County Executive’s Position on the Public Hearing Draft

Since the video is not yet available of the County Executive’s testimony on the Public Hearing Draft, here are some notes and commentary:

 The testimony was given by Diane Schwartz-Jacobs. She called the plan “a significant effort” and a “bold vision” with a “responsible approach.” She applauded the “key theme of taming Rockville Pike.”

Then she threw the cold water: “departures from the growth policy . . . need to be flushed out and modified.” The proposed financing authority is “unnecessary, redundant and expensive.” “A duplication of powers” which the Executive “does not support.” She said there is established authority and tools already in place. The Executive will not support the implementation proposals.

In addition, the Executive does not like the central idea for financing proposed in the Public Hearing Draft: that funds generated by the new area taxes should be reserved for projects in the White Flint area. This “dedication of funds isolates and causes disparities between less-wealthy areas.” Funds raised should be spread, at least in part, over other areas of the county (and, though not said, probably means should be under the more direct control of the regular budget process). The financing concept needs “more thought and work.”

She also said that the “transportation balance” troubles the Executive. Planning Board Chairman Royce Hanson was wielding a tough gavel, however, and cut off a further explanation at this point. Her conclusion: the Public Hearing Draft was a “departure from policy.” The unsaid message? The Executive won’t support it without changes.

Barnaby Zall

Planning Board Public Hearing on White Flint Plan

Last night, January 12, 2009, the Montgomery County Planning Board held a public hearing on the Public Hearing Draft of the White Flint Sector Plan. More than 40 people spoke, including representatives of County Executive Ike Leggett (“don’t duplicate my authority”), WMATA/Metro (“don’t take our bus facility, but increase the value of the land”) and the Housing Opportunities Council (“add more affordable housing”).

The video is not yet available on the Planning Board’s site, but should be available soon at:

http://mncppc.granicus.com/ViewPublisher.php?view_id=2

The main January 12, 2009, hearing page, with agenda, sound and video options, is here:

 http://www.montgomeryplanningboard.org/agenda/2009/agenda20090112e.html

The hearing record will stay open until January 26, 2009, and Chairman Hanson said that the Planning Board would accept additional written material “of any length.” The Board stressed to many witnesses last night that they wanted additional specific materials, and several witnesses who simply complained about the plan or about problems were asked to provide solutions or more specifics instead.

Barnaby Zall

Interesting ULI commentary on recent smart growth developments

Transit’s Up, Driving’s Down: Have We Reached the Tipping Point? by Robert Dunphy(This is an excerpt from commentary on ULI’s blog, The Ground Floor.)
Transit use is up, and driving is down—have we reached a tipping point where Americans finally renounce their love affair with the car and adopt more sustainable transportation? The latest national travel data show that transit ridership—spiked in part by the run-up in gas prices earlier this year—continued to grow despite the precipitous decrease in prices at the pump. Transit ridership reached 2.8 billion trips in the third quarter, a 6.5 percent jump from the same period last year. During the same period, driving continued to decline, not quite as much as during the summer, but a still-significant 4.5 percent.
So, with both driving and transit heading in the right direction from a sustainability perspective, how do they compare in absolutes? Not very close, unfortunately. The number of transit trips increased by 174 million in the quarter, so the total miles traveled by those riders, using a standard five miles for the average trip distance, comes to an increase of 876 million—just under a billion passenger miles. The vehicle miles of travel (VMTs) for the same period, for all types of vehicles, including trucks, declined by 35.5 billion. That would put transit’s share of the decline in driving at a mere 2.5 percent.A July survey conducted by NuStats found that, indeed, two out of three respondents reported driving less, but largely by combining trips, eliminating trips altogether, and working from home. The use of public transit as a replacement for driving ranked behind combining and eliminating trips, using a more fuel-efficient car, working from home, using toll roads to save gas, and carpooling.The survey suggests that the greatest potential for reduced driving lies not in expanding public transit to serve new riders, but to focus growth in areas where it supports established transit, and where residents have options for shorter trips, combining trips, and walking, as well as public transit.

[posted by Greg Trimmer]

Steering Committee Meeting – Jan 13

The White Flint Sector Plan Steering Committee agreed to a second meeting next Tuesday, January 13, 2009, at 4:30PM. The meeting will be held at the offices of Federal Realty Investment Trust, 1626 East Jefferson St., Rockville.

The purpose of the meeting is to identify particular issues or concerns with the Public Hearing Draft, including matters identified in public testimony at the Planning Board hearing  the day before (for more information on the hearing, see prior posts).

The Steering Committee is taking, as its model, the process used by the former Advisory Group to produce its September 23, 2008, report to the Planning Board (for more information, see here). The Steering Committee hopes to see if there are only a few items of significant contention, which it can then refer to the Planning Board for special consideration. Some Committee members contend that it will be impossible to reach a consensus on these problems; others contend that the number of actual contentious issues is far fewer than had been feared.

For more information, contact Friends of White Flint co-Chair Evan Goldman at Federal Realty. egoldman@federalrealty.com.

Barnaby Zall

Upcoming Planning Board Work Sessions

The Montgomery County Planning Board makes many of its substantive decisions during or after “work sessions.” Usually the Board operates openly before an audience, but rarely permits additional participation by others during the sessions. The upcoming White Flint Sector Plan work sessions, however, will feature participation by the White Flint Sector Plan Steering Committee.

The Planning Board has set an ambitious schedule for the White Flint plan (see post below), including three work sessions scheduled for Thursdays in February; each session will focus on an important issue in the Plan:

February 12, 2009   –   Transportation

February 19, 2009   –   Economics (how to pay for the Plan’s proposals)

February 26, 2009   –   Land use and zoning

Barnaby Zall

More than 50 people to testify at Jan 12 hearing

Time is running out to sign up to testify at next Monday’s Planning Board public hearings on the White Flint Sector Plan, and so is space.

The Board already has more than 50 people signed up to testify. Since testimony is limited to three minutes (for everybody), this means that there will be at least three hours of testimony already. Registrations may be cut off as soon as today.

The County Executive has already signed up to testify, but even he will only be given three minutes to testify. It is unclear what Mr. Leggett’s office will testify on.

If you miss the deadline for testimony, you can still offer written testimony (of any length). Staff will keep the record open after the hearing to receive more material. All submissions are open for public review.

 To sign up to testify, or to submit written testimony, go to the main White Flint Planning page, and scroll down to the paragraph offering on-line or telephone sign-ups.

Barnaby Zall

Timing of the White Flint Plan

Last night’s Steering Committee meeting revealed more details about the expected timing of the White Flint Sector Plan development process. Piera Weiss, speaking for the Board, said the goal was to submit a draft plan to the Montgomery County Council in the spring, probably April or May. Since “it takes a month to produce a copy of a full draft plan,” Piera noted, that means that the Planning Board needs to complete its work by the end of March.

That’s an ambitious timetable, especially since the Board members “also have other jobs,” but the Board seems committed to it. Three Board worksessions are scheduled for February alone (see separate post). More will be scheduled for March.

 Barnaby Zall

Bombshell at Steering Committee meeting

When Piera Weiss, Planner-Coordinator for the White Flint Sector Plan, finished explaining the Planning Board’s expectations for the new Steering Committee it appointed, a very loud “THUD” reverberated throughout the hearing room. It was the sound of seventeen jaws collectively hitting the floor.

As you can see from the previous notes, members of the Steering Committee (myself included) had envisioned the Steering Committee as an active entity, with lively discussions about structure and ethics, and behind-the-scenes maneuvering for support. Think “Survivor” without voting off the island.

But Piera and Nkosi Yearwood, the other main White Flint staffer, had spent Tuesday morning touring White Flint with Chairman Royce Hanson and Planning Board member Jean Cryor. And at the Steering Committee’s first meeting last night, she reported back on the “Board direction” for the Steering Committee. From the reaction, it was different from expectations.

Piera said that the Board expected the Steering Committee’s role to be “interactive,” “not a committee, or a Chairman, or subcommittees.” It was to be a “voice” for the communities the members were appointed to represent, to speak with the Board “on issues it was grappling with.”

The main activity of the Steering Committee was to be participating in Planning Board work sessions (the meetings where the Board hashes out the details of its plans, as opposed to hearing views from the public). A welcome role, certainly, and one which the Steering Committee had requested.

But not necessarily the ONLY role that had been envisioned. Was the Steering Committee to have “no need for structure?” Was it to be “just 13 voices from the groups you were appointed to represent?”

It took about an hour for the Steering Committee members to revive from Piera’s bombshell. Mike Smith, from LCOR, began the process by saying that he had expected a more active Committee with a different role. Other members jumped in, discussing whether to seek consensus on issues, or whether just to present individual voices. I made the point that the Board was seeking “solutions,” not just further lists of problems, and that solutions should be crafted together, rather than just being proposed.

 Eventually, the desire for concerted action won out. The Committee resolved to meet outside Piera’s timetable to see if there were some issues which could be resolved, and others which needed to be highlighted for the Board. That meeting will be held on January 13, at 4:30PM at the offices of Federal Realty Investment Trust in Rockville. For more information or directions, please contact Evan Goldman: egoldman@federalrealty.com.

Barnaby Zall