Montgomery County Council Meeting February 23, 2010

Montgomery County Council Meeting February 23, 2010

Live blogging from the February 23, 2010, meeting of the Montgomery County Council, considering the White Flint Sector Plan.  

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Councilmember Mike Knapp, chairman of the Planning, Housing and Economic Development Committee, opened the discussion with a presentation of the Committee’s report, which is available here:

http://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/content/council/pdf/agenda/col/2010/100223/20100223_4.pdf

Michaelson - OrlinMarlene Michaelson and Glenn Orlin, Council staff, then described the greater focus on residential development in the Plan. Michaelson noted that the Committee decided to “take down some of the heights” on the southern edge of the Plan to help the transition to some of the communities in that area.

Orlin then opened the discussion of transportation/infrastructure “balance.” This is the old automobile-oriented test of how fast cars can move through intersections. The PHED Committee wrestled with that test for months, since it doesn’t suit the type of transit-oriented community intended for White Flint. Since the Committee couldn’t seem to make cars move faster, they decided they would reduce the number of automobile trips generated in White Flint. The fact that land use in other parts of North Bethesda will not grow as fast in the next 30 years as White Flint improves will help reduce car trips, but will still require extensive “traffic demand management” efforts by the County in White Flint. Knapp noted that not all the Committee votes were unanimous, but the Committee worked “well” on the Plan.

Councilmember Roger Berliner, who wasn’t on the PHED Committee, but sat in on all the meetings, noted that there will be a monitoring and reporting mechanism to ensure that if the Plan is falling behind, the Council will be notified about it. Knapp said the important issue is how to coordinate some of these issues. There will be biennial reports.

Councilmember Phil Andrews asked about the “balance” and what would happen if the “mode share split” is not met? Orlin responded that the Planning Board would monitor and make recommendations.

The Council then moved to the land use section of the staff report. Michaelson looked first at the school siting and then at co-locating public facilities. Council President Nancy Floreen said the Committee integrated as many comments and requests as came before it. She pointed to the “extraordinarily tight schedule for taking care of these things.” She asked for any comments or requests to be raised immediately as the Council proceeded through the report.

Berliner asked about public use space in this Plan. This Plan has less specifically designated public use space than other Plans, such as Friendship Heights. Ne said the Planning Board had suggested that many of those amenities will come about through use of the CR zone, but Berliner wondered if there were enough public use space designated in the Plan. Planning Board Chair Royce Hanson responded that 20 acres are made available out of the more than 400 acres in the Plan. That is more than in other “urban” area plans. Chief White Flint planner Piera Weiss noted that they had added more park land and green space, especially by expanding White Flint Park, and more of those were more than a half acre in size. 11-12 acres of public park in addition to public use space. It’s not the amount of space but how it’s used and the environment it provides. Large open spaces are better.

Michaelson then moved to schools. The Plan did not propose a site in the Sector, but the Montgomery County Public Schools asked for one. So the committee proposed one in the parking lot south of White Flint Mall, with a secondary site for the Lutrell site (by Wall Park and the water tower).

Michaelson noted that the one change on parks was that the Committee proposed that the Civic Green be enlarged from one acre to “between one and two acres” in size. Berliner pointed out that the park space in the northeastern segment of the sector be as large as possible, and asked if there had been discussions about that, and whether the space would be green. Michaelson said they would work on putting in language which said that the northeastern area public space should be as green as possible, but there was no Committee recommendation on that issue. Floreen asked that language be prepared.

On recreation, Michaelson reported that the Rec Department originally said there was no need for a center, but now believed that a more urban center would be appropriate. The Department recommended language be added to put a recreation center in the Sector. She said that it was County policy not to have senior centers because it didn’t want to isolate seniors (which is true, which is why the Friends of White Flint proposal, supported by AARP of Maryland, was for an intergenerational center).

On libraries, Michaelson noted that the Department of Libraries had changed its position to support to support a library larger than “express” but smaller than a full-size library. Diane Schwartz-Jones from the County Executive said that the Libraries Department was still looking at the question. Councilmember Duchy Trachtenberg said that as someone living in the area, she supported a library that was big enough to be used by everyone in the community. Schwartz-Jones said that the community use aspect would be taken care of by co-locating the library with the regional services center.

On zoning, Michaelson noted that the Committee went through each of the proposals in the Plan, reconciling each proposal with the zone proposed for the particular area. She then went through each of the proposed changes from the Plan. Councilmember Marc Elrich asked about the certainty with which the Plan will proceed. Michaelson said the biggest issue is timing; if we are willing to wait until properties develop, then most of the proposals in the Plan will take place. The problems will come if things are scheduled before the properties are ready to develop. The biggest example is redoing Rockville Pike; if done while properties are redeveloped, the Plan will be manageable, but if moved up before the properties are ready, will be very expensive. Elrich: we don’t want people to think that by holding out, they will turn dedication into acquisition. Knapp pointed out that this would be discussed in later meetings today, and that the mechanisms in the Plan will do the best that is possible by putting the right things in the right zone. Floreen: let’s all remember that this will take some time.

Trachtenberg: my house faces Edson Lane, so what is the visual difference between what the Planning Board recommended and what we are now hearing? Michaelson: on the height, 2/3ds the height on one property and 1/3 the height on the other, so a substantial reduction in the height. Hilary Way was limited to only 50 feet, and a 0.5 FAR. Trachtenberg: there’s a parcel designated for workforce housing on Edson Lane; what’s the zoning effect on that and will it be compatible with the existing community? Let’s clarify that in a public session. Michaelson: it will be compatible, not a highrise. Berliner: nothing we’re doing has any effect.

Michaelson noted, during the discussion of the Nicholson Court area, that the area immediately adjacent would be considered in the next Master Plan for the area, known as White Flint II. Originally, WFII was going to focus on the western side, including Executive Boulevard, but through the efforts of the Randolph Hills community, the scope was expanded.

On the MARC station, Berliner proposed, seconded by Ervin, to add the MARC station recommendation at the Nicholson Court location. This was the original Planning Board recommendation, which was opposed by Committee staff, and passed on by the Committee. The Council unanimously adopted the Nicholson Court location.

Berliner asked to establish a tree canopy goal in the Plan, getting to a goal of 20%. Planning Director Rollin Stanley said that was achievable in the Plan. Michaelson said that was on P. 51 of the Plan. Berliner asked that it be explicitly 20%. Floreen said “we’re all for trees” and there was no objection.

The council then moved on to more on the transportation portion of the Plan. There will be at least one more Council meeting on the Plan, but that will wait until the various Committees are done with their work. Orlin noted that the County’s Bus Rapid Transit study and the State Highway Administration would both need to be coordinated with the Plan’s consideration, particularly with regard to the median transitway proposed by Glatting-Jackson.

Councilmember George Leventhal: is there anyone here who can explain why you might want to do BRT on the curb lanes? Dan Hardy, chief transportation planner, said it depends on how often the busses are expected to stop. Current “feeder” bus systems are better served at the curb. It is important that the function of the BRT system be established. Leventhal: I visited the pioneering system in Brazil. I don’t understand why we would want it at the side of the road. Hardy: we want the busses running end-to-end with as short an interval as possible. We’re talking about a network. Longer trips = BRT makes more sense. Elrich: if it’s going to be stopped by regular busses, no one will consider it BRT.

This is the first time the Plan actually includes Bus Rapid Transit (what Friends of White Flint calls “Vehicular Rapid Transit”). Although the BRT discussion is unfinished, the inclusion of the concept represents a major shift toward a transit-oriented plan for White Flint.

Elrich asked about the coordination of public-private streets with emergency personnel. Leventhal, who sits on the Transportation committee, pointed out that this was an important issue, and had been discussed with the appropriate agencies.

Floreen then said the Council would return to the WF Plan next week, once staging is completed. The Council then wrapped up this session. The PHED and MFP Committees remained to deal with those issues in a committee session.

Barnaby Zall

Barnaby Zall

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