Archives March 2010

Nancy Floreen’s Statement on White Flint

Montgomery County Council President Nancy Floreen sent out this statement on the recent passage of the White Flint Sector Plan:

White Flint Sector Plan Passes Unanimously

We unanimously approved the White Flint Sector Plan that will transform the North Bethesda area around Rockville Pike into a denser, more urban community strongly supported by public transit and designed to make residents and workers less dependent on automobiles.The plan targets future growth along the Pike with development clustered around about 430 acres near the White Flint Metro Station. It will allow replacement of aging low-rise commercial properties in the area with mixed-use buildings as tall as 30 stories. The revitalized new urban neighborhood would include residences, offices, service-oriented businesses, restaurants and entertainment venues. The neighborhood would evolve through creation of a grid of streets to promote walkability for residents and employees.

This is a very ambitious and complex plan that will transform the White Flint area along Rockville Pike into an exciting destination. Property owners in White Flint have committed to a financing plan to speed up creation of infrastructure that would support growth. With everyone working together, as they have throughout the planning process, this will remake the strip shopping malls along the Pike into a new, urban community that will make Montgomery County proud.

A key element of the plan will be the way it incorporates the Bethesda North Conference Center and Hotel into the transformed neighborhood. The plan provides for public gathering space and local parks. The long-term vision suggests civic or entertainment uses, such as a community playhouse or theater.

White Flint was proposed as an urban, mixed-use community as the center of North Bethesda more than 30 years ago as the influence of Metro’s Red Line was starting to take hold. The sector plan covers an area bounded by the CSX train tracks and White Flint Mall to the east, the merge point of Montrose Parkway and Old Georgetown Road to the north, Old Georgetown Road to the west and an area just below Edson Lane to the south. The Georgetown Prep school and the Strathmore Performing Arts Center are south of the plan. All of the plan is within a walkable three-quarters of a mile from the White Flint Metro Station.

It is expected that as the plan is implemented over a period of about two decades, approximately 9,800 new residences will be added (there are approximately 2,300 residences currently within the plan area). There will be approximately 2,600 affordable housing units.

This plan was truly collaborative. We heard from a lot of stakeholders and saw cordial work among those involved. I think that gave us a good product in the end, and I am pleased we were able to reach a resolution that works for everyone. It would be great to see this type of collaboration in future plans.

Barnaby Zall

Public Art Helps Build New Community in White Flint

One of the many innovative features of the new White Flint Sector Plan, approved yesterday by the Montgomery County Council, is a new focus on integrating art into public life in the new White Flint. Now it appears that White Flint will benefit from significant artistic projects, rather than a slap-dash afterthought, as in many projects.

Friends of White Flint has long championed the inclusion of art in White Flint, teaming with the late Jean Cryor during the Planning Board discussions of the vision for White Flint. Although much of the discussion during the development of the Plan focussed on performing arts, FoWF promoted fine arts and public presentations. The effort had a good reception, as those working on the new White Flint recognized the value of including cultural elements, such as sculpture and decorative arts, in a New Urbanism context.  Even prominent opponents of the Plan, such as Paula Bienenfeld from the Luxmanor community, found common ground in supporting art in White Flint.

And the effort paid off:  The Plan offers significant incentives to developers who incorporate public art, and an article in today’s Gazette newspaper highlights some of the plans already underway to include new artistic works. You can find the Gazette story here: http://www.gazette.net/stories/03242010/bethnew211402_32548.php.

One of the important element in making public art a part of a community is how that art is integrated into projects and community events. That’s why some of Montgomery County’s recent public art projects have fallen flat; they appear to be haphazard attempts to grab artworks and plunk them down somewhere visible, instead of viewing the art as a part of the architecture and streetscape for a given area. It’s not enough to just have “art”; to make an impression, the art needs to be part of a holistic view of a project’s design and character.

Some of the art bound for White Flint includes a work by noted artist James Sanborn of Washington, D.C. The Gazette describes the planned outdoor sculpture: “an 8-foot high, 4-foot wide bronze cylinder perforated with waterjet cut text. Inside, the cylinder will have a pinpoint light source, while outside it will be surrounded by a red granite text ring. During the day, the texts can be seen on the cylinder or from the surface of nearby pavement. At night, the interior light will project the text over a wide area. Near the sculpture will be a waterfall bordered by a white granite “river of stone” and a polished red granite oval ring.”

Barnaby Zall (for a sampling of my paintings, see www.bzall.com).

Gazette Story (with video) on White Flint passage

Today’s Gazette has a big story, with pictures and a lengthy video, on the Montgomery County Council’s unanimous approval of the White Flint Sector Plan yesterday. The video offers never-before-seen views of White Flint from high up in the new North Bethesda Marketplace tower under construction just across from White Flint Mall. The visuals are joined to an explanation of how walkability and pedestrian safety can help transform a car-oriented area into a New Urbanism community.

You can find the article here: 

http://www.gazette.net/stories/03242010/bethnew211400_32547.php

Barnaby Zall

So NOW what happens?

A certain amount of celebration is in order after this morning’s unanimous Montgomery County Council vote approving the White Flint Sector Plan. After all, it’s been a long, hard four years. Planning, and planning, and talking, and discussing, and arguing, on and on into many nights. Literally hundreds of meetings; some nights we had three meetings being held simultaneously. Thousands of area residents discussed this Plan; sometimes we had a few people in big, empty rooms, and other times we had dozens packed into tiny rooms. And after all that, it felt good to have the biggest push over with this morning, didn’t it?

Except we’re not quite done. Not to throw cold water on the celebration but Dave Freishtat, who is the representative from the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Chamber of Commerce on the Friends of White Flint Board of Directors, reminds me that there is more to do. And, as always, Dave is right.

I see three important near-term things that still have to be done:

First, there are some diehard opponents who are using the Growth Policy and old automobile-oriented traffic measurements to try to kill the Plan. There’s yet another public hearing before the Council, beginning in a few minutes, on that attempt. Ken Hurdle, a Luxmanor resident who is also the Secretary of the FoWF Board, will speak on behalf of Friends of White Flint. His testimony concludes: “Hundreds of us, working over four years, using some of the finest walkability and sustainability consultants, have finally crafted a modern community for White Flint. There is consensus in the community on the goals and designs of the Plan. Sustainable. Walkable. Pedestrian-friendly. Transit-oriented. Let’s not use an automobile-centered growth policy to condemn it before we even start.”

Second, the financing for the Plan is not yet done. How do we pay for all this? Crucial question. We have had discussions and lots of options presented. We have formed a general consensus on a development district, but the devil’s in the details. The financing piece of the Plan is not complete.

And finally, not to be overlooked in the euphoria of Council passage is the old fear: will the County fulfill its promises? That’s always been the Achilles heel of any modern plan in this County; even though the White Flint Plan is innovative, it still depends on the County doing its part. That came through loud and clear even during today’s discussion, with the unanimous passage of an amendment by Councilmember Roger Berliner to make more detailed reports on the County’s own commitments and failures available to the Council. Monitoring the commitments.

So there are those three things left in the near term before we can claim that the White Flint Sector Plan is really off the ground.

So, enjoy the moment, but let’s keep our eyes on the target ahead.

Barnaby Zall

Councilmember Berliner’s Statement on White Flint Plan

Last week, the FLOG invited Montgomery County Councilmembers to provide statements about the White Flint Sector Plan. Here is the statement sent to the FLOG by Councilmember Roger Berliner, whose district includes White Flint:

A New White Flint

            Today, the Council approved the White Flint Sector Plan by a unanimous vote.  It is a plan that will transform the White Flint community– from the southern tip at White Flint Mall to the northern border at Montrose and Randolph Roads — into a more vibrant, walkable, bikeable, livable place.  

            I was excited about this plan from the very beginning, one that over many years will transform a significant portion of the Council District that I represent.  Nonetheless, I was also well-aware that the compact, dense mixed-use development proposed represented a paradigm shift for our County, and especially for the neighborhoods adjacent to the sector plan.  While many residents were excited by this vision of the future of their community, others were, and some remain, deeply skeptical and fearful of the changes that will occur. 

            For that reason, I made a commitment early on to protect the surrounding communities to the maximum extent possible and have worked hard to make sure that the new White Flint will improve the quality of life not just for the new people drawn to this vibrant place, but for those who already live in the immediate area. Our goal was to create a distinct “sense of place” for White Flint, and I believe the plan achieves that goal.  Those who live in and around White Flint will be able to take advantage of the numerous public spaces, bike trails, and walking paths as well as the public amenities that make a neighborhood feel like a neighborhood — a library, a recreation center, a new school, and a beautiful, substantial civic green that will serve as a meeting place for the community. 

             Our vision for White Flint emanates from the growing understanding that we can no longer afford to perpetuate suburban sprawl. There is an environmental imperative for us to grow smarter, to grow more compactly and with less reliance on the automobile in order to reduce our carbon footprint.  And I am excited about the potential the White Flint Sector Plan has to achieve these goals.  In fact, one of EPA’s senior officials has praised the White Flint plan for that very reason.  The new White Flint will allow people to live and play closer to where they work, to spend less time in their cars and more time enjoying recreational activities and time with family. 

            When you look at the area today, it is hard not be struck by the large amount of asphalt found in the strip malls and surface parking lots. Asphalt is not the highest and best use of this incredibly important real estate.  We need less “impervious surfaces” and more trees.  The White Flint Sector Plan will provide both.  It will transform the proliferation of surface parking lots into a greener, more vibrant network of mixed use development that will produce vast improvements in stormwater management and overall water quality to the benefit of our local watersheds like Rock Creek.  Streetscaping and street trees, along with other environmental incentives in the Commercial/Residential Zone (CR Zone) will also help to reduce CO2 emissions and absorb some of the heat produced in urban areas. In fact, it is the goal of the plan to double the tree canopy. 

            The White Flint Sector Plan is also predicated upon a deepening commitment to mass transit and calls for a new MARC station on Nicholson Court and the transformation of Rockville Pike into a lovely grand boulevard that will include state-of-the-art bus rapid transit.   The plan calls for significant parking restrictions and aggressive mode share goals that will help take cars off the roads; a new street grid which should help diffuse traffic and make it easier to get around the area; and protective measures that will be put in place to prevent cut-through traffic into the neighborhoods surrounding White Flint.

            My colleagues and I are committed to the proper implementation and careful monitoring of this sector plan. Throughout the course of the Council’s deliberations regarding the plan, right up to and including today, I offered numerous amendments to ensure that our Planning Board keeps a close eye on traffic conditions that are the source of so much understandable consternation.  Under an amendment I proposed today, the Planning Board will be required to do a comprehensive analysis of road conditions every two years, and to recommend to the Council specific projects that will uphold our obligation to provide adequate transportation services.

            More broadly, I believe the new White Flint can and will serve as a model of sustainable growth for our county and perhaps for the nation as a whole. My goal has been to try to link what we are doing in White Flint to our need to take cars off the road around the new, enlarged National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, and launch Rockville Pike/Wisconsin Ave. as a pilot “Sustainable Transportation Corridor.” We need to look at this corridor, arguably the single most important economic corridor in the state, in a holistic manner, not focusing too narrowly on one segment or a single neighborhood, but rather on the entire length of the Pike. And the state of the art transit system that we envision for White Flint is as important to Friendship Heights and Bethesda as it is to Rockville. 

            While the redevelopment of the White Flint area will do much to create a new type of sustainable community, it will also benefit the County from an economic development perspective. It will be an attractive place for new businesses which will help sustain and enhance the County’s vitality and competitiveness in the region.  Significantly, the White Flint Sector Plan is expected to generate between six and seven billion dollars in new revenue for the County over the life of the plan — not a shabby figure in any economy, let alone our current one.   

            Arguably the most important aspect of the White Flint plan, given its scale and scope, is the degree of consensus that was reached, consensus reflected in our own Council’s unanimous support.  And this was not just a happy coincidence, but rather the result of years of ongoing collaboration between the private sector, neighbors, and government. Differing priorities and perspectives came together around a shared goal  — to make the White Flint Sector Plan a strong, viable blueprint that will guide the successful transformation of the area for current and future generations of Montgomery County residents.   

Roger Berliner

Councilmember , District 1

Councilmember Trachtenberg’s Statement on the Plan

Last week, the FLOG invited Montgomery County Councilmembers to provide statements about the White Flint Sector Plan. Here is the statement sent to the FLOG by Councilmember Duchy Trachtenberg, a resident of White Flint:

I am very pleased at the Council’s strong affirmative vote in support of the White Flint Sector Plan.  During its consideration, we witnessed a very strong, effective and positive collaborative effort among key community stakeholders which has resulted in an exciting plan for a safe, healthy, and pedestrian friendly urban community.  This “partnership” with the community stands as a model for future master plans in Montgomery County.

With this effort, we have worked hard to design a plan which promotes growth, respects established neighborhoods, and incorporates innovative and environmentally-friendly solutions for traffic and mobility.

Our work, however, is not over.  I look forward to working with my Council colleagues on the development of a sustainable financing plan for the White Flint plan area and a development coordination mechanism which will give comfort to our neighbors and the business community about infrastructure and financing issues.

Montgomery County Council PASSES White Flint Sector Plan!

Today the Montgomery County Council approved a resolution adopting the White Flint Sector Plan. The resolution as introduced is available here: http://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/content/council/pdf/agenda/col/2010/100323/20100323_5.pdf.

The session on the Plan was opened by Council President Nancy Floreen.  

Nancy Floreen

 Floreen expressed her thanks to the Planning Board for an award-winning plan, to the staff who put in countless hours in working through these issues in eight worksessions, two worksessions on the Council, and tremendous engagement by the community and all the stakeholders. These cooperative efforts brought us forward with a real statement on where Montgomery County is going. This creates a real vision of a sense of place. Then the Council began the last phase of its consideration of the Plan, by reviewing “technical corrections” to the Plan.

Council staffers Marlene Michaelson and Glenn Orlin raised a few technical changes in the Plan resolution. Orlin noted, for example, that “in a year or so” the Council would be replacing Policy Area Mobility Review (PAMR), so he suggested making references to PAMR more general, into “policy area review.”

Councilmember Roger Berliner was concerned that government do its part in providing needed infrastructure. He asked that the biennial review conducted by the Planning Board include specific recommendations on intersections and other public facilities which needed improvements. He moved that the Planning Board conduct a comprehensive policy review to identify needed county actions.

Roger Berliner

 Councilmember George Leventhal asked if this motion was simply reinstating the Local Area Transportation Review (LATR) which was to be removed after a financing plan was approved for White Flint. Planning staffer Dan Hardy pointed out that the effect would be to increase the priority of county projects needed for specific implementation. Councilmember Marc Elrich supported the motion, not as much because of what the County was obligated to do, because that list was very short, but because the list of privately-funded projects was quite long. It’s important that we understand what will happen as things go forward.

Marc Elrich

 Council President Floreen asked how this “comprehensive review” would fit in with the other planning reviews available to the Council. What exactly would this do that’s different from what you do now? Hardy: this will tell us what will be different from what we had planned. This is more detailed than a highway mobility report. Diane Schwartz-Jones, for the County Executive, said this might be interesting and helpful information about particular intersections. The concept makes sense to us. The motion passed unanimously.

Councilmember Elrich then offered an amendment to declare the Plan in “balance” if relative arterial mobility was 39%, as the Council had indicated earlier. The motion passed 8-1 (Ervin opposed).

Councilmember Trachtenberg then offered an amendment to rezone a part of Nicholson Court to allow redevelopment along with the new MARC commuter rail station. This would remove the I-4 zoning in the area in favor of residential development. Floreen noted that this was substantive, and it should have been raised during the worksession. Staffer Michaelson pointed out that the Committee recommended retaining the I-4 zoning, because there was a shortage of I-4 zoning in the County. Planning Board Chair Royce Hanson said that it was a good amendment because it took the language back to what the Planning Board had intended. Elrich said it was a bad amendment because the Governor’s Plan doesn’t include the MARC station until 2035, so this is premature. We may need more I-4 zoning in the future, so there’s no urgency to do this now. The motion failed 4-5.

Duchy Trachtenberg

 Councilmember Mike Knapp thanked many people, including the tremendous outreach to the public. Everyone worked well together to reach a very good result.

Mike Knapp

Councilmember Elrich thanked the residents for sticking with the process to make this a lot better Plan than it was at the beginning. He also thanked the Council for accepting amendments he and Berliner brought forward to satisfy the community members nearby.

Councilmembers Phil Andrews and Nancy Navarro thanked everyone on the Council and staff for a good plan.

Nancy Navarro

 Councilmember Berliner said “this is a big day.” Not only have we made our community more liveable, but we’ve generated more revenue. And we did it the right way. Councilmember Trachtenberg reminded everyone that there was a lot of work still to be done, including the financing of the Plan. “I live in the White Flint area, and everyone is very excited about the vision for this community.” Floreen cited Garrett Park Estates/White Flint Park and Luxmanor communities for their help with the Plan.

Planning Board Chair Hanson came forward and thanked the staff, including Piera Weiss and Nkosi Yearwood. He talked about the Advisory Group and the Steering Committee, six months’ of Planning Board meetings, many discussions with civic groups. In the end this provides both a serious vision for how this County can develop and change in a positive and effective way, and shows how the Council is moving the planning paradigm in the County from one that has been the development of raw land and suburbanization, to one that recognizes that the future is improving on many existing centers to make them more urban, more walkable, more transit-oriented, less automobile-dependent, and more aware of the environment. He thanked the Council.

Royce Hanson

Council President Floreen then thanked Evan Goldman in particular for his help and congratulated him on a new baby who joined us last night.  

The Council then voted to adopt the resolution. The vote was unanimous in favor. The Plan was adopted. 

Barnaby Zall

Preview: Montgomery County Council Considers White Flint Sector Plan

The Montgomery County Council will vote on final approval for the White Flint Sector Plan at its morning meeting today. The Plan, four years in the making, is intended to create a walkable, sustainable, transit-oriented urban community in White Flint, replacing acres of asphalt, miles of overhead wires, and blocks of strip shopping malls. The Plan is New Urbanism in design, placing higher density at the Metro station, with lower densities further out, and clustering public amenities in a “core” area near the existing Conference Center and Wall Park. There will be a new Civic Green park in the “core” area, anchoring a pair of pedestrian “promenades,” running north-south along Rockville Pike and east-west along a new Market Street. Rockville Pike itself is destined to be a new “boulevard” with transit either in a new median or along the curb lanes (depending on the results of a county-wide study currently underway). Many new streets throughout the area will be tied into a new “grid” of streets intended to take the pressure off the Pike, while easing pedestrian traffic. And a new zoning pattern will encourage the development of community amenities.

A March 2 “straw vote” of the Council was unanimous in favor of the Plan. The Council schedule offers only a few minutes for consideration of the formal adoption resolution, indicating an expectation that the discussion will be brief and positive. County Cable Channel 6 should offer live coverage of the consideration.

moco-council.jpg

Barnaby Zall

White Flint Plan Resolution Made Public

On Tuesday, March 23, 2010, the Montgomery County Council will vote on approval of the White Flint Sector Plan. This is the culmination of a four-year planning process which has included thousands of area residents. The Plan envisions a walkable, sustainable, transit-oriented urban community replacing the existing automobile-dominated, parking lot-covered, overhead wire-strewn White Flint of today.

On March 2, the Council had a “straw vote” on the Plan, which would have approved the Plan unanimously. Today, the Council staff revealed the actual resolution on which the Council will vote. The resolution includes all the previous recommendations of the Council and its Committees, ranging from significant (placement of a new school site south of White Flint Mall) to the trivial (renaming “Old” Old Georgetown Rd. as “Hoya Street”).

The resolution can be found here: http://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/content/council/pdf/agenda/col/2010/100323/20100323_5.pdf.

Barnaby Zall