Archives March 2011

A Painful Cut

Faced with Montgomery County’s massive $300 million budget deficit, County Executive Ike Leggett took decisive action to close one leak in the County coffers: according to the Washington Post, as soon as he heard that County employees were receiving $400,000 to obtain Viagra and other forms of relief for erectile dysfunction, “I looked at it. I said, ‘They’re gone,’ ” Leggett recalled. The money will be used for other functions, such as counseling victims of domestic abuse.

The humor in the anecdote hides the real choices the County has to make. In both cases, there are victims

White Flint Implementation Guidelines to go to Planning Board Roundtable Discussion on March 31.

The White Flint Sector Plan requires the Planning Board to come up with guidelines for a “transportation approval mechanism and monitoring program” by July 13, 2011. The Planning Board has been drafting these guidelines, and will hold a roundtable discussion next Thursday, March 31 on them. A worksession is scheduled for April 14. The White Flint Implementation Committee (which itself is part of the guidelines) will discuss the draft at its April 11 meeting.

You can find the draft guidelines here.

Barnaby Zall

How Much Does It Cost to Get People to Talk About White Flint?

Not much, actually.

We run this blog for pennies a day. And we reach thousands of readers every month.

Over the five years it took to develop and approve the White Flint Sector Plan, Friends of White Flint and other groups held hundreds of meetings with thousands of residents and other interested stakeholders. I’ve done it myself, speaking at meetings during the day, evening, weekends.  I’m a volunteer.

One of the biggest community meetings ever held on the White Flint Sector Plan was our 2009 White Flint Town Hall in the auditorium of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, with Planning Board Chair Royce Hanson and Vice-Chair John Robinson explaining the Plan to the community. The NRC donated the space, the speakers donated their time, and our major cost was public advertising and outreach. Total cost? Less than $5,000.

Planning Board Vice-Chair John Robinson at 2009 White Flint Town Hall

The Planning Board’s community advisory groups alone held seventeen meetings, including several full-blown “charrettes” (“an intense period of design activity”). Here’s Ken Hurdle, a Luxmanor resident and member of the Friends of White Flint Board of Directors, marking up an area map at a Planning Board charrette:

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

It probably cost the Planning Board several thousand dollars to run all its meetings, including staff time, materials, and so on. The meetings were held on county property, and probably didn’t cost anything out of pocket.

Friends of White Flint’s charrettes were a lot cheaper. We held a two-day White Flint Town Hall meeting last year, bringing in ten neighborhoods for an intense, one-on-one charrette with one of the country’s leading experts in “traffic calming” and similar neighborhood traffic planning. Ian Lockwood, the consultant hired for this “intense period of design activity,” already knew what other similar communities around the nation and the world were doing, understood the White Flint Sector Plan (he designed the center median “transitway” proposal for Rockville Pike through White Flint), and is a wonderful public speaker and educator. He gave a community-wide open presentation, and worked with each neighborhood (some more than once) to draw maps of specific intersections and improvements to handle traffic issues without the usual uproar.


Total cost? Less than $5,000.

Other groups have held similar charrettes on White Flint. The White Flint Partnership, for example, held at least two multi-day charrettes with Ian Lockwood and his team from Glatting-Jackson (now to work on mobility issues and traffic mitigation during the development of the Plan. Their costs were probably much higher than Friends’ were.

So, when Diane Schwartz-Jones raised the possibility of another series of charrettes, this time focussed on fleshing out the details of the proposed “community amenities” to be built in the new White Flint, I was on board. Public participation is good. We’re used to it. Done it a lot. It’s really one of the things we do — public education and discussion. Always has been.

I grew a little concerned, though, when Diane suggested going over things like size and location and other things that had been debated endlessly for years. After all, we already did that. A lot. In great detail. I explained to her the example of the White Flint Park, expanded in the Sector Plan, where we discussed the park in great detail for three years, down to the level of being able to fit in a “kiddie-size” playing field on the sloped lot, but not a full-size one (ball fields are a crying need in the County). The County Council itself got into the act, working in great detail on what to put where. And now we were going to do it all over again, with a new cast of characters? “We’re not going to re-open the White Flint Sector Plan,” Diane insisted. Twice.

But still, this is MoCo. Rehashing the same old ground is what we do. Anyone who isn’t prepared for that should go to Arlington. It only gets to be a problem when the County reneges on promises. Fear that the County will promise more than it will ultimately do. That’s what drives away businesses and new revenues. And endangers the White Flint Plan.

But then Diane sent me over the edge. She had, she told the White Flint Implementation Committee on March 14, raised $80,000 from eight White Flint developers for her consultant and her charrette. She would also throw in another $20,000 in “unused” planning money.


The County is hurting. The hurt is real. It’s in the papers almost every day. We are facing a $300,000,000 budget deficit for this fiscal year. The County Executive has stepped up and offered some real proposals to handle a multi-BILLION dollar pension shortfall. (I’d like to say that the county workers’ unions have stepped up as well, but that show is run by people who ought to be on talk radio, like Gino Renne, head of the local Food and Commercial Workers union, whose solution is raise taxes. Sorry, Gino, the voters have rejected that, both by putting in a taxing limit and voting down the ambulance fee. Not an easily-available option.)

Talk to the County Council about these problems and you see the pain in their eyes. For the second year in a row, the Council has to cut, cut, cut. It’s not easy. It just hurts to see them struggle with this.

The Planning Board doesn’t have money either. Staff are being furloughed, either temporarily or permanently. They don’t have money for photocopies. And they, and other county agencies, including the Recreation Department, schools, and county libraries, are the ones who will do most of the work on the details for the public amenities laid out in the Sector Plan. Community input is vital, but it doesn’t put meat on the bones of a plan the way our dedicated professionals can.

So we’re going to hire an outside consultant for $100,000 to tell us what we already talked about, survey the country for better ideas, and bring in youth and other special groups to participate and tell us what they want?


People who have participated in this debate have strongly suggested I not rock this boat. I have listened to their concerns. I agree that public participation is good. I understand that the County Executive really likes White Flint and only wants the best for this new Plan. I understand that needed County money is already in the budget process for White Flint, and controversy won’t help. I understand that this contract is already underway. I understand that the money was voluntarily given by the developers who had chats with Diane about how great the idea is.

Nevertheless, someone has to speak truth to power here.

Is this really the highest and best use of $100,000 right now, right here?

Barnaby Zall

What’s in a Name? March 14 Meeting of WFIC Has Big Debates

So, what to call the new advisory group formed by the Montgomery County Planning Board as directed by the White Flint Sector Plan? The Planning Board called it the “Sector Plan Implementation Advisory Committee.” The letterhead used for the group’s agendas said “White Flint Sector Plan Advisory Committee.” A recent letter to the Planning Board about the City of Rockville’s plans for its section of Rockville Pike called it the “White Flint Advisory Committee.” When I wrote about it here in the FLOG, I called it the “White Flint Implementation Committee,” to avoid confusion with all the earlier White Flint advisory groups, steering committees, and so on (and because what’s different about this group is that it is focussed on implementing the Sector Plan, rather than drafting or approving it).

At its meeting on Monday, March 14, the committee voted to name itself the “White Flint Implementation Advisory Committee.” I think I’ll just keep calling it the WFIC — just because it’s shorter.

Meeting of the White Flint Implementation Committee

The WFIC also voted to send a letter to the Planning Board explaining its concerns with the City of Rockville’s plans for Rockville Pike. The letter would ask the Planning Board to communicate those concerns to the City (this complicated process was explained to us as necessary because of the WFIC’s status as an advisory group).

Not much else of substance happened at the meeting. But there were two big discussions about the implementation process. What was planned as a “light agenda” ran until after 9PM.

Diane Schwartz-Jones, the County Executive’s main delegate to the WFIC, discussed her proposed charette (fancy word for a planning meeting) on public facilities. She announced that she had raised $80,000 from developers and would use another $20,000 of “unused” planning funds to hire a consultant to search out “best practices” around the country and hold a series of three meetings with community residents to discuss “details” of the public amenities required under the Sector Plan. “I don’t mean we’re going to re-open the White Flint Sector Plan,” she said twice. She used the civic building in Silver Spring as an example of the process, saying that this sort of process resulted in more involvement by youth in the planning process, so everyone was happier. Diane said this contract was on a “fast track,” and she expected the charette process to be completed by July.  

Diane Schwartz-Jones

I will post later about my feelings of using $100,000 for a process essentially duplicating the hard-fought battles of the last five years. During the meeting, I supported the concept of public participation, but challenged Diane by pointing out the hundreds of meetings with thousands of community residents that we conducted during the development of the Plan, and the extensive discussions of the same points before the County Council and Planning Board, and noted that Friends of White Flint had conducted a similar series of charettes with ten individual White Flint neighborhoods on traffic calming and “neighborhood mobility balance” with one of the country’s top consultants for less than $5,000. “Wow, what I could do with $100,000,” I said.

Evan Goldman, Co-chair of Friends of White Flint, noted that on March 10, the Planning Board had changed the “sketch plan” process so that it was no longer binding. The change, according to Evan, will eviscerate the value of the sketch plan process, which had been used three times so far, to produce decisions on placement of buildings and amenities early in the planning process. The concept of the sketch plan had been to permit public participation early enough to allow the Planning Board to change the major development decisions — the “bones” of a development — before putting more details in the more formal and elaborate “site plan” process. So, someone like Evan’s Federal Realty Investment Trust wouldn’t be able to rely on the Planning Board’s approval of the sketch plan for Mid-Pike Plaza, because the Board could change the requirements for later phases of the project after the developer had already won approval for its plans. “I don’t know how I can sell that to my Board,” he told the group. “We won’t know what our costs will be.”

Evan Goldman Presenting Mid-Pike Plaza to Residents’ Meeting

The next WFIC meeting will be April 11. The tentative topic is the White Flint Implementation Guidelines. More details will likely be released close to the meeting date.

Barnaby Zall


Alex Ruoff has a nice article in today’s Gazette about the differing plans for Rockville Pike in White Flint and Rockville. He mixes interviews with people who live and work along the Pike with a description of the Pike’s role in the new White Flint and evolving Rockville.

Unfortunately, he also mixes up my role, calling me the co-Chair of the White Flint Partnership, which I’m not. I’m a co-Chair of Friends of White Flint, a different group. Here’s a picture from one of our White Flint Town Hall meetings, showing our logo on the podium.

Barnaby Zall at Friends of White Flint Town Hall Meeting

Oh, and please note, we are planning the next White Flint Town Hall for late spring. Topic will be Bus Rapid Transit (“BRT”) in Montgomery County. Here’s a proposed vehicle design from the Maryland Dept. of Transportation which can show that “bus” in BRT is really a more generic type of vehicle. Note that the MDoT concept vehicle is running in a grassy median similar to what we are proposing for Rockville Pike: 

MDoT concept vehicle for BRT

 Barnaby Zall

Letter to City of Rockville on Pike Plans

At its February meeting, the Friends of White Flint Board voted to send a letter to the City of Rockville praising it for reviewing its plans for Rockville Pike north of White Flint, but asking it to consider whether its plan was compatible with that adopted by the Montgomery County Council for White Flint. As part of FoWF’s regular open public policy development process, a draft was circulated for comment last week.

Thank you to all who commented. No substantive changes were made in the final version, though a few sections were reworked for clarity and precision (as well as grammar).

Here is the final version of the letter, sent today: FoWF Letter to City of Rockville on Pike Plans

Barnaby Zall

Marc Elrich – Dancing With the Stars?

When I read the headline on Sunday’s Washington Examiner piece on Montgomery Councilmember Marc Elrich, “MontCo Councilmember likes to Boogie at 9:30”, I blinked. It was kind of like seeing a story that Bill Gates likes to hit the dance floor with Britney Spears.

Councilmember Marc Elrich

I mean, last time I saw Marc Elrich “off the clock” (meaning in a non-political, non-official capacity), it was in the food court at Montgomery Mall. I asked if he was slumming, and he demurred, pointing out that he enjoys a good time too.

And Elrich is a policy wonk. Once, last year, we were having an early Monday morning meeting in the Council offices in Rockville when the elevator opened and he walked through, carrying a HUGE pile of computer paper. I’m talking two feet of paper.  Indexed and tabbed. And he saw us, came over and explained that this was research he had been doing over the weekend on some transportation issue (I forget which).

But, then again, I guess they don’t make you check your stacks of paper at the door at the 9:30 club.

Barnaby Zall

Senior Employment Expo May 17

On May 17, 2011, the Jewish Council for the Aging is holding its annual Senior Employment Expo, offering opportunities for persons over 50 to connect with potential employers. The Expo will be held at the Conference Center from 10-3. The event is free to all.

This is a big event, especially in these uncertain times. Last year over 3,200 people attended.  

It’s a great idea. Here’s a flyer: Senior Employment Expo Flyer

Barnaby Zall