Planning Board discusses how planning should work in Montgomery County

Planning Board discusses how planning should work in Montgomery County

Live-blogging from July 9, 2009, worksession of the Montgomery County Planning Board. Live streaming video is available at www.montgomeryplanningboard.org. During the morning’s discussions so far, the Board has touched on major planning issues county-wide, including planning processes, transportation, and the future of the county.

The Board is currently considering the West Gaithersburg/Life Sciences Center Plan, before taking up the White Flint Plan. The Board is stressing that this is a “major employment center’ for the county, and that the residential construction planned for the area is insufficient to provide close-in housing for the thousands of new workers in this job center. Commissioner Presley: that means either traffic or transit. Commissioner Robinson: over time the transit patterns will evolve, and we have strict phasing. The density in Phase One is lower than the projected build-out if we did nothing. That gives me confidence in the future, particularly with the quality of the plan for the future. We can come back to make changes if necessary.

Commissioner Alfandre: I have too many amendments. They would radically transform the Plan, and we don’t have time to do them. So I’ll have to vote against the Plan. Chairman Hanson: that’s your privilege. Commissioner Cryor: I wish I weren’t old enough to know this, but this isn’t the Ten Commandments; if it isn’t in stone and clear, it will get changed. How strong is a Master Plan passed by the Council? Can residents sue to enforce it? Hanson: a master Plan is a guide, but when it is passed as zoning, it is a regulation and can be enforced. What we’re talking about here: phasing. Robinson: a little more than that for me; requirements have to be strictly adhered to, and anyone who does something differently is facing serious legal risks. Legislature can shape and change the zoning.

[Note: the Board seems quite pressed, even this early in what looks to be a long day. Little of the usual joking, discussion, pauses for deliberation.]

Hanson: I’m recommending that all Master Plans have a six-year review mechanism so that we can react to any necessary changes. Presley: I like that. Robinson: in the time I’ve been a Commissioner, there’s been darn little of that. One of the Commission’s responsibilities is to monitor how things are doing, and we’ve haven’t been doing that.¬†

Hanson: if we’re going to make it a major employment center for the life sciences, then we have to make it a major employment center. If we’re going to make it something else, we should have started two years ago. If I’m being a little tough, it’s because I’m being tough. We’ve got to agree on what we’re doing or not send it to Council.

Commissioner Alfandre: my conscience is telling me that we’re making a decision today that will happen long after we are gone. My initial instincts were that we were doing the right thing. But at the very best we’re going to end up with a series of sprawl areas. There is no Science City in this plan. There is no epicenter. We will realize long after this Plan that this is being built as sprawl. I can’t fix the system. Master Plan system works for the old system which is sprawl. Economic viability of our county is not matching the vision. Unless there is a vision of how they’re going to be built with adequate public facilities that match the new economy, there will be a disaster in the county. Experts in this field said that design is about changing the discussion, until we begin to change the discussion we will never change the way people live in this county. I think you’ve done a great job with this Plan, but I believe you have to begin to change the discussion in this County.

Hanson: please write down your objections so I can send them to Council with this Plan. Robinson: I’d agree if it wasn’t for the heavy transportation emphasis in this Plan. My colleague is a revolutionary and I’m a politician. That’s not a bad thing; I see politics as principles in search of an application. Presley: I think we have an audience of residents and developers working together saying this is great, and I think we can work to make this a success. If there’s an issue later, there may be a chance to change it. Hanson: lots of places in the county where I wish we’d done better. This Plan is a substantial improvement over the prior plan for the area. Area thought of in terms of the past generation, not as far as we would like for the next generation. We’re making a start.

The Board voted 4-1 to adopt the West Gaithersburg Plan. Cmsnr Alfandre voted against, pointing out that he appreciated all the good work, but wanted to change the discussion of planning.

Next the Board will get to a new zoning pattern for this Life Sciences Center. Following that, the Board will move to discuss the White Flint Plan.

Barnaby Zall

Barnaby Zall

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