The February 10th meeting began with the mention of no new development taking place throughout the White Flint sector currently. The Pike and Rose development is continuing nicely with their first Phase.
Then the meeting turned to the White Flint Downtown Advisory Committee update. The committee is in support of the county’s proposed Bill 33-13: Urban Road Code Standards and Pedestrian Safety Improvements. On January 24th, Planning Board Chair Carrier sent a letter to the President of the County Council supporting the Bill. In the letter, the planning board agreed with the goals of the bill and acknowledged the need to change the 2007 urban road codes in order to have complete streets. They recommended that the bill include language that provides more details on issues such as accessibility, curb extensions, and shared use path.
Cindy Gibson, Chief of Staff to Councilmember Roger Berliner (who introduced the bill), attended the meeting as well. She provided the committee with an opportunity to learn more about the Urban Road Code bill. The bill will allow for urban areas throughout Montgomery County to have complete streets and will allow for more places like Bethesda and the future White Flint to exist. Since the urban road code was last updated in 2007, many new master plans and sector plans have popped up in hopes to create new and exciting areas across the county. Now that we have these plans, our roads, standards, and policies need to encourage what these plans were designed for: complete streets. This updated urban road code will be one step closer to creating streets and roads we really want and need. The bill will strengthen ADA, pedestrian, and bike language surrounding the county streets as well. Cindy also highlighted the public hearing, where Friends of White Flint testified, and that the County Executive’s support of the bill has been great. (** We have since learned that Bill 33-13 is being tabled pending the results of a multi-disciplinary workgroup).
The meeting then moved toward the Implementation Coordinator report from Dee Metz. The county executive sent the CIP budget for approval on January 15th. As we have discussed in past posts, there are many proposed projects for White Flint in the CIP budget. These include the Western Workaround, District East (planning and construction), District West, Chapman Extended, and the North Bethesda Recreation Center. Questions from the public focused on the Western Workaround, one of the most important projects for White Flint. One question focused on the construction of the relocation of Executive Blvd in front of the North Bethesda Conference Center. The construction is funded in the CIP but the purchase of the land is not funded under the CIP budget. One of the funding sources is the White Flint Special Taxing District tax revenues but it may not be enough funding. The revenue will increase as the redevelopment moves forward, but it cannot move forward without the existence of roads. The county is working with the private landowner to secure the land that will be part of this project. In addition, we learned that the County Executive has discussed borrowing either $45 million or $77 million in revenue bonds. If the county decides to borrow this money, they will not be able to pay it back until 2037. With the revenue bonds, the county needs to show a stream of income in order to secure the bond, which possess another problem.
There were two main sentiments that came out of the committee meeting that are important to remember throughout this redevelopment process that I will highlight. The first is that the county needs to make Rockville Pike, part of the District West project, their priority for redevelopment in order to bring in other funding sources, such as the state government or even the federal government. If the county does not place the Rockville Pike redevelopment as a priority, then how will the state or the federal government? One of challenges we are faced with the prioritizing the Rockville Pike project is the BRT. The Rockville Pike design cannot be complete without the BRT design. We cannot accelerate one of these projects over the other since the projects go hand in hand. In order to show that the Pike is important, the county can use methods such as a issuing a priority letter focused on the Pike or using the CIP budget to reflect the importance of the Pike. On a related note, the committee is looking into completing an update Streetscape plan/study for Rockville Pike.
The second highlight or sentiment is that once the Western Workaround project is completed, then other projects may be pushed forward. The Western Workaround was referred to as the “spine” of the Sector plan, so we need to push this project along. Other WF projects have been pushed back for funding to be used for the Western Workaround, so it is evident that this project should continue on. Construction is slotted to begin in 2016 so we look forward to this project and all the White Flint projects to begin.