Category Montgomery County Government

Notes from the White Flint Sector Plan Implementation Advisory Committee Meeting, January 14, 2013

Around 40 community members, business owners and developers were in attendance at the White Flint Sector Plan Implementation Advisory Committee Meeting held on January 14, 2013, at Wall Local Park/Shriver Aquatic Center.  The bulk of the meeting was spent on ProMark and Foulger-Pratt’s presentation of the Sketch Plan Amendment for North Bethesda Gateway.  We’ll be posting a detailed run-down of that plan shortly.

In the meantime, the following are the discussion items which rounded out the agenda:

  • The County Executive’s Office is in the process of creating the White Flint Downtown Advisory Committee.   The interview process is complete and it is hoped that the members will be announced before the end of January.
  • The Parks and Planning Department has been engaged with Gables Residential, which owns the property at 11605 Old Georgetown Road (presently a surface lot on the southern corner of Old Georgetown Road and Executive Boulevard).  An all-day meeting of this public/private partnership recently convened with an effort toward planning for redevelopment on the site. White Flint Coordinator Dee Metz added that the group looked very closely at how the site will be laid out to accommodate the various features proposed, including a park and parking garage.  Though some of the project isn’t funded yet, she reports they are creating a good vision for the site.  The park, in particular, is viewed as a “real anchor of White Flint” and a “great amenity.”   The plan for the property will be presented at the Implementation Advisory Committee’s March meeting.
  • N’kosi Yearwood from the Montgomery County Planning Department assured the group that transportation and its funding are hot button issues that will remain at the forefront in 2013 and beyond.  Dee Metz added that the plan is to present a supplemental budget to the County Council in March to address funding some of the proposed transportation projects.  The emphasis is to get the early roads built as soon as possible but there has been no mention yet of opening Hoya Street.  The County Executive has agreed to forward-fund other roads critical to the sector plan.  Some of the process has slowed as they wait for state approval of the intersection alignment plan.
  • White Flint 2 has been further delayed.  It will now be recommended that County Executive deliver the plan to the County Council in September 2015.  This is a change from the last proposal, which was Spring 2015.  N’kosi has already started work on the plan and will begin community engagement in short order.  White Flint 2 includes properties north of Montrose Road to the Rockville City limits, including Montrose Crossing.  It also stretches west to include the Executive Boulevard office parks and east to include Parklawn Drive, Randolph Hills Shopping Center & Loehmann’s Plaza.
  • The Parks and Planning Department will submit a monitoring report to the County Council on the progress of White Flint this spring.
  • On February 4th at 7pm, the Parks Department will host a Facility Plan Public Meeting on the Josiah Henson Special Park, located at 11420 Old Georgetown Road.  The meeting will be held at Tilden Middle School.

The White Flint Implementation Advisory Committee meets the second Monday of every month at 7pm and the public is welcome to attend.  Learn more at: http://www.montgomeryplanning.org/community/whiteflint/

White Flint Implementation Advisory Committee Meeting, 1/14/13

The White Flint Implementation Advisory Committee will next meet on Monday, January 14, 2013.  Meetings begin at 7pm at Wall Local Park/Shriver Aquatic Center at 5900 Executive Boulevard in Rockville.  The public is welcome to attend!

From the Montgomery County Parks & Planning Website, the White Flint Implementation Advisory Committee is:

Property owners and residents from within the plan area, civic and homeowners associations from surrounding residential communities, transportation management representative, and Executive Branch staff were appointed to this overview committee by the Planning Board on September 30, 2010.  The Committee will:

* Review assumptions made regarding traffic, including transit use and parking
* Monitor plan recommendations
* Identify new projects for the amenity fund
* Monitor the county Capital Improvement Program and Growth Policy
* Recommend action by the Planning Board and County Council

Growing MoCo’s tree canopy has health, economic rewards

Montgomery County has an extensive tree canopy, but it’s under threat.

Trees are an important part of any urban environment, providing shade, oxygen, and even calming traffic. Of course, they’re also great to look at. As a result, protecting and expanding Montgomery County’s tree canopy has been a growing issue in recent months.

A study done by the University of Vermont for the Montgomery County Planning Department found that while half of the county is covered by trees, the county’s urban areas have a much smaller tree canopy. Just 19% of White Flint is covered by trees, while downtown Silver Spring has a 14% tree canopy. The smallest tree canopy was found in the Montgomery Hills business district south of Georgia Avenue and the Beltway, which has just 8% coverage. Urban areas should have at least a 25 percent tree canopy, planners say.

One of the best ways to expand our tree canopy in places like downtown Silver Spring or White Flint is by planting more street trees next to sidewalks and in medians. Trees can provide significant health benefits and can even be an economic windfall for places with more of them.

A 2001 survey of Wheaton residents found they overwhelmingly preferred streets with trees for downtown Wheaton. According to urban designer Dan Burden, spending between $250 and $600 to plant a tree can yield up to $90,000 in economic benefits for the surrounding area.

Studies show that street trees have health and economic benefits.

For decades, transportation planners saw street trees as a safety hazard because they blocked drivers’ vision. For that reason, County Executive Ike Leggett actually recommended removing street trees from busy roads in 2008. However, we know now that trees can “reduce the ‘optical width'” of a street, slowing drivers down and making it safer for everybody.

Today, there are multiple efforts to add more street trees in Montgomery County. This fall, the Planning Department introduced a program called Shades of Green that provides free shade trees and two years of care to eligible property owners in downtown Silver Spring, downtown Wheaton and Montgomery Hills. 30 trees have already been planted under the program in those three areas.

Nonprofit group Conservation Montgomery has been organizing tree plantings of their own. Last month, they teamed up with Casey Trees, a forestry organization based in the District, to plant in Montgomery Hills. They’ve also received grant money in partnership with fellow nonprofits Safe Silver Spring and Uno Granito de Arena to plant trees in Long Branch.

Pepco workers cut down trees on East-West Highway in Silver Spring. Photo by Gull.

Unfortunately, these efforts are undermined by poor maintenance of our existing tree canopy. After heavy storms last year, Pepco began trimming trees in earnest before falling branches could take down power lines. According to their website, Pepco uses nationally-recognized standards and practices for tree trimming, but residents complain they’re being too aggressive, mangling trees and trespassing on private property.

Downtown Silver Spring resident Gull sent us some photos of Pepco workers cutting down trees along 16th Street and Spring Street last month. In an email, he called it a “serious quality of life issue” for him and his neighbors. “It’s very easy to see into communities, houses and apartments that were once obscured from view,” he wrote. “I see it as a big problem that instead of planting more trees in our urban areas, we’re removing them and making above ground utilities the primary thing visible to us.”

Last spring, County Councilmembers Roger Berliner and Marc Elrich drafted a bill that would set higher environmental standards for tree trimming and require power companies to ask homeowners’ permission before doing any work on their property. However, the bill was deemed unconstitutional and set aside after the derecho storm in July brought down power lines and knocked out power to thousands of residents.

A felled tree next to a house under construction in Chevy Chase. Proposed legislation aims to help protect or replace trees like this.

Since then, the council has introduced two new pieces of legislation aimed at protecting trees. Bill 35-12 would require property owners cutting trees down on smaller lots to pay into a fund dedicated to replacing those trees. The county’s Forest Conservation Law already requires this on lots over an acre in size. Another, Bill 41-12, would require a permit to do work in a public street that might damage a tree. They’ve set a public hearing later this month to hear testimony about both bills.

The legislation has support from Conservation Montgomery and the Montgomery Countryside Alliance, but has gotten a lot of pushback from local home builders. Renewing Montgomery, a group of small home builders, argued that the original bill proposed last summer restricts the rights of property owners.

As our urban areas grow, there’s an inevitable tension between the built environment and the natural environment. However, protecting our tree canopy has many benefits for people as well. Whether by planting new trees or preserving old ones, we can make our communities healthier, stronger and more prosperous.

The County Council will hold a public hearing on both bills Thursday, January 17 at 7:30pm at the Council Office Building, located at 100 Maryland Avenue in Rockville. For more information and to sign up to testify, visit their website. You can also sign Conservation Montgomery’s petition supporting both bills. And if you’d like to learn more about the tree canopy in your neighborhood, check out the Planning Department’s tree canopy explorer.

Transit on the Brain

On the heels of today’s Transportation Summit in Annapolis, transit and its funding are on the brain.  White Flint’s success is reliant on a solid transit infrastructure.  If you’re interested in local transit issues, Montgomery County has a public-private Transit Task Force working toward a comprehensive rapid transit system.  Learn more about it by following the below link:

http://www6.montgomerycountymd.gov/apps/cex/transit/