Archives March 2009

March 30th Planning Board Worksession

Many of the residents that I spoke with after the work session last night were encouraged that the Planning Board was taking a strong position on the creation of walkable neighborhoods and a new community around White Flint Metro. 

I do want to comment on two residents that did not have the opportunity to present their views last night because the board ran out of time.  One resident was flying to Italy first thing in the morning but stayed until 10pm to deliver a presentation in favor of the New White Flint.  Unfortunately he never had the chance to speak.  Second, a resident from Randolph Hills whose child broke a leg the day before stayed until the bitter end of the hearing only to be told that he would not be able to present.  Both of these citizens work full time and have been unable to participate until last nights hearing because the work sessions were during the day.  Both were disappointed that they did not have the chance to voice the thoughts of their communities publicly.  We have been told that the next worksession will be in the evening. 

I hope that these two are willing to return to voice their position.  It is important for the Planning Board to hear from these and the numerous other supportive residents that want to see a New White Flint sooner rather than later!   

 Evan

Community Associations’ Presentations

Live blogging from March 30, 2009, meeting of the Montgomery County Planning Board. Topic up next is the presentation of reactions from four community associations.

Garrett Park Estates/White Flint Park: Natalie Goldberg, Suzanne Hudson (co-chair of Friends of White Flint) and Glenn Adler, President of the GPE/WFP Citizens Association, presented.

Three developers at the heart of the plan presented, but none embraced the Main Street Civic Green focus. So is it a focus or an afterthought. Is it lip service? Planning Board must step up to the values the plan has expressed.

Walkability. If don’t have it, you’re not going to achieve the mixed-use activities hoping to get out of your development. Quotes Dan Burden, President of Walkable Communities who made a presentation to the Advisory Group, says 1/4 mile (not 3/4 mile). Support concentric circle. Alfandre: density and walkability aren’t necessarily related. A matter of scale and mobility. Goldberg: Center point at new Main Street. Density should drop substantially as you move from the center, but do support combining and transferring density for an averaging. Pedestrian safety: developers walk much faster than community members. Factor in time to cross at a signals. Hanson: we have a lot of work to do in signalization. Difference in crossing one of our major streets and crossing Pennsylvania Ave or K St., is remarkable. Here you see 15 seconds on the walk signal; down there it’s 55 seconds and no right turns. Godlberg: enhance Rockville Pike underpass by making it more user friendly. Some activity so people will use it.

Oppose elliptical because it doesn’t make sense. Moved focus south. Ignores northern entrance. Center point should be at Main Street. Allocating density by developer not walkability. Focal point should be at Metro station. We have some concern about some presentations that are making their own villages in their districts. Don’t make a sense of place in each district; focus on the core. Hanson: why shouldn’t each district have their own distinction. Goldberg: yes, but then talking about a neighborhood that only serves itself. Much of what we have seen requires serving beyond the Sector boundaries. If they come in, they will drive.

Mobility discussion. Exit points a problem.

Metro capacity issues. Hanson: they’re considering fixing that. Goldberg: where will they get the money?

Outside the CBD have residential neighborhoods at Strathmore. Intersection fails the traffic tests, but staff claims that’s ok because it’s a smart growth area. Robinson: staff is correct if you accept smart growth analysis. Let’s be realistic: let’s eliminate the artificial distinctions imposed 20 years ago and look at this in terms of modern analysis. Let’s just look at it as a matter of social policy as to whether we should have residential or urban development in these areas. On Strathmore, I agree with you. I’m not sure our current policy provides for modeling and adequate mitigation of the problems.

MARC station: put it on the northern site. Closer to transit.

Robinson: I’m worried you’ll get the worst of all possible worlds if we don’t act. You will get more density naturally, but without any funding mechanism to get the amenities to handle the problems you see. If we build Main St. first and then the east-west access, doesn’t that help you? Goldberg: defeating the purpose.

Goldberg: Stage 3 is too late for Rockville Pike. Concerned that county will find other uses for the money. So we’ll have the housing and the traffic but not the Pike.

Compatibility with existing neighborhoods: Glen: White Flint Mall. Commercial transition zone. Long history. New construction on each current parking lot, up to the edge of our community. Present experience of rough edges, but mall is some distance from our community, but plans bring it much closer. We propose parking space to remain open, but made green as a green buffer incorporating White Flint Park and the green area on the southeastern portions of Nicholson Court properties. We want the new road be an internal street. Robinson: what if housing on a rational scale there. You already have a park there as a huge buffer in urban terms.

[connection lost] [Note: connection problems during this presentation resulted in some important material being dropped.]

Of the four planned community association presentations, only one was given. The Planning Board, the members of which hold other jobs, promised to schedule another session to hear the additional testimony. The Planning Board has scheduled an enormous amount of time to consider the White Flint Sector Plan, and deserves thanks for putting in this special effort.

Property Owners’ Presentations (continued)

Live-blogging from the March 30 meeting of the Montgomery Planning Board. Live streaming available at www.montgomeryplanningboard.org.  

Federal Realty Investment Trust. Mid-Pike Plaza. Don Briggs, Evan Goldman (also a co-Chair of Friends of White Flint). Between Montrose Rd and Old Georgetown Rd, Rockville Pike and Old Old Georgetown Rd. Current Toy R Us, Silver Diner.

Ellipse. Glatting-Jackson walkability, 10 minute walk shows an elliptical shape. With the new road network, it extends the walkability through the Sector, because new streets are more accessible. Comparison Bethesda. Bethesda Row and Woodmont Triangle Park are all 10 minute walk from Metro. People will walk from those places to the Metro. Fits with our recommendations for density. Region developed over time into a car-oriented district; north south, but very shallow. So built out residential neighborhoods on either side of Rockville Pike. Real estate values are more valuable on the Pike than 3-4 blocks away, just as Bethesda developed in a linear fashion, White Flint will do the same. Stepping down more rapidly east-west than north-south; natural barriers to Luxmanor, for example, in Wall Park, and tracks to Randolph Hills.

Alfandre: because of your good works in Bethesda, all the people are in your areas in Bethesda, not on the Pike/Wisconsin Ave/Route 355. You’ve drawn them away. If you had some similar developments on 355, you’d have the people up there as well. So taking some exception to analysis, because what you’ve demonstrated is that if you’ve created a good sense of place, people will walk a long way to get there. Because of the destination you’ve created there. We need to encourage and reward the sense of place and destination you’ve created.

Briggs: got to take into account people walking from homes and offices. Majority of Metro ridership. People will walk to Metro because the fabric of community begins to knit a sense of safety and access. Alfandre: a lot of that fabric existed there before; it doesn’t exist in White Flint right now. Need to see a more seamless connection in White Flint to the neighborhoods that you have in Bethesda. Briggs: we agree and we need a more positive approach. Alfandre: we’re looking for help from people like you who have actually done it and it works. I’m more concerned with the finer grain which hasn’t popped out yet.

Briggs: turning to Mid-Pike. Want to develop it into another Bethesda. Network of retail streets, two “main streets” one north south, the other east west. Need taller building near Montrose Parkway. Parks in the middle; staff proposed one, but we want to break that into two smaller urban spaces. We have experience putting in useful urban spaces. Great space in Bethesda at fountain, but less than 1/10th acre. Certainty needs to be an over-arching goal.

Hanson: everybody wants certainty until it’s inconvenient, and then they want flexibility. Want about incentives; would that matter?

Briggs: a good idea. I think they’d use them. Value of FAR bonus needs to have some relationship to the cost of providing the amenity. Not sure that the bonuses spelled out in the zone today have that. Give a range for each “goodie” to both the proposer and the Board; what is that “worth” in those circumstances and at that time. Otherwise not a lot will happen because the dollars are out of sync. Robinson: need bounds that are fairly fixed. So people know what the potential impacts are. Right now have neither certainty nor flexibility. Hanson: something traditional: base and bonuses. Need to calibrate to scale bonus to what is done. Briggs: get a range of discretionary negotiated range of bonus. Gives you flexibility to grant more FAR to a developer who can make an argument for more. As long as the economic cost is equivalent to the value received, everyone’s fine. If it’s far too high, it won’t happen. If it is too low, the Board should push density down.

Briggs: We can do outdoor space, but not individual units. 20% pervious is not urban standard. Try to program our urban spaces. Not just lawns. We can’t satisfy that. Robinson: I don’t think it works in this area. Not going to get water table recharge because it’s already scraped down to bedrock, but don’t look at standard that way. Look at the issue. We mean the reason is to prevent run-off as storm water. Are there other ways to address that concern? Design features? Storm water standards increasingly restrictive in coming years. Briggs: nobody objects to water control, but the pervious requirement? No way anybody can achieve that and achieve the kind of development you’re talking about.  Deal with it through BLTs. Creating, in essence, and saving pervious area. Any improvement over what is there is an improvement. Robinson: not one example from State presentation of handling pervious requirement in a high density environment.

Briggs: same with tree canopy. Not an urban standard. Hanson: street trees that can achieve a partial canopy. Increase quality for pedestrians. Green roofs and green areas. Major effect on reducing run-off and have a cooling effect. Robinson: reduce heat island effect. Do something like street trees. Hanson: trade-offs with use of roofs for solar generation and green roofs. One to create energy andone to dissipate it. Piera Weiss: looking for a “green factor” of all types. Meet some of these goals a different way.

Briggs: how are we creating districts. Districts are created by roads and corridors. Our site connected to parcels to the site. Interior connections even across the Pike into North Bethesda Center. Green spaces throughout connected by streets. We want Old Georgetown reduced in volume to a neighborhood street.

Alfandre: only one in all worksessions expressed interest in what’s happening near your site to people who live nearby. Still concerned. Edgemoor access. Not access within plan. Outside boundaries. As a stock company, your chairman left his position because of the way FRIT was going in their development; do you see that coming back, that inspiration that started FRIT, or are shareholders just going to require return on investment for each parcel. Briggs: I could build strip centers, but I’m a frustrate urbanist. I’ve put myself through a two year agony to produce a good property and community. Can’t count on a single developer to bring this kind of vision to reality. Need a strong urban idea that makes economic sense in the long haul in order to bring everyone together around urbanism around transit. Built on a plan that provides some degree of certainty and some degree of flexibility. Not built around a single person’s vision. Can’t rely on an individual to see it through the long haul. We all have to be behind it for the long haul.

Property Owners’ presentations (continued)

Holladay Properties. Rita Bamberger. Nicholson Lane to Marinelli Road, bordering the Grand and Rockville Pike. MetroPike Plaza. Have an approved development plan under TSM zoning. “Prime corner. . . very heart of the new White Flint community, and a vital link between future developments to north and south.” Important visual link and infrastructure (Woodglen Dr. through property connecting to Marinelli). Currently 2.2 FAR. Should increase density because otherwise proposals are dwarfed by surrounding buildings, such as the Grand. And we’re 100 feet from Metro, so we need 4.0 FAR. Biggest obstacles are low density, right of way dedication to Rockville Pike. The Grand should have had the extension of Woodglen Dr, but somehow they didn’t dedicate the land, the Grand got built, and now we have to have that on our property. Plan calls for primarily commercial because the Grand has all the residential already; but we need some residential.  Pervious and tree canopy requirements don’t work. Once we start underground parking, have to develop the whole property at once.

Nkosi Yearwood, staffer for White Flint: “add some clarity to that.” Series of utilities placed in the intended right of way. The Grand was supposed to dedicate it. Cmsnr Robinson: we need to get something from the Grand. Piera Weiss, staffer for White Flint: trying to expand Rockville Pike right of way, need 8 feet more.

Chrmn Hanson: a couple things people need to get used to. 1) doing most we can with tree canopy, and 2) perviousness or a reasonable substitute will become standard practice. Everybody has to figure out how we achieve that. The other thing is that we’re still working on the zoning issues, one concept we’re batting around is to start with a maximum FAR for a site, but provide some ratio of minimum amounts of residential and commercial. May add up to more than the maximum if did them all.

(Just give us a number.) Robinson: not the way it’s going to be. Hundreds of zoning proposals. Some places where a rigid standard is inappropriate; some places should be all residential. Give some flexibility. Looking for an overall number. Don’t see how every proposall can be 60-40. Cmsnr Presley: have to figure out how to do that. Closer to Metro? How do we achieve collectively the goal? Hanson: if you’re adjacent to Metro, we want a high ratio of residential, but to make this interesting place, make street level retail. To leave this entirely to the market places an extraordinary amount of faith that the market is interested in planning. Development occurs in cycles. Real estate is about as close as we get to a perfect market in the U.S. Bursts of enthusiasm in a highly-distributed environment. Until you’ve overbuilt, and then you can’t get a loan for that, for a while.

Cmsnr Alfandre: It will revert back. Geographically small site which makes it difficult to hit the ratio, but it needs to work both ways. If going to be flexibility in zoning, and we come up with mixed use zone, one of the important reasons for that is to give flexibility to the market, but it has to work both ways. Consider this while we consider how we’re going to phase or stage. Instead of a race to the courthouse, we may have some natural phasing and staging of how it comes to the market based on zoning. We need suggestions of how to work out staging.

Property Owners’ presentations

Live-blogging from the March 30 meeting of the Montgomery Planning Board.

Montouri property. Across Nebel St. from the new Harris Teeter store, at the end of Old Georgetown Rd. Object to MARC station on their site. “Sliver” on the west side of Nebel, which is now a treed site. Undeveloped for many years. Zoned for industrial uses, but no industry has been interested for years, so are happy to see higher uses coming into the area. Concept for site, based on topography, can’t put in MARC station and still have enough to develop the site in any way. About 300 units of residences without the station; no commercial or retail. 20 story building with underground parking. Give a “terminus” to Old Georgetown Rd.  The northern MARC station won’t benefit transit because people coming long-distances will transfer in Rockville, where you will be under cover. Takes longer to transfer to Metro at White Flint to go downtown, than going on the MARC to Union Station and backtracking. So redundant and doesn’t add to transportation network. We want to be allowed to use the sliver for density transfer. Then would “probably” use that piece for public open space. Generally pleased with density provisions, zoning and FAR.

Planning Board Meeting on White Flint

The Montgomery County Planning Board is holding a rare evening worksession on the White Flint Sector Plan. The session is live-streamed on the Planning Board’s site: www.montgomeryplanningboard.org.

Live-blogging from the meeting.

Topic for the evening is more presentations by property owners, and, if there is time, by community associations.

Some of the properties which will present tonight are: Mid-Pike Plaza, Montouri properties (MARC station site proposal), and Holladay properties (where the McDonald’s now is).

Agenda for March 30 Planning Board Meeting

The agenda and staff memo for the March 30, 2009, meeting and worksession of the Montgomery Planning Board is available at:

http://montgomeryplanningboard.org/agenda/2009/documents/20090323_White_Flint_Worksession_5.pdf

This meeting is a continuation of the two prior meetings, in which property owners will present their proposals for projects in the new White Flint. In addition, four community association representatives, including Friends of White Flint Director John Fry, will present their views to the Planning Board.

The meeting will be live-streamed on the Planning Board’s site: www.montgomeryplanningboard.org.

I plan to live-blog as well, but, as always, live blogging is subject to connections and other factors.

Barnaby Zall

Weekly Trip Generation!

For those of you who do read this part of the blog I apologize for not writing sooner.  I missed a week due to a crazy work schedule, but here is the data on my last two weeks of trip generations!

I took 29 trips between Monday 3/9 and Sunday 3/22:

 6 trips were auto associated with a vacation weekend in suburban New York and New Jersey.  Not so easy to get around without a car in suburban New York although I did manage to take NJ Transit and Metronorth in order to get to a design meeting in White Plains. 

Of the remaining 23 trips,

5 were auto: (Union Station, Kennedy Center, Grocery Store, Work on a late night day, tennis in east potomac park)

3 were car pool

15 were by foot or by metro (including work, dentist, doctor, Bethesda chamber meeting, park, dinner, dance lessons, and others…)

I will write again next week!

Evan Goldman

Interesting Article on the Greater Greater Washington Blog about White Flint!

White Flint master plan: it’s all about incentives


Proposed street grid at White Flint Metro. Image from Glatting-Jackson.
by Cavan Wilk Montgomery County is continuing its planning process to retrofit the area surrounding the White Flint Metro into a vibrant livable, walkable community. The current owners of the land surrounding the Metro station are on board with the plan. They are also contributing their input. For the property owners, a suburban-to-urban retrofit is an excellent project. They would no longer have to pay taxes on land in their strip malls that is dedicated to large non-revenue generating surface parking lots, and will be able to collect more rent in the denser walkable urban environment. As we saw with the District of Columbia government’s failure at Poplar Point, providing the right incentives for developers and landowners is an incredibly important part of planning a great human-scale place. Currently, the area surrounding the White Flint Metro station has a very car-dependent form. Traffic there is, to be blunt, a pain in the rear at most hours of the day. Last October, I wrote: Rockville Pike between the NIH and downtown Rockville is an ugly mess of an edge city. Like Tysons, it has too much density to be truly car friendly, but all the ugliness of suburbia: strip malls set back behind acres of surface parking. This is all connected by a six lane road with speed limits that are too high to be safe for pedestrians. The irony is that unlike Tysons, Rockville Pike already has a Metro line—the busiest line in the Metro system, the Red Line.The landowners are asking for more density (higher FAR’s) in the updated Sector Plan. As with any profit-seeking business, they are seeking to increase long-term profitability. In this case, the developers would like to be able to collect more rent on more floor space in a taller building. They are also worried that without the density, they will not be able to recoup the large costs associated with canceling their current leases, demolishing their existing strip malls, and building new buildings. The landowners are also seeking to amend how the density is allocated throughout the new suburban-to-urban retrofitted town. In both Bethesda and the Rosslyn to Ballston corridor, the tallest buildings are closest to the Metro station. The farther away from the Metro, the shorter the buildings until the walkable town blends into car-dependent suburbia. The original draft of the White Flint Sector Plan calls for a similar arrangement. However the landowners have a modified proposal: Unlike the staff plan, which is a pattern of concentric circles with the highest density around the Metro station like a bull’s-eye, the ellipse plan squishes the higher densities inward, elongating the zone along Rockville Pike. It also follows property lines, so owners are not faced with bisected lots of different densities. … Don Briggs, senior vice president of Federal Realty, said the Collaborative’s intent was not to increase density for every property owner within it, but to create density allocations that reflected the real walkability to be achieved when Rockville Pike is reborn as a boulevard. The staff plan assumes walkability in as-the-crow-flies increments from the Metro, while the Collaborative plan uses walking time and other factors that will accompany the new street network and transit options to craft its recommendations. He said the ellipse plan more equitably reflects property values, which are higher along the commercial stretch of Rockville Pike.It would be expensive (and a bit awkward) for a developer to have to build a building that does not take up their entire property so they can fit it within the density boundaries. Planners should ensure that it is as financially rewarding as possible to build human-scale walkable urban places. Current landowners have already proposed a human-scale street grid for the area. They would cede the land under the new streets to the public. While the Fenty Administration dropped the ball at Poplar Point, Montgomery County’s planning for the White Flint Metro provides an excellent opportunity to learn more tools to create walkable urban transit-oriented places. In the United States, we have a tradition of having the private sector build buildings and collect rent. The government’s role is to provide planning and infrastructure. In this arrangement, it is up to the government to set up the rules of the game in such a way that the private sector makes more profits for building walkable urban places with a human-scale street grid and transit access and nothing for building more gas-guzzling car-dependent sprawl. The land around the White Flint Metro station is incredibly valuable. Its value is only enhanced by its location in the Favored Quarter. If the Washington Post is correct, our region will need new dense human-scale walkable urban infill because migration to the exurbs is over. Yet, economic troubles and all, our region is one of the few in the United States that is still projected to gain jobs in the coming decades. The free falling housing values in the exurbs imply that it will not be worth it for developers to build out there. That is in addition to the extreme negative economic and environmental consequences of the car-dependent suburban/exurban living arrangement. This new White Flint Sector Plan will be one piece of the puzzle of planning for the rest of the 21st century.

posted on Mar 24, 2009 2:29 pm (4 comments · share or email) — tags: Maryland, Montgomery, Smart Growth, White Flint

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CommentsGreat analysis. Let’s hope this plan (or sometime like it) comes to fruition. Rockville Pike is terrible as currently laid-out. There is some decent TOD sprouting up, but the Pike itself is so unwalkable and unaesthetic. (Maybe not as bad as Bally’s Crossroads or 7 Corners, but not far behind) by SG on Mar 24, 2009 2:37 pm   …and the irony is that unlike in Tysons, a Metro line already runs through the corridor. I do give the county a lot of credit for working on plans. I also give them credit for listening to the developers for input. The developers are on board with the suburban-to-urban retrofit, despite its economic risks to them. They want to do the right thing for the environment while making a profit. I was not surprised that the Post piece had to quote some anti-neighbor like it always does. Most are neutral or in favor of the plan. It won’t destroy anyone’s parking space. The fact that the county is widening Randolph/Montrose Road to near-freeway standards there is also placating the car/traffic/build more and bigger roads crowd. We’re learning more and more, especially in light of current economic trends, that in a market economy such as ours, we must use the profit motive of private developers for good rather than knee-jerk demonizing them. by Cavan on Mar 24, 2009 3:26 pm   It’s interesting that so much cooperation was possible here, with companies working for development. Considering how demonized developers are, isn’t is ironic that PUD and community organization plans are usually more histrionic and bitter than this seems to be. Is it really just because the companies will get a better bottom line that they’re willing to work together? How do urban activists convince relatively upscale neighborhoods to work together instead of throwing ad hominems at each other? On a side note, I think it helps that these companies have been on the land for while now, so they sort of have a sense for the neighborhood already. by цarьchitect on Mar 24, 2009 6:27 pm   Well, there are some anti-neighbors. Not so many though. Many are intrigued and are excited at having Bethesda-like amenities near their house. As for the developers, a couple of them want to do the right thing for the planet. It luckily is the better business decision too.

Virginia Aims at Dead-End Roads

An article in today’s Washington Post talks about Virginia’s road code changes intended to end cul-de-sacs in neighborhoods.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/03/21/AR2009032102248.html?sub=AR

The same concepts are used in the White Flint Sector Plan traffic planning process: a robust network of roads, permitting the use of alternate routes instead of widening thoroughfares, slowing traffic, increasing walkability. The article mentions the attempts to make Tyson’s Corner a more walkable area, but doesn’t mention White Flint.

Another article in today’s Post discusses the new “Silver Line” extension of Metrorail into Loudoun County, described as the only major area in the Washington Metropolitan area without a major highway or transit. The prospect of the new subway line is enticing moribund development plans, based on the transit “gateways” brought by the new heavy rail line.