Council Gears Up Again for Sector Plan Consideration

Council Gears Up Again for Sector Plan Consideration

The Montgomery County Council is considering the draft of the White Flint Sector Plan recommended by the Planning Board. Most of the work thus far has been done in the Planning, Housing and Economic Development (PHED) Committee, but soon other committees will begin to weigh in, and the full Council will likely consider the Plan in February.

The PHED Committee, which has been tackling the transportation, land use and public facilities issues, has scheduled another meeting to consider the Commercial/Residential (CR) Zone for next Monday, January 11. The CR Zone is the new incentive-based proposal for zoning in White Flint, and has recently been considered for other areas in the County. The CR Zone combines an overall density limit, sub-limits for both commercial and residential development, and a height limit. There has been significant push-back from the Council to the new zoning system, and it is unclear how and when the CR Zone will emerge from the legislative meatgrinder.

The PHED Committee moves back to considering the Plan itself on Tuesday, January 19. The agenda includes both transportation and land use issues.

On January 21, a bit of a wild-card is thrown into the mix, as the PHED Committee looks at amending the Annual Growth Policy. As discussed last month, one of the difficulties in the White Flint Planning Process is that the Council is trying to develop a whole new transit-oriented and sustainable growth paradigm in the White Flint Plan, while maintaining the existing automobile-centric Growth Policy held over from prior years. The legal and political pressures from squeezing 21st Century carbon reduction needs (and legal requirements) into sprawl-generating transportation tests which measure quality of life by how fast cars move through intersections are almost hydraulic in their incompressibility. This has required the PHED Committee in particular to jump through various hoops to figure out how to conform the two. Perhaps the PHED Committee will take this opportunity to reconcile the two zeitgeists.

Then on January 26, the big kahuna of legislative hearings is scheduled. The PHED Committee is joining with the Management and Fiscal Policy Committee to consider the financial aspects of the Plan. Perhaps one of the biggest questions in all such government proposals is “how do you pay for it?” The White Flint area has always been one of the biggest retail locations in Maryland, and financial projections of the White Flint Plan have indicated that a County investment of $100 million in new streets and infrastructure would result in between $2 and $7 billion in additional revenues. So it’s a big revenue source for Montgomery County, if it is done correctly.

The White Flint Plan has a comprehensive proposal for funding and timing of payments which was carefully worked out over four years, and which includes agreements from all the biggest property owners to take on the lion’s share of the costs for the infrastructure development. Where the County would put in less than $100 million, the property owners would pay $400 million or more. The property owners agreed to a new tax on commercial development to pay for the new infrastructure.

Yet the Plan immediately drew fire from the County Executive, which argued that a rich area like White Flint shouldn’t be able to reserve even ten percent of the new money its development produces, but instead the Executive should be able to designate when and where revenues should go. The debate is arcane, involving TIFs and bonding authorities, but the stalemate over funding threatens the entire Plan. Absent a predictable and stable funding source, it is unlikely that the County could sell the appropriate bonds to pay for the new infrastructure.

Barnaby Zall

Barnaby Zall

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