Archives November 2009

Council Adopts New Urbanism . . . or maybe not.

     On Tuesday, Nov. 10, the Montgomery County Council voted to change the Annual Growth Policy to reflect more of the holistic, sustainable approach pioneered by the White Flint Plan. The AGP is the review undertaken by the Council every two years to determine if there are adequate public facilities (originally water and sewer, now roads and schools) to support levels of population in each area of the County. Unfortunately, the AGP mobility testing process has deteriorated to a simple measurement of how fast cars can move on various roads in the County. For example, one prominent measurement used is how long it takes for a car to move between two intersections along Rockville Pike; this policy perversely results in “sprawl,” as new growth is driven into areas where cars move faster now. In September, Friends of White Flint testified in support of the Planning Board’s new approach to measure “quality of life” indicators such as walkability, sustainability, and urban design features, in addition to traffic speeds.

     On Tuesday, the Council voted to adopt this approach in the future, principally by agreeing that development density should be concentrated in walkable development around Metro stations. The Council has been moving in this direction, and endorsing walkable areas, in order to meet new carbon emission reduction requirements which will really begin to clamp down in the near future. Tuesday’s vote can be seen as a way to address that problem along with other, more traditional regulations of development in the County. This is the approach Friends of White Flint promoted both in its AGP testimony and in its Oct. 19 Report to the Council on the White Flint Sector Plan.

     Unfortunately, the Council also voted to delay actually making a final decision on this shift in the AGP process. The County Executive has hired a consultant to review the traffic measurements being used in the AGP, and the Council will revisit this question after the consultant reports back to the Executive and Council next year. This leaves open the question of whether the Council (and the County) have moved forward in recognizing New Urbanism and smart growth principles. We cannot yet say that the County has embraced New Urbanism until we know whether the County will continue to measure and regulate development by seeing how fast cars move, as opposed to looking more broadly at measures related to building a walkable, sustainable community.

     You can read the Washington Post article on the Council vote here:

UPDATE: Here’s the County Council’s own media release on their actions:

Barnaby Zall

County Council holds Town Hall Weds Nov 18

About three times a year, the Montgomery County Council holds a Town Hall open meeting where residents can speak to the Council on any topic. Next week the Council will hold a Town Hall at Tilden Middle School on Old Georgetown Road in White Flint (the site of prior Friends of White Flint public outreach meetings). One of the likely topics will be the White Flint Sector Plan. We urge all residents to attend the meeting.

Here’s the media release:

Montgomery County Council to

Host White Flint / Kensington /

Garrett Park/ North Bethesda

Areas Town Hall Meeting on

Wednesday, Nov. 18

Residents Invited to Express Their Views

on Issues, Ask Questions of Councilmembers

at Tilden Middle School

ROCKVILLE, Md., November 9, 2009—The Montgomery County Council will continue its efforts to find out what issues most concern residents when it hosts a Town Hall Meeting for the White Flint / Kensington / Garrett Park / North Bethesda area on Wednesday, Nov. 18. The meeting at Tilden Middle School will start at 8 p.m. A pre-meeting reception will begin at 7:30 p.m.

This will be the third Town Hall Meeting hosted by the Council in 2009. The Council is composed of President Phil Andrews, Vice President Roger Berliner and Councilmembers Marc Elrich, Valerie Ervin, Nancy Floreen, Mike Knapp, George Leventhal, Nancy Navarro and Duchy Trachtenberg. The Council previously held Town Hall Meetings this year in Germantown/Boyds and West Gaithersburg/Darnestown areas. Most meetings have attracted more than 200 residents.
Tilden Middle School is located at 11211 Old Georgetown Road between the Wildwood section of Bethesda and the southern area of Rockville <> , adjacent to White Flint.
The meeting will allow residents to let the Councilmembers know how they feel about specific issues and will allow them to ask questions of the Councilmembers in an organized, but informal, setting.
Topics expected to be of interest include the proposed White Flint Sector Plan, schools, public safety, traffic, growth, the County budget and taxes.
 “In many ways, our County is facing one of its most difficult periods in a very long time. We are all in this together and we want residents to tell us about their most important concerns as we approach making important decisions about growth in this area,” said Council President Andrews. “This Council has made a priority of having better direct communication with residents, and Town Hall Meetings have proven to be an excellent way to do just that. For the citizens, these meetings provide a forum where they can see their elected officials in a different format than a televised meeting or through a news release.”
The meeting will be taped for later broadcast on County Cable Montgomery (CCM—cable Channel 6 on Comcast and RCN, Channel 30 on Verizon). Susan Kenedy, a producer for the county station, will moderate the meeting.
For more information about the Town Hall Meeting or about the broadcast times, call 240-777-7931.

# # #

Barnaby Zall

Pedestrians safer in D.C. area, but just a little

Every day a pedestrian is hit by a car in Montgomery County; about 450 such incidents last year. Today Transportation for America,, released a study showing that the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area is less dangerous for pedestrians than seven other areas. Washington, D.C. ranks eighth in the nationwide survey in pedestrian traffic deaths.

Stewart Schwartz, Executive Director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, which supports the White Flint Sector Plan, told the Washington Post that “the pedestrian study adds weight to the argument for integrating automobile traffic, mass transit, bicycling and walking in a master transportation plan. ‘If you look at these pedestrian deaths, you’ll find that a lot of them are along commercial corridors.'” Such as Rockville Pike. Elinor Ginzler of AARP said that pedestrians older than 65 are two-thirds more likely to be killed while walking than persons under 65. “Fifty percent of them said they would walk more if they had a hospitable environment.”

 You can read the Washington Post story here:

Barnaby Zall

White Flint, District 1, Councilman Berliner, Council President

As we head for the finish line with the White Flint Sector Plan, will we loose the advantage of having  District 1 Councilman and current Council Vice President  Roger Berliner if he is not appointed the President to the Council?  Yes.  White Flint, likely the most valuable piece of real estate for the County coffers and the first true transformation of ugly strip shopping centers and their seas of asphalt parking, needs Berliner in the drivers seat so to speak.  The tradition of succession from Vice President to President of the Council has a long history and should be maintained, and with the high stakes of so many master plans in play it is an imperative.

I’ve heard scuttlebutt about the possibility of this transition not takeing place and find it disturbing.  I’ve been very involved in the entire White Flint Sector Plan process and know Concilman Berliner understands what is in play for all stakeholders in White Flint and District 1.  My Luxmanor community has benefited from Councilman Berliner’s leadership and knowledge of the issues that impact areas adjacent to urban centers and is in a unique position to lead the White Flint Sector to a successful outcome as Council President.

Let’s let the County Council know this is not the time to let tradition slip away.  District1 make some noise.

Ken Hurdle

White Flint Sector Plan to receive recognition tomorrow

As noted earlier, the Maryland chapter of the American Planning Association has given its highest award for 2009 to the White Flint Sector Plan. The Gazette interviewed the judges who said: “The main thing was just the amount of analysis that was involved and the amount of public participation, those were the two main things,” that set the plan apart, said Timothy Bourcier, one of the volunteer judges, and himself a 2009 award winner.

Nkosi Yearwood, one of the chief planners on the White Flint project, also told the Gazette: “I think it sort of recognizes the sort of long-range, you could say potential of the effort.  I just think that it recognizes the work and effort from everyone, the members of the steering committee, the (Planning) Board, and everyone who contributed to make the draft a good document.”

The Gazette story is available here:

Barnaby Zall

Jean Cryor, Planner and Leader, Passes Away

Jean Cryor, a longtime leader in Montgomery County, and a member of the Planning Board who helped craft the White Flint Sector Plan, passed away last night. Cryor was one of the few Republicans elected to the Legislature in an earlier era from Montgomery County, serving until 2007, when she was appointed to the Planning Board.

Jean Cryor

On the Board, Cryor was known as an advocate for community participation and support for the arts and aesthetics. She was an active supporter of aid to low- and moderate-income families. Cryor led the effort to bring Randolph Hills, the oft-forgotten community to the east of the Sector, into the White Flint planning process.

Cryor also brought humor and a different perspective to the Board’s worksessions. She was a strong mentor to several generations of women in elected and appointed office in Montgomery County and Maryland, serving as the only Republican leader of Women Legislators of Maryland.

She was a former editor and publisher of the Gazette newspaper. You can find the Gazette story here:

Barnaby Zall

Post Continues Focus on “Smart Growth”

For the second day in a row, the Washington Post has a story on “smart growth.” Yesterday it was a report that Maryland’s “smart growth” policies have no “teeth,” so sprawl continues. Today, in an apparent Web-only story, Post Montgomery Bureau writer Miranda Spivack discusses how difficult it is to promote a “smart growth” vision in an auto-dominated county.

Spivack’s story centers on Planning Board Chairman Royce Hanson, who presented the White Flint Sector Plan to the Friends of White Flint’s September 23 White Flint Town Hall.

Planning Board Chairman Royce Hanson, a nationally known thinker about growth and planning and the father of the county’s 93,000-acre agricultural reserve, thinks he can meet the challenge, even though Montgomery is almost out of vacant land that is available for development.

Hanson’s proposal, now being debated by the County Council, would reward developers who build near transit by giving them a series of discounts and allowing them to avoid the usual requirements to fix congested roads nearby or make improvements so their developments don’t add to congestion.

Much of what is available for development are lucrative shopping centers that could be converted into small villages, as long as there are incentives to idle the properties while construction takes place, Hanson said.

If the proposal is adopted by the County Council, Montgomery would be in the vanguard of communities in the Washington area to try to apply urban solutions to suburban problems. Instead of delaying development until roads are built or requiring a developer to pay for fixes if roads are too crowded — the usual practice in most suburbs in the region — Hanson said his plan would encourage developers to build near transit and create walkable, bikeable communities.

“Knowing that the population and tastes are changing in terms of what people want in living style, we think it makes a lot of sense to move from a system that has been historically based on what you can’t do, based on capacity of mainly roads, to a system that focuses on what you ought to do and where you ought to do it,” Hanson said one recent day as he prepared for another marathon session with the County Council committee reviewing the Annual Growth Policy.

Ben Ross, from Action Committee for Transit (a member of Friends of White Flint), thinks the Plan does not go far enough. “They’re just tinkering,” Ross told the Post.  County Council President Phil Andrews rejects the whole idea: “For the foreseeable future, most people in Montgomery County will continue to drive,” said County Council President Phil Andrews (D-Gaithersburg-Rockville). “I believe it is a critical measure of the quality of life and it is a crucial one for many of our residents.”

You can find the Post story here:

Barnaby Zall

Smart Growth a “Flop?”

Scary headline on the first page of today’s Washington Post Metro section: “Study calls Md. smart growth a flop.”

But it was a bit deceptive. What the researchers at the University of Maryland’s National Center for Smart Growth Research and Education,, actually found was that “smart growth” was a good policy, but the implementation was too weak to make it effective. “Pioneering law lacks teeth to put development near transit” read the sub-sub-headline. As a result, sprawl continues in Maryland.

The idea behind Maryland’s celebrated smart-growth program seemed sound: To ease traffic jams and air and water pollution and preserve farmland, development would be focused into dense, urban settlements near train and bus stations. The state would stop subsidizing sprawl and instead direct money for roads, sewer lines and other investments to urban areas.

Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government called the idea one of the country’s 10 “most innovative” public policies after [former Maryland Gov. Parris] Glendening muscled it through the General Assembly in 1997. Other states followed suit with similar programs.

But scholars at the National Center for Smart Growth Research and Education found that over a decade, smart growth has not made a dent in Maryland’s war on sprawl.

That’s the actual “flop.” The organization proposes tougher mandates for smart growth in Maryland development planning, meaning that they want MORE smart growth, not less.

 You can find the Post story here:

Barnaby Zall