The highlight of last night’s Montgomery County Council public hearing on the White Flint Sector Plan came early: Diane Schwartz-Jones, representing the County Executive, was the first speaker, and she began by waving one of the White Flint Sector Plan’s big orange buttons and saying “we support, support, support White Flint.” Of course, then she went on to say that some of the Executive’s “guiding principles” included “being fair to other communities in the County, so that other areas can realize economic support.” She tried to position the Executive as being in the middle of “several plans” to finance needed infrastructure in White Flint. No other witness supported either these “principles,” the Executive’s analysis of the White Flint Plan, or the Executive’s proposal for financing infrastructure.
Other than that, there was little new, and few fireworks, at the hearing. Although there were lots of orange buttons, there was little of the “color wars” that characterized the last set of public hearings (though there was a mention of the green shirts).
Instead, speaker after speaker hit essentially the same themes: White Flint is critical to the County’s future; a development district with a special tax is the right way to pay for needed infrastructure; a TIF or something like it is important to fill the “gap” in the early years of the Plan; a small investment from the County now will pay enormous dividends in increased revenues later; and the County is not “business-friendly” because it already charges much more than neighboring jurisdictions in “exactions” for development.
Dave Freishtat, from the Greater Bethesda-Chevy Chase Chamber of Commerce (and a Friends of White Flint Director), called White Flint the “crown jewel” of the County’s future and asked the Council not to “cheapen” the Plan. Ed Reich, from Georgetown Village Condominiums, told the Council that “infrastructure is not simply nice to have; it is critical to have” and asked to have the infrastructure funded either through tax increment funding or through the CIP process. Chad Salganik of the Randolph Civic Association and the Citizens League of Montgomery County said that the County Executive’s proposal to raise taxes and divert White Flint revenues to other “auto-centric” projects turned the White Flint Plan “from extraordinary to ordinary.” Paul Meyer, from the Wisconsin Condominium, recalled driving the Beltway in Virginia, seeing the construction cranes there, and calculating the huge tax revenues those jurisdictions would reap from their new developments.
John King, from the White Flint Community Coalition, objected to funding the infrastructure through the “usual CIP process” where “any missing piece could stall the whole Plan.” Kurt Meeske, head of Combined Properties, said that financing plans are too often “like Frankenstein. A piece here and a bit there, and you hope it functions.” Cavan Wilk, of the Action Committee for Transit, pointed out that it was unusual for “transit advocates, landowners and residents to ask for the same things.” Chris Ruhlen, a resident of Garrett Park Estates/White Flint Park, said he just “wants to see the development actually materialize.” Della Stollsworth, head of the Luxmanor Civic Association, said that she was “not comfortable with having the County part funded through the CIP; we’ve heard ‘the check’s in the mail’ once too often.”
Only three of the 33 witnesses, including Jones, spoke in favor of increasing the taxes beyond those in the original Plan, and against a Tax Increment Financing concept to fill the “gap” in early infrastructure funding. Natalie Goldberg, from Garrett Park Estates/White Flint Park asked that everything in the new White Flint be paid for by developers except the new Rockville Pike.
The Council will now hold three hearings on financing options. The Planning, Housing and Economic Development (PHED) and Management and Fiscal Policy (MFP) Committees will hold joint hearings on Thursday, Oct. 28 at 2PM, Tuesday, Nov. 9 at 9:30AM, and Nov. 16, at 9:30AM. These three meetings are scheduled for the seventh floor hearing room at the Council Office Building in Rockville. Councilmembers and staff waded into the audience during and after the testimony, tracking down witnesses who had offered specific financial analyses and proposals, to get more information.