So, what to call the new advisory group formed by the Montgomery County Planning Board as directed by the White Flint Sector Plan? The Planning Board called it the “Sector Plan Implementation Advisory Committee.” The letterhead used for the group’s agendas said “White Flint Sector Plan Advisory Committee.” A recent letter to the Planning Board about the City of Rockville’s plans for its section of Rockville Pike called it the “White Flint Advisory Committee.” When I wrote about it here in the FLOG, I called it the “White Flint Implementation Committee,” to avoid confusion with all the earlier White Flint advisory groups, steering committees, and so on (and because what’s different about this group is that it is focussed on implementing the Sector Plan, rather than drafting or approving it).
At its meeting on Monday, March 14, the committee voted to name itself the “White Flint Implementation Advisory Committee.” I think I’ll just keep calling it the WFIC — just because it’s shorter.
The WFIC also voted to send a letter to the Planning Board explaining its concerns with the City of Rockville’s plans for Rockville Pike. The letter would ask the Planning Board to communicate those concerns to the City (this complicated process was explained to us as necessary because of the WFIC’s status as an advisory group).
Not much else of substance happened at the meeting. But there were two big discussions about the implementation process. What was planned as a “light agenda” ran until after 9PM.
Diane Schwartz-Jones, the County Executive’s main delegate to the WFIC, discussed her proposed charette (fancy word for a planning meeting) on public facilities. She announced that she had raised $80,000 from developers and would use another $20,000 of “unused” planning funds to hire a consultant to search out “best practices” around the country and hold a series of three meetings with community residents to discuss “details” of the public amenities required under the Sector Plan. “I don’t mean we’re going to re-open the White Flint Sector Plan,” she said twice. She used the civic building in Silver Spring as an example of the process, saying that this sort of process resulted in more involvement by youth in the planning process, so everyone was happier. Diane said this contract was on a “fast track,” and she expected the charette process to be completed by July.
I will post later about my feelings of using $100,000 for a process essentially duplicating the hard-fought battles of the last five years. During the meeting, I supported the concept of public participation, but challenged Diane by pointing out the hundreds of meetings with thousands of community residents that we conducted during the development of the Plan, and the extensive discussions of the same points before the County Council and Planning Board, and noted that Friends of White Flint had conducted a similar series of charettes with ten individual White Flint neighborhoods on traffic calming and “neighborhood mobility balance” with one of the country’s top consultants for less than $5,000. “Wow, what I could do with $100,000,” I said.
Evan Goldman, Co-chair of Friends of White Flint, noted that on March 10, the Planning Board had changed the “sketch plan” process so that it was no longer binding. The change, according to Evan, will eviscerate the value of the sketch plan process, which had been used three times so far, to produce decisions on placement of buildings and amenities early in the planning process. The concept of the sketch plan had been to permit public participation early enough to allow the Planning Board to change the major development decisions — the “bones” of a development — before putting more details in the more formal and elaborate “site plan” process. So, someone like Evan’s Federal Realty Investment Trust wouldn’t be able to rely on the Planning Board’s approval of the sketch plan for Mid-Pike Plaza, because the Board could change the requirements for later phases of the project after the developer had already won approval for its plans. “I don’t know how I can sell that to my Board,” he told the group. “We won’t know what our costs will be.”
The next WFIC meeting will be April 11. The tentative topic is the White Flint Implementation Guidelines. More details will likely be released close to the meeting date.