Now or LATR? And Perhaps Never.

Now or LATR? And Perhaps Never.

Live-blogging from the February 25, 2010 meeting of the Planning, Housing and Economic Development Committee of the Montgomery County Council. Topic for today is a continuation of yesterday’s third hearing on “staging” in the White Flint Plan, with a likely emphasis on the use of automobile speed tests in White Flint and nearby areas. Some observers have suggested that use of these car-oriented tests would endanger the White Flint Plan because developers would not improve their properties due to uncertainty about the County’s commitment; others suggested that residents would not support the Plan (as they have in overwhelming numbers in the past) if they weren’t certain the County would fulfill its commitments. Today’s hearing is intended to work out these last-minute glitches. The Committee members, Chairman Mike Knapp, Council President Nancy Floreen, and Councilmember Marc Elrich, were joined, as usual, by Councilmember Roger Berliner, who sits in on the White Flint Sector Plan-related meetings.

PHED Committee and Berliner

 Chairman Knapp opened the meeting by referencing yesterday’s discussions, and noting that there may be “lots of issues remaining.” Council staffer Glenn Orlin commented that there will be a Growth Policy amendment dealing with local review, including White Flint. He predicted Council action by March 23. If a Growth Policy amendment could be drafted and introduced by March 16, which would give enough time to see if people were comfortable enough not to stop the Plan. But Orlin suggested that “everybody in the room” wanted clarification.

Elrich: this isn’t trivial. A good proposal on timing. Convinced there is a way to do this that meets everyone’s concerns, but it’s important to take the time to do this right. Yesterday’s development community made a good case, and the residents made a case that if the infrastructure isn’t done, we won’t get our part. I looked at the spreadsheet of road projects, and there are only five county-funded projects, and four of those are fully-funded. But there’s a long list of individual developers’ obligations, and a bigger question about when those will come together to form the grid. It won’t be the government that does something that crashes LATR, but one of the developers not doing something. Council Staffer Marlene Michaelson pointed out that approvals for projects are contingent on building their roads. Elrich: you can’t require any developer to actually develop; that could become a bottleneck.

Floreen: that’s this Council. This Council has failed to fund infrastructure from the beginning of time. The ICC, the Montrose Parkway. That’s the problem, but we’ll get over that. Put us in a position that we can get the rest. The Growth Policy has been used since the 1980’s to delay infrastructure. That is the challenge. How do we move forward? We have a Plan. We give people a creative environment in which to construct a financing plan to raise the money. We will give some flexibility to provide that money to allow them to move forward. This is a huge advance in the production of infrastructure. What you don’t want are rules that give you a reason to say no so you don’t have the jobs environment or business environment that allow you to support all the good things you want to see. This is a positive approach to tackling the problem in a constrained environment to create the community that everyone’s buying into. There is a certain amount of lack of clarity. I’d be happy to write this on a wall someplace that “WE’RE GOING TO DO THIS STUFF” because everyone’s worried about commitment. Can I count on being able to deliver a project to give you the revenue to do all this stuff. This is a great thing to do all this stuff. The dance we’re doing right now is whether the tools let us get there. But we’re really, really very close. But you can’t let a little amount of uncertainty get in the way of this excellent plan.

Elrich: No one’s saying this isn’t an excellent plan. But I thought people were saying government was the problem. I like the development district, but there’s a long list of roads that are the responsibility of developers. We have no control over that. This other piece could be a bottleneck and we don’t control it. What happens if developers don’t do their piece?

Berliner: I believe our commitment to the existing and to future communities is that we can have this economically-exciting piece available, so long as traffic moves as acceptable. Challenging notion. This Plan will generate significantly more capital than any of our other plans would have generated. This Plan gives us the assurance that these will be funded. The dilemma has always been that the Plan says if these roads are constructed, everything will be in balance. The problem is in the ten years it takes to build these. What happens then? The problem is that we had to trust a Plan that was totally mode-share governed. Some of us wanted more assurance that traffic would be okay, not great, but okay. Can it be liveable? I wanted to identify three elements to advance this proposition:

First, not have LATR as historically applied, but to have CLATR, comprehensive local area transportation review, paid for by developers and conducted by the Planning Board every few years. So we would know all the roads we would need to fund at every few years. Second, have this be a measurement tool, but divorce that measurement tool from the historical consequences of failing that test. Because if the development community were making this unprecedented commitment for 30 years, there should not be a red light that says stop. So, third, could we get a yellow light? A caution that says that a particular project could go forward with a higher mode share than they would otherwise have to do, so they are part of the solution, not the problem.

Knapp: this is not an issue that is unique to here. There is an element of trust. There is a commitment to the infrastructure and making the pieces work. To some degree, we have addressed that in the Plan itself. There’s an unprecedented level of detail in the Plan itself. First, there’s been a question about LATR application. Right now we have nothing in effect, so LATR would continue to apply. Once we have a financing plan in place, LATR no longer applies. Once there’s revenue generated, we won’t have LATR any more. That gets to what Mr. Berliner is discussing. We could take a few weeks, as Orlin has described, to flesh this out. Once we have financing in place and generating revenue, we’ll have certainty to replace LATR.

Second, we’ll have monitoring in place. Sets up a framework to proceed that we haven’t had in the past. There are a lot of variables that will be in play. Everyone wants to make this successful, so there’s incentives to make this work as soon as possible and as well as possible.

Berliner: both LATR and PAMR should apply until we have a financing plan. Orlin: anything that goes forward before the Growth Policy changes would be subject to both anyway. Elrich: are we going to write a Growth Policy amendment that makes PAMR disappear in White Flint? Orlin: yes. 100% agreement on that. Berliner: so Growth Policy would disappear on the Growth Policy amendment, while LATR would disappear under the Knapp plan in a year or whenever we get the financing plan. Doesn’t provide the certainty that our assumptions are sufficient. That’s why we are takling about ongoing monitoring.

Floreen: a lot of these details will be worked out in the financing plan. There are several lists, not just the Executive’s list. That’ll be a good thing for everyone.

Elrich: we want to identify problematic intersections. Floreen: that’s what we already discussed. Elrich: so what are the implications of intersections outside White Flint? Orlin: the models forecast the impact of outside development on the intersections. Knapp: presumably that’s why we’ve set up our capital improvements project process to cover all those. Elrich: we’re trying to align that all together. Michaelson: the monitoring will provide the information.

Orlin: every requirement in the staging plan is a red light, you must meet them to move on. Could do this CLATR for each phase. If everything is done and intersections are not failing, you can move to the next phase. Unless there is consequence for failure, nothing will happen. This has happened for the last 30 years. Knapp: consequence to whom? County has been the biggest problem in that. Orlin: yes. Michaelson: Glenn and I disagree. Once requiring developers to pay in far more than they ever have, County has a responsibility to program the improvements. Floreen: we’ve been neglecting these things for 30 years. Diane Schwartz-Jones for the County Executive, having them pay in for 30 years and then hold up development for political reasons raises a fairness issue. So could we have a LATR for the CIP? Put the names in the CIP and see what share the development district should pick up. Fundamental fairness question in that.

Knapp: so we have a framework for discussions in the next two weeks. What other issues?

Michaelson: issue on staging for affordable housing. Piera Weiss,chief White Flint planner, on P. 71 of the Plan says that affordable housing would not be included in the staging plan. Michaelson: just so that’s clear.

Knapp: mode share to move to Phase 3? Michaelson: if you’re not done with most of it by end of Phase 2, you’ll won’t have enough time to pull up the total. 20% of all WF development in Phase 3, so need the mode share requirement at the end of Phase 2 to be 40%. You’re setting an aggressive target, but you’ll have plenty of opportunities to adjust as you go through, since the Planning Board will be providing reports every two years. Orlin: as the area develops, you’ll find the mode share base is going to improve automatically.

Francine Waters from Lerner Enterprises and the White Flint Partnership, and an expert on mode share improvements from her experience in Bethesda: you have to set numbers that will be achievable based on the residential population. John King from the White Flint Community Coalition: we propose individual developments be assigned mode share requirements, based on their proximity to the Metro. Orlin: let’s let the Planning Board figure that out as the projects come in. It isn’t just the distance from Metro, it’s the intensity of development and other factors. If you put a residential development right on top of the Metro, you’d require a heavy mode share. Arnold Kohn from Tower Companies and former chair of the Bethesda Transportation Management District: you have to have marketing to build mode share. People don’t move in with a plan for how they’re going to move around. You’re not just marketing to the new people, but to the base. It’s like Francine said, it will parabolic.  Dan Hardy, chief transportation planner: that’s how it worked in Bethesda. We were in the mid-20s, and now that we have more residential, we’re in the mid-30s. Elrich: to me the most important is the end stage. Restrictions on parking make the most difference. Kohn: because you have a larger audience in the later phases, it’s more realistic to make bigger changes in mode share in the later stages. Elrich: as long as people can park, it’s harder to get them out of their cars. This is all premised on aggressive limits. Knapp: what was the Bethesda experience? Waters: the Bethesda 8 circulator was not in place at 26%. Knapp: we need more data to understand where non-driver mode share will happen. That’s the way we’ll have a better idea of when the various splits should occur. Floreen: by Monday.

Knapp: other issues? Evan Goldman, co-Chair of Friends of White Flint, speaking for the White Flint Partnership, the timing may force more public funding, so add language. Michaelson: we did. The word “substantially.”

Michaelson: so the Committee is fine with the rest of the staff recommendations? Knapp: yes. The Committee then adjourned.

Barnaby Zall

Barnaby Zall


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