Archives January 2011

White Flint Rising Pt. 2 – The County’s First Steps

One of the most common questions asked about the new White Flint Sector Plan, particularly by seniors, is “will I live to see any of it?” The answer is “yes.”

But up till now, the only people doing actual work on the new White Flint, as opposed to thinking about it or talking about it, or even planning it, were in the private sector. Some of that private effort has been spectacular: the new JBG project at North Bethesda Market, across from White Flint Mall; the LCOR projects at North Bethesda Center at the Metro station.

North Bethesda Market (from JBG Companies)

 But the big question has always been whether the County would follow through on its promises to put in needed infrastructure to support the new Plan. And now the County Executive has proposed funding for the first projects in White Flint.

As Diane Schwartz-Jones, the Executive’s coordinator for White Flint, promised at the January 10 meeting of the White Flint Implementation Committee, there are four White Flint implementation projects proposed in Montgomery County’s Fiscal Year 2012 CIP (capital projects) budget, but they are a bit different than I had noted before. I had called them:

  • implementation planning,
  • the design of Rockville Pike,
  • the T-intersection at Market Street and Executive Boulevard, and
  • the eastern side of the Plan, including bike paths and Nebel Street improvements.

The Implementation Planning FY12 CIP Proposal is for $3 million over five years, concentrated in the early years for the “plans, analysis and development coordination activities necessary to implement redevelopment in the White Flint Sector Plan Area.”

The “design of Rockville Pike” project turns out to be more of a traffic analysis and mitigation plan. The Traffic Analysis FY12 CIP Proposal is for $1.5 million evenly-spaced over five years, for three projects: mitigation of “cut-through traffic” (which was the subject of the Friends of White Flint 2010 White Flint Town Hall meeting),  “capacity improvements” for “congested intersections;” and studies to help meet the aggressive “modal splits” (encouraging employees and residents to use transit instead of driving) proposed in the Plan.

The T-intersection improvement is now called the “Western Workaround,” and is much more than just that, meaning the work necessary to provide traffic flow on the western side of Rockville Pike during the difficult reconstruction of the Pike, and the beginnings of the Pike reconstruction itself. The Western Workaround FY12 CIP Proposal provides $20 million in the first five years, and $98.6 million for the total project, for the Western Workaround. A lot of this cost is for the Pike reconstruction itself, and much of the Western Workaround (Market St., Executive Boulevard, and Old Georgetown Rd.) will be done by 2014.

The Eastern Workaround area is much more road construction for Nebel Street and the new Executive Boulevard Extended (on the eastern side of the Pike) through the eastern side of the Sector, than it is bike paths. The Eastern Workaround FY12 CIP Proposal provides $1.2 million for the “preliminary engineering” of the Nebel St. and Executive Blvd. improvements, split evenly over Fiscal Year 2012 and 2013. Again, these streets are important to provide traffic flow during the reconstruction of Rockville Pike, and later, as ways to move traffic through the Sector without clogging the new Pike.

The proposals are just the opening salvo in the budget process, and there is no guarantee that the County Council will adopt them, intact or otherwise. But at least this shows the County is serious about stepping up to the responsibilities it said it would undertake in the White Flint Sector Plan.

Barnaby Zall

Sketching in Pencil? Or in Ink?

I have tried my hand at sketching. I did the logo for Friends of White Flint, available in the Gallery at www.bzall.com.

Friends of White Flint logo

But that tooks weeks of erasing, redo’s and comments by my best critics (err, my wife and kids). I worked first in pencil, then in a (very expensive) computer planning tool (for proportions and balance), and then reworked it with ink and paint, many, many times. The final looks much different from the original, thanks to helpful comments and much adjustment. I would never just freehand in permanent ink, at least not for something intended to be permanent. I’ve tried that, and needless to say, you won’t find those in my Gallery.

But it seems a similar question has arisen in the White Flint planning process. Pencil? Or permanent marker?

We’re now deeply into what’s being called the “sketch plan” process. The Montgomery County Planning Board will get a staff briefing tomorrow morning about the new “sketch plan” process, and will then look at the first three “sketch plans” submitted for review.

The three plans are all in White Flint. Mid-Pike Plaza, at the Pike and Montrose Parkway; North Bethesda Market Phase Two, across from White Flint Mall on the Pike, and North Bethesda Gateway, on Nicholson Lane. Each sketch plan was presented to the community at meetings by Friends of White Flint and the developers themselves.

Some of the plans were kind of preliminary, and others, particularly the Mid-Pike Plaza plan, were extremely thorough. That difference isn’t a function of effort, but of an apparent difference in understanding of the new process.

And now that difference of opinion seems to have spilled over into live debate: just how permanent are the sketches presented tomorrow? Diane Schwartz-Jones, lead staffer for County Executive Ike Leggett, told the White Flint Implementation Committee last week that the sketch plans are “major,” meaning legally permanent of sorts, and the community needs to get moving on understanding the amenities to be put into the plans. She told me that again today at the Planning staff’s discussion of its new study on parking options in Montgomery County. Certainly the Mid-Pike plan seems to have cost lots and lots to prepare, with great precision in the description and placement of items.

Greg Trimmer, of the JBG Companies, however, seemed to have a less permanent view of the process, when he discussed it with the White Flint Implementation Committee last week. To Greg, it seems the process is more conceptual, and is mostly to work things out and get community input before the more permanent “site plan” stage of the process.  

 Who’s right? Pencil or ink?

I think part of the difference has to do with the purpose of the new sketch plan process itself. The official description of the process is:

PURPOSE OF THE SKETCH PLAN
The purpose of the Sketch Plan is to identify land uses, proposed development and any public benefits for the optional method of development.  The Plan is intended to be conceptual in nature with an emphasis on building massing and height, varying densities and heights, the general circulation patterns for all modes of transportation and the locations of open and public use spaces.  Sketch Plans are required in the CR zones in the White Flint, Wheaton, Kensington and Shady Grove Life Sciences planning areas.  Details of the proposed development occur at Site Plan.  

The objectives of the CR zones are to: (a) Implement the policy recommendations of applicable master and sector plans; (b) Target opportunities for redevelopment of single-use areas and surface parking lots with a mix of uses; (c) Reduce dependence on the automobile by encouraging development that integrates a combination of housing types, mobility options, commercial services, and public facilities and amenities; (d) Encourage an appropriate balance of employment and housing opportunities and compatible relationships with adjoining neighborhoods; (e) Establish the maximum density and building height for each zone, while retaining appropriate development flexibility within those limits; and (f) Standardize optional method developments by establishing minimum requirements for the provision of the public benefits that will support and accommodate density above the standard method of development.

Decoded, this seems to involve the beginnings of the development planning process, covering what you might call the “bones” of a plan: streets, size and density of buildings, location of open spaces. “Details of the proposed development occur at Site Plan.” But the first and second sentences seem to conflict. Can you be “conceptual” if you have to “identify” with any specificity?

Some observers are heeding Diane Jones’ admonition by saying that there needs to be specific location of particular amenities in some of these first three sketches. This has sparked a kind of location bargaining over things that might not appear for many years. Should the new library go in Mid-Pike Plaza or the already-building North Bethesda Town Center? That’s not an “open space,” though it is a “public benefit.”

But making these decisions in what appears to be a “conceptual” stage, early in the process, would seem to be rushing things. After all, the County itself is only beginning the planning process for its contributions to transportation and amenities. The Fiscal Year 2012 CIP budget includes four White Flint-specific items, all involving preliminary planning. Why would we lock in specific amenities beyond the “conceptual” at this early stage?

If Diane Jones is correct, and there is some legally-binding element to the “sketch plan” process, she may have identified a remediable flaw in the new system. Why rush?

Perhaps we’ll see tomorrow at the staff briefing.

Barnaby Zall

Passing of An Underappreciated Man

R. Sargent Shriver, the only Presidential candidate from White Flint, died yesterday at Suburban Hospital. He was 95, and had Alzheimer’s Disease.  

Sargent Shriver and John F. Kennedy

Shriver was usually defined in relation to someone else (as I, regretfully, just did in the picture above): brother-in-law of JFK and Robert F. Kennedy; Vice-Presidential candidate for George McGovern; father of Maria Shriver, newswoman, author and wife of former California Gov. Arnold Swartzenegger; husband of Eunice Kennedy Shriver, founder of the Special Olympics. As he gracefully bowed out of the 1976 presidential race at a downtown press conference, I was shoved against a wall by a scrambling CBS newswoman shouting to her cameraman: “Get the wife. We need her.”

This is unfortunate, for he wasn’t just a Kennedy groupie; he was a remarkable man in his own right. “It’s hard to find another American figure where the disproportion between how much he accomplished and how little he is known is so large,” his biographer, Scott Stossel, said in an interview with the Washington Post. “For 12 years, Sarge was always at the center stage, or just off center stage, of American history.” In a way, he was like an offensive lineman in football: doing the hard work so someone else could run for a touchdown.

Yale Law graduate, and partner in the downtown law firm of Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver and Jacobson. A pacifist who nevertheless served in the Navy because he thought it was his duty to save his country even if he disagreed with its policies, he received a Purple Heart for shrapnel wounds at the bloody, but pivotal battle off the island of Guadalcanal. First director of the Peace Corps, creator of the Office of Economic Opportunity (later the federal Community Services Administration), and sometimes referred to as the “architect” of the War on Poverty.

And he was my first boss in White Flint. He lived on rolling hills in a secluded enclave known as Timberlawn, now home to hundreds of homes, but back then it was the birthplace of the Special Olympics. Edson Lane was a twisting gravel track on which I had to direct dozens of buses filled with reporters who came to the announcement of his presidential candidacy in 1975. I failed miserably, but worked my way up to National Youth Coordinator of that campaign. That campaign is little-remembered now, but it had some innovations: we built one of the first computer networks in New Hampshire, which the television networks piggy-backed on for their own coverage. That campaign ended badly, but Shriver was, as far as I know, the only major party Presidential candidate to have resided in White Flint.

The family’s statement is here. Remembrance by Colman McCarthy is here. A somewhat mean-spirited obit from the Post is here.

Barnaby Zall

Jan. 10 Meeting of White Flint Implementation Committee

The new White Flint Implementation Committee held its third meeting last Monday night, and for the first time, the meeting was in White Flint. The WFIC met in the multi-purpose room of the Montgomery Aquatic Center in Wall Park, part of the “core area” for development in White Flint. Amidst the smell of chlorine, the happy squeals of kids ready to splash, and the sight of parents herding their charges toward mini-vans, the WFIC heard from several Executive Branch officials and Planning Board staff on plans for “community amenities” promised in the White Flint Sector Plan, like libraries, recreation centers, and parks.

White Flint Implementation Committee meeting on Jan 10, 2011

Unlike prior meetings, where the tone was definite and forward-looking, the January 10 meeting had a more tentative, “feeling your way forward in the dark” atmosphere. Though many of the new White Flint projects, particularly the three “sketch plans” already submitted for new projects, are moving forward, the WFIC got a full dose of the budget woes impacting all County planning.

Asked why there seemed to be a disconnect between the Planning Staff and the Planning Board Chair about whether we would get real-time monitoring of White Flint projects, the staff tensed up and said, “well, she’s right. We may not have the resources.”

Asked what the role of the WFIC itself would be, there were strong words of support from Diane Schwartz-Jones, who is rapidly earning the title of “Queen of White Flint Implementation” for her work as coordinator for the Executive Branch, but little from the Planning staff. “In some cases, the Committee may provide input,” said chief planner for the Committee Nkosi Yearwood.

Diane Schwartz-Jones

The Recreation, Library and Parks staffers who briefed the WFIC also had great ideas, but few concrete plans.

And Diane Jones pointed out that “money was really tight” for amenities in the next few years. Nevertheless, Jones also stressed that the three sketch plans in the approval process right now (Mid-Pike Plaza, Nicholson Lane/Combined Properties, and JBG’s North Bethesda Market Phase Two) were “major” and urged the Committee to focus quickly on the effects of those plans on the amenities required to support those plans.

The watchword of the night? “Co-location.” We’re going to see a lot of doubling up of facilities in the future. “We don’t need to provide meeting space [in libraries] because other agencies around us have it already.”

There were some positive developments. Jones reported that there would be four new CIP (County capital investment projects, or big-ticket items) in the upcoming budget for FY 2012, including

  • implementation planning,
  • the design of Rockville Pike,
  • the T-intersection at Market Street and Executive Boulevard, and
  • the eastern side of the Plan, including bike paths and Nebel Street improvements.

There was also discussion of tensions between the plans for Rockville Pike from the City of Rockville, and the White Flint Sector Plan’s proposal for a central median with transit. Rockville has not updated its Pike plans, which may lead to some problems at the northern edge of White Flint, where Rockville has jurisdiction over the Pike. “Rockville’s just not as far along as we are in New Urbanism planning,” said one Committee member. There will be upcoming meetings to resolve these questions.

The next meeting is scheduled for Valentine’s Day, February 14, when the Committee will hear from the Montgomery County Schools on their plans and projections for White Flint.

Barnaby Zall

Freishtat, Hurdle, Trimmer Re-elected to FoWF Board

In the wake of last week’s deadly Tucson shootings, many observers have asked that elections be less contentious and more unifying. The 2011 elections for open seats on the Friends of White Flint Board of Directors could set the desired tone. They were quick, easy and civil.

Three nominees won unanimous support for their re-election to the FoWF Board: Ken Hurdle (Residents and Community Organizations’ seat), David Freishtat (Business seat), and Greg Trimmer (Property Owners and Developers’ seat).

 Ken Hurdle

Ken Hurdle, FoWF Secretary, works on White Flint plans in Planning Board charette

 Ken Hurdle is a resident of Luxmanor in White Flint, and has been Secretary of the FoWF Board for the last two years. He also served on the former White Flint Advisory Group and the White Flint Steering Committee, both projects of the Montgomery County Planning Board during the development of the White Flint Sector Plan. He is an independent business consultant.

David Freishtat

Dave Freishtat - picture from Shulman Rogers

 Dave Freishtat is a lawyer with the law firm of Shulman Rogers, just across I-270 from White Flint. He is active in County planning matters, and is one of the County’s premier experts in tax-exempt bond financing and other forms of public finance. He was recently unanimously elected as Co-Chair of the Planning Board’s new White Flint Implementation Committee (along with Dan Hoffman, another County activist). He has been a Business Class Director of Friends of White Flint for the last two years, serving as representative to FoWF from the Greater Bethesda-Chevy Chase Chamber of Commerce.

Greg Trimmer

Greg Trimmer, Secretary of Friends of White Flint, at a JBG Companies’ “sketch plan” presentation

Greg Trimmer is a civil engineer and Senior Development Officer for the JBG Companies, and has been Treasurer of Friends of White Flint, and a Property Owners and Developers Class Board member, for the last two years. He is a member of the Congress for New Urbanism, and has been active in promoting New Urbanism across the country.

Hurdle, Freishtat, and Trimmer will serve three-year terms on the FoWF Board. They will be seated at the next FoWF Board meeting, tentatively scheduled for early February.

Congratulations to all three FoWF Board Members.

Barnaby Zall

2011 FoWF Board Election Nominations Open

If you are a member of Friends of White Flint (or represent a member organization), you should have received a notice that nominations are open for seats on the FoWF Board of Directors. Nomination forms were sent with the notice. Only members in good standing can nominate or be nominated for a Board opening. Associate members cannot nominate, be nominated or vote for Board openings.

The FoWF Board is composed of nine persons, three from each of the three classes of voting members: Residents and Community Organizations, Businesses, and Property Owners and Developers. Each Director serves a three-year term, and one seat from each class is up for election each year. This year, the seats up for election are currently held by: Ken Hurdle (Residents), David Freishtat (Business), and Greg Trimmer (Property Owners). Each of these current Directors is eligible for re-election and is running for re-election. All nominations are reviewed by the FoWF Board of Directors, which has the final say on all election decisions.

All nomination forms must be received by 5PM this Friday, January 14. If you believe you are a voting member in good standing and you did NOT receive a notice or nomination form, please write to me immediately at bzall@friendsofwhiteflint.org.

For more information, please write to me at bzall@friendsofwhiteflint.org.

Barnaby Zall