday night?

Some have asked if there is a conflict between the Friends of White Flint Board meeting scheduled for next Tuesday night, 7/13, at 7PM at Federal Realty, and the Fitzgerald/Combined/Eisenger presentation in Garrett Park at the same time. The conflict was anticipated and the development sketch presentation will also be available at the FoWF Board meeting, as part of the discussion of establishing a process for FoWF to weigh in on development proposals.

[Update: Federal Realty will also be showing its proposal sketches for Mid-Pike Plaza at the FoWF Board meeting, in advance of their official meeting the next evening. So if you want to see the two proposals in one night, instead of two, come to the FoWF meeting.]

Barnaby Zall

Leventhal White Flint Meeting

Montgomery County Councilmember George Leventhal, from Takoma Park, helped develop the proposed new mobility portions of the White Flint Sector Plan. He is an important buffer between the County’s Department of Transportation, which is stuck in the automobile age, and those who look to a more transit-oriented, pedestrian-friendly future.

 Councilmembers George Leventhal (L) and Phil Andrews

(Councilmembers George Leventhal (L) and Phil Andrews)

Leventhal has been holding public meetings throughout the County, and his next meeting will be this week at Tilden Woods Neighborhood Park on Tilden Lane in White Flint. The meeting will be from 7:00PM to 8:30PM, at 6704 Tilden Lane. FoWF activist Dan Hoffman, from Randolph Hills Civic Association and the new Montgomery County Citizens League, will moderate the discussion.

Barnaby Zall