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.

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:

Barnaby Zall

JOIN the Friends of White Flint

We would like to invite you to join the Friends of White Flint.

There are no requirements or pre-conditions for membership, and membership is open to all persons interested in the White Flint Sector Plan. It’s free. You don’t even have to agree with our Goal or Vision; our purpose is to encourage debate and discussion, leading to a better White Flint plan.

People who join the Friends of White Flint are known as “Friends.” To join as a Friend of White Flint, all you have to do is send an e-mail to Barnaby Zall at, with your name, address, preferred e-mail address, and any other information you would like to include.

 Thanks for becoming a Friend!

Barnaby Zall

Board of Directors of Friends of White Flint

The Board of Directors of Friends of White Flint are:

Evan Goldman    

Suzanne Hudson 

Barnaby Zall         

These are the three representatives of the former Advisory Group who presented the Group’s views to the Planning Board last September. They represent the residents, developers and business communities interested in the Sector Plan.

Please contact any of the Directors if you have further questions.

Barnaby Zall

Preparations for tomorrow’s First Steering Committee Meeting

The first meeting of the White Flint Sector Plan Steering Committee is set for 7PM tomorrow night (January 6) at the Silver Spring MNCPPC auditorium.

 No one knows quite what to expect. There are various proposals for structure, role and operations circulating among members. A major question is the expectations of the Planning Board. What is their view of the role of the Committee? Is the Steering Committee to meet regularly with the staff and Board? How independent will the Steering Committee be to comment and criticize drafts and changes?

Another question is how much of the meeting will be devoted to setting up the Committee itself, as opposed to substantive discussions of transportation and design guidelines. There appear to be divergent opinions on how and whether to seek a consensus of opinion on the Committee or just serve as a conduit of views from various communities. How can the Committee balance the roles of members who represent different constituencies in the community (developer, residents, individual communities)? How can the Committee balance the views of landowner representatives, who generally have more time and resources to devote to the process, with those of residents who are volunteers? How should the Committee communicate to the community and to various interested entities (including other government agencies)?

There is even discussion of the agenda, and whether it should be proposed and run by the Planning Board staff or by the Committee itself.

 Should be an interesting meeting, but a long one. The Steering Committee (distilled from the larger Advisory Group) is composed of active participants in the process, who are not shy in expressing their views.

Barnaby Zall

Further Discussion on Berman Proposal for Steering Committee

Steering Committee member Natalie Goldberg has responded to Perry Berman’s proposal (quoted in the prior message). Natalie has a number of points, including:

The Steering Committe needs to see what role the Planning Board intends before taking actions.

The individual Steering Committee members’ responsibility is to be a voice for the community represented.

The Steering Committee is not to craft a plan, but to respond to the Planning Board’s plan and to public comments.

That the Steering Committee should not aim for consensus, but should recognize that there are differences and provide a means to express those differences.

My own view is that the Steering Committee is to have more of role than Natalie proposes. Reducing the size of the official commenting group (as was done when the Advisory Group was reduced to the Steering Committee) should not mean that only the groups represented should continue to have voices. I believe that the members of the Steering Committee now have larger roles to play, and represent entire sectors of the community, rather than individual groups, as in the Advisory Group. This may prove problematic for the business members, who may have obligations to employers and clients, but they must work those out and disclose when they are representing a narrower interest.

I also think the Steering Committee should be pro-active where it disagrees with Staff or the Board. On this, I actually think both Perry and Natalie agree, but they disagree on whether there can be a consensus position on behalf of the whole Committee. I, on the other hand, think the Committee can reach consensus, but wonder whether the Steering Committee, as an appointed sub-unit of the Planning Board, can take positions once the Planning Board has voted. That, I think, may be more of a role for outside organizations (which may be what Natalie has in mind).

(Update: Paula Bienenfeld has responded to my comments by saying that the Steering Committee is not a “sub-group” of the Planning Board and should continue to be an independent voice.)  

Barnaby Zall