The Montgomery County Council held a public hearing on the White Flint Sector Plan last night. Forty-five witnesses testified, with another 45 scheduled for Thursday night’s “overflow” hearing. The schedule seemed to be organizational representatives on Tuesday, individuals Thursday. Testimony in favor of the Plan vastly outnumbered those opposing it, though even supporters (including Friends of White Flint) often suggested improvements which could be made. Those who stridently opposed this draft at last month’s Growth Policy hearing were much more moderated in tone last night.
As expected, the County Executive’s office, represented by Diane Schwartz-Jones, led off the night. After the furious reaction to the Executive’s October 5 automobile-centric analysis of the Plan, Schwartz-Jones stressed the positive aspects of the Plan at the beginning. Executive Isiah Leggett’s big concerns, however, came through at the end of her testimony, when she was pressed for time: no to special funding, Plan will cause congestion, “be sure the Plan doesn’t sacrifice quality of life for existing residents to gain new residents.”
Planning Board Chair Royce Hanson, who had earlier given the Council an extensive briefing on the Plan, then described the “intensive dialogue” with the White Flint community which had produced the Plan. Sally Roman, from the Housing Opportunities Commission, praised the Plan for its attention to affordable housing. And Garrett Park Mayor Chris Keller then walked back his September criticisms of the Plan, noting that “nearby residents have a stake in the future of White Flint” and that his principal concerns were that there were not adequate guarantees that the sustainability goals will be met.
After the officials’ testimony, the big panels began, with groups of six witnesses racing through their alloted three-minute presentations, and the Council listening attentively, but not asking questions. Adam Goldberg of the AARP-Maryland strongly endorsed the Plan, noting its senior-friendly aspects. John and Liz King, from the White Flint Community Coalition, complained about transit inadequacies; John saying that the Coalition was “not opposed to the Plan” but wanted improvements, but Liz called for a “moratorium” until school issues were fixed.
Evan Goldman, from the White Flint Partnership, gave the Council a “White Paper” on mobility/transportation issues. The Partnership was the independent organization which had hired an internationally-reknowned transportation and walkability consulting firm, Glatting Jackson of Orlando, Florida, to produce both the street grid network for White Flint and the “Transitway Option” for renovating Rockville Pike. The White Paper, which wasn’t distributed except to the Council, apparently deals with the actual details of accelerating the Pike renovation from Phase Three to Phase Two of the Plan (which Friends of White Flint and most speakers who addressed the question strongly support).
Meredith Josef, active in both the Coalition and Friends of White Flint policy discussions, told the Council that a one-acre Civic Green (new park in the “core” section) was not enough. Dan Hoffman, of the Randolph Hills Civic Association (who had a couple of dozen supporters in green shirts in the audience), said to the Council that his community really needed relief for its over-crowded schools, but recognized that the Council would not accept the option in the Plan of re-opening Rocking Horse Elementary School (now used for offices for MCPS). “The question then is whether we would still support the Plan without Rocking Horse, and the answer is yes. The value to the community of the new Plan is still great.”
I testified on behalf of Friends of White Flint. I made three basic points:
- Unprecedented public participation in the planning process: the Plan was the product of hundreds of County residents working over three years, and has been discussed by thousands of residents on-line and in hundreds of meetings.
- The new carbon requirements: increasingly these new laws will dominate Council discussions, and the best way to reduce carbon is to encourage transit use.
- Arlington County has used a “smart growth, New Urbanism” plan to move from traffic-clogged suburb into a vibrant, transit-oriented community, protecting neighborhoods, drawing in employers. “Density quadrupled, but traffic congestion went down, because all those new people used transit. And one-tenth of the County produces half the county’s tax revenue.”
Probably the two most effective speakers were Jane Fairweather, who described her move from living in a suburban home and driving everywhere, to living in renovated Bethesda: “I met the enemy and it was me. . . . Now I never get in my car unless I’m working. If I didn’t work, I wouldn’t own a car. We no longer need to drive there, because we live there”, and Jeff Krauthammer, who described being hit by a car on Rockville Pike: “Imagine you’re me, in a wheelchair, just trying to get home to the Monterey from Starbucks. Then you’ll see why we need a new White Flint.”