Category Montgomery County Government

Pike District Connector Community Kickoff Meeting

Wednesday, April 28, 7-8 pm

Join the Montgomery County Planning Department and Friends of White Flint for a community kickoff meeting for the Pike District Connector on April 28 (7-8 pm). The Connector is a temporary, one-mile pathway on the west side of the Pike District that will link the Bethesda Trolley Trail to the Montrose Parkway Trail. As part of this project, the Better Block Foundation will activate hubs at several intersections along the Connector with seating, artistic elements, and planters. Better Block is a nonprofit that educates, equips, and empowers communities and their leaders to reshape and reactivate built environments to promote the growth of healthy and vibrant neighborhoods. The Planning Department previously worked with Better Block for the White Flint Placemaking Event in 2018 and the Burtonsville Placemaking Festival in 2019.

Please register in advance (https://montgomeryplanning.org/events/pike-district-connector-community-kickoff-meeting/), a meeting link will be shared the day of the event.

If you have any questions, please contact Walker Freer at Walker.Freer@montgomeryplanning.org

A Bethesda Beat article featuring our community meeting

From Bethesda Beat

Elrich seeks developer to build White Flint life sciences, tech campus

Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich envisions a mix of bioscience companies, startups, technology companies and a university presence near the White Flint Metro station. But first, he needs to find a lead developer, he said.

Elrich described what he has in mind to more than 100 people who attended a virtual meeting Thursday night. The nonprofit organization Friends of White Flint, which advocates for the White Flint/Pike District, hosted the forum.

Elrich said the county has entered a memorandum of understanding with the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) to develop land adjacent to the Metro station.

Elrich said the area is “perfectly positioned” for growth in life sciences and technology due to the site being close to federal agencies such as the National Institutes of Health, as well as its accessibility due to proximity to Metro’s Red Line and the Beltway.

“We’ve got the land. We’ve got the transportation. We’ve got the industry … and I’m willing to drive purpose-driven development,” he said.

Elrich said a focus on the life sciences and computing industries will help with job growth, which has been lacking in recent years compared to the Northern Virginia suburbs.

“In Montgomery County, we’ve been in a 10-year stall where virtually no jobs are coming to the county. And if you don’t have jobs, you’re not gonna get any housing built,” he said. “There aren’t people demanding housing. … And so, if we’re gonna get both of those things unstuck, we need to do something deliberate.”

Elrich said he is concerned about the net loss of private business in the county, as well as the fact that fewer people age 25 to 44 are choosing to live here.

“None of these are a good trajectory to be on,” he said.

Elrich said the aim is to ensure businesses that offer high-paying jobs come to the corridor.

“I do not need more minimum-wage jobs in Montgomery County. That is not gonna foster a lot of economic growth. It’s not gonna foster people who have the incomes who can live in the apartments that will be built,” he said.

When asked about potential tenants for the area, Elrich said he first needs to send a proposal to a developer. He said he is not sure of the timeline for getting a developer, but said it could potentially happen in six months.

“Unfortunately, I don’t control markets, but everybody tells me there’s interest. And I’m not talking about people I know casually. I mean, developers have said flat out there’s an interest in being here. So that to me is encouraging,” he said.

Elrich said three universities “expressed interest” in being partners for the project, but he did not say which ones. He said he is getting ready to talk with representatives with one of the universities for the fourth time.

Asked about the future held for the former White Flint Mall site, Elrich first said, somewhat lightly, “you’ll have to talk to Alan Gottlieb,” referring to the chief operating officer of Lerner Enterprises, an owner of the former mall site.

Elrich then added more seriously that he doesn’t see Gottlieb “sitting on the sidelines.”

“I’m sure that he’s talking to people who’ve been talking to people and is aware that there is a growing interest in life sciences for that area. And he is rather uniquely positioned in the sense that he has a boatload of land that he can configure,” Elrich said.

Proposed changes to the White Flint Taxing District

The county is proposing changes to the special White Flint Taxing District. For the fifteen people who aren’t property owners who are curious about this issue, you can peruse a Power Point presentation on the topic.

You can read Friends of White Flint’s official position here.

The County Council will hold a work session on the resolution to repeal and replace Resolution No. 16-1570 with respect to the White Flint Sector Plan Implementation Strategy and Infrastructure Improvement List and related amendments to the FY21-26 Capital Improvements Program on TUESDAY, MARCH 9, 2021, 1:30 – 2:30PM

The intersection of Old Georgetown Road and Executive Blvd. will be closing in March

MCDOT has announced they will be closing the intersection of Old Georgetown Road and Executive Blvd. in early March to speed up completion of the Western Workaround project and ensure the safety of construction workers.

The detour plan can be found on the map below (which I know is a bit fuzzy) and also here. MCDOT plans to have signage directing people along the detour routes. MCDOT will soon share their plans for pedestrian and bicycle access as well as a better detour map.

Prior to the intersection closure, MCDOT and its prime contractor will ensure that the new section of Grand Park Avenue between Old Georgetown Road and Banneker Avenue is open to traffic. In addition, the scheduled improvements along Executive Blvd. between Nicholson Lane and Banneker Avenue will be completed before the intersection closure. 

Work hours will be from 6:00 am until 10:00 pm Monday through Friday. N0 overnight shift is planned at this time. The intersection will be closed for about five months.

MCDOT is planning outreach to the businesses and residents who live and work near this intersection. If you have questions or concerns about this closure, you can ask Marcelo Cortez, Chief, Transportation Construction Section, MCDOT, Division of Transportation Engineering at R.Marcelo.Cortez@montgomerycountymd.gov .

Draft Climate Action Plan

In December 2020, County Executive Marc Elrich released the Draft Climate Action Plan  for public review. The Climate Action Plan is Montgomery County’s strategic plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions 80% by 2027 and 100% by 2035.

The Climate Action Plan details the effects of a changing climate on Montgomery County and includes strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and climate-related risks to the County’s residents, businesses, and the built and natural environment. After receiving community input on the Draft Climate Action Plan, the County plans to finalize the Plan in Spring 2021.

You can learn more about the plan at a virtual event.

The County is accepting comments on this plan through the end of February.

Celebrate Black History Month at Josiah Henson Special Park

NORTH BETHESDA, MD— Take “A Walk in Father Henson’s Footsteps” as M-NCPPC, Montgomery Parks offers free tours and a spoken word poetry event to celebrate Black History Month at Josiah Henson Special Park, 11420 Old Georgetown Road.

Learn about the extraordinary life of Reverend Josiah Henson, whose autobiography inspired Harriet Beecher Stowe’s famous novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, during FREE guided tours of the Josiah Henson Special Park. Tours will be offered each Saturday, February 4, 11, and 18 between 12:00 noon and 4:00 pm. On Saturday, February 25 tours will be offered between 12:00 noon and 3:00 pm. Visitors will also retrace the footsteps of Reverend Henson from enslavement to escape on the Underground Railroad to freedom in Canada, and walk the grounds where Henson toiled as a slave on the Isaac Riley plantation.

“Reverend Josiah Henson was an extraordinary man,” said Shirl Spicer, Museum Manger for M-NCPPC, Montgomery Parks. “He was a slave, a preacher, an Underground Railroad fugitive and conductor, an entrepreneur; an author…the list goes on and on. This tour will be a fantastic way for children, adults and groups of all ages to learn about Josiah Henson and Montgomery County’s rich African American heritage.”

The Department of Parks will close out its Black History Month celebration at Josiah Henson Special Park on Saturday, February 25, from 3:00 pm to 4:00 pm with a special poetry event, “Lyrical Rhythms: The Sounds of Freedom.” Tours will not be conducted during the event.

Poets are invited to create their own “sounds of freedom” in the form of original poetry focused on any of the following themes: slavery, freedom, Underground Railroad, Reverend Josiah Henson, “Uncle Tom,” Civil War, or any other topics related to the African American experience. During the event, poets will read their original works. A reception with light refreshments will immediately follow.

For more on these upcoming events and volunteering, see www.JosiahHensonSite.org or call M-NCPPC, Montgomery Parks Museum Manager Shirl Spicer at 301-650-4373.

Want to serve on the White Flint Downtown Advisory Committee?

County Executive Marc Elrich is seeking applicants to fill five vacancies on the White Flint Downtown Advisory Committee, for one member representing a business that employs fewer than 25 employees, two representatives of commercial property owners in the Sector Plan Area, and two residents in the Sector Plan Area. One small business owner, one commercial property owner, and one resident in the Sector are eligible to apply for reappointment.

The Sector Plan Area is comprised of the following streets: Citadel Avenue, Executive Boulevard (5900 block), Hoya Street, Maple Avenue, Marinelli Lane, McGrath Boulevard, Nebel Street (11500-12292), Nicholson Court, Nicholson Lane, Old Georgetown Road (11565-11999), Randolph Road (5500 block), Rockville Pike (11120-12000), Security Lane, and Woodglen Drive. For specific questions regarding the Sector Plan Area boundaries, please contact Derrick Harrigan at (240) 777-8210.

The 14-member committee includes two members nominated by the Greater Bethesda-Chevy Chase Chamber of Commerce; three members who represent (commercial) property owners in the Sector Plan Area; two members who represent businesses that employ fewer than 25 employees; two members who represent residential communities in the Sector Plan area; one member who represents a residential community in or outside of the Sector Plan area; one member of the Western Montgomery County Citizens Advisory Board; and three ex officio, non-voting members who represent the County Executive, County Council, and North Bethesda Transportation Management District.

The Committee advises County departments on public services in the White Flint Sector Plan Area; and coordinates community activities that promote and advance business interests, and a sense of place, community, maintenance, and walkability within the Area. The Committee provides an annual report to the County Executive and County Council.

Members serve three-year terms without compensation but are eligible for reimbursement for travel and dependent care for in-person meetings attended. The Board currently meets virtually by video- and teleconference monthly the first Wednesday of the month at 8:00 am. When in-person meetings resume in the future, the Board will meet in North Bethesda near the White Flint Metro Station.

Applicants of diverse, backgrounds, professions, genders, geography, abilities, ethnicities, and ages are encouraged to apply. Members of County boards, committees and commissions may not serve on more than one such group at a time. Members must complete training on the Maryland Open Meetings Act and basic parliamentary procedure. The County Executive’s appointments are subject to confirmation by the County Council. Applications will be forwarded to the Council for confirmation and may be made public as part of the confirmation process. The deadline for application is January 27, 2021To apply please click “Apply for Position” to complete the online form and provide a cover letter and resume (in one document).

What Happened to White Flint?

I don’t generally copy a blogpost word for word (it’s just not the right thing to do,) but yesterday’s article from Seventh State by Adam Pagnucco deserves to break the rules. It’s that good. This article ought to be required reading for every resident, business, property owner, and politician with an interest in the White Flint/Pike District area.

Ten years ago, White Flint was regarded as the future crown jewel of MoCo. With a shiny new master plan, a tax district for infrastructure and an assortment of regulatory breaks, the area was supposed to create new high-end high-rises combining office, retail and residential uses that would generate billions of dollars in county revenues over coming decades. Everyone who lives here knows that vision is still largely unrealized. And now a new report by county planning staff lays out why.

First, let’s revisit what White Flint was envisioned to become in its 2010 master plan: a smart growth, walkable mecca around a transformed Rockville Pike which would be transit-heavy and pedestrian friendly. The plan required substantial infrastructure investment including streetscaping, a new road network and a bus rapid transit route. Unlike many county master plans, this one had a mechanism for financing infrastructure: a new special taxing district. Properties inside the taxing district would pay into a fund used to pay for the new infrastructure needed to bring the plan to life. In return, impact taxes were set to zero. The council set an infrastructure project list through a resolution and projects in the district were exempted from county traffic reviews. This combination of high density, infrastructure investment and regulatory exemptions was revolutionary for MoCo at the time and still has not been fully replicated. MoCo politicians love to throw around the word “bold” like peanut shells, but White Flint (now marketed as the Pike District) truly deserved the adjective.

So what happened?

In simple terms, the planning staff describes a negative, self-reinforcing feedback loop that has no identifiable end. The loop functions like this. Low levels of development led to low proceeds for the tax district. It was supposed to raise $45 million in its first 10 years but only generated $12-15 million. Low tax district revenues held back the construction of some of the transportation improvements and other infrastructure necessary to make the area more attractive to investment. Developers seeking financing for projects were hindered by the inadequate infrastructure along with the “prominence of underutilized properties.” One of those properties, the mammoth White Flint Mall site, was tied up by years of litigation. The lack of financing, along with construction costs and market conditions, has held back development. And of course the lack of development holds back tax district revenues necessary to pay for infrastructure, so the cycle continues.

This map from the report shows the vast majority of land in White Flint is underutilized (areas marked in red and orange) relative to its zoning.

The most interesting part of the report summarizes comments from White Flint property owners, who comprise a who’s who list of prominent MoCo developers. First, let’s identify what they don’t complain about. They don’t complain about the plan itself; indeed, they think the area still has potential. They don’t complain about market demographics; they find the wealth and education levels in the area attractive. They don’t intend to sell their existing properties, which generate enough cash to cover operating costs and taxes, but they’re not in a hurry to redevelop them. And not a single one of them complained about taxes or requested a tax abatement.

Here are a few excerpts from the report on their take on White Flint’s problems.

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All developers interviewed cited Montgomery County’s limited job growth as a fundamental challenge to continued construction in the Pike District. Low levels of new jobs limit the number of new families seeking to occupy units in the county (household formation), decreasing demand for new development. In addition to limited employment growth, construction costs increased dramatically since 2010, office users occupied less space per employee, and retail demand declined with the rise of online shopping, all factors that continue to reduce demand for or limit the financial feasibility of new development.

Multiple developers noted without providing details that their firm managed to solve issues of high construction costs in other submarkets where there is a higher pace of job growth and household formation, which in turn supports rent growth.

Developers interviewed affirmed that the Pike District is accessible to fewer jobs within a reasonable commute than its peer non-downtown submarkets, and that this reduced access to job centers limits demand for additional multifamily units.

All developers interviewed cited Montgomery County’s limited job growth as a fundamental challenge to continued construction in the Pike District. Low levels of new jobs limit the number of new families seeking to occupy units in the county (household formation), decreasing demand for new development. Developers cited the reduced pace of household formation as a key contributor to stagnant rents, a major concern for the feasibility of future projects.

Several developers independently stated that the attraction of a major employer to the Pike District, such as a life science campus, would significantly increase the feasibility of new multifamily projects.

Developers are not currently willing to build speculative office projects in Montgomery County due to the lack of underlying job growth and the uncertainty about the future of the office sector. Several developers mentioned that they would still consider speculative office construction in Tysons and along the Silver Line corridor, highlighting the continued job growth in Northern Virginia and the contrast with suburban Maryland.

Several interviewees contrasted recent Northern Virginia economic development wins, such as the expansion of Microsoft in Reston, with news that a large distribution center project in Gaithersburg for Amazon is in jeopardy due to delays in the entitlement process. These interviewees stressed that while the number of jobs in these deals is modest, there is a constant drumbeat of positive economic news from Northern Virginia that is unmatched from suburban Maryland.

*****

Let’s boil this down to three words: jobs, Jobs, JOBS. Employment growth was the dominant theme for these developers, but they had a few things to say about business climate and regulations too.

*****

Interviewees related that development projects ultimately deliver equivalent profits as similar projects in neighboring jurisdictions, but that Montgomery County’s reputation as generally “a difficult place to do business” limits developer interest.

Developers agreed that the difficulty of the business environment issue is primarily about perception rather than the ultimate profitability. Interviewees cited as examples a range of policy issues such as a minor energy efficiency tax that Montgomery County leadership presented and implemented as a temporary measure but that never expired.

Multiple interviewees stated that in competitor counties they feel that the entitlement review process is oriented to enabling and facilitating a project, whereas in Montgomery County it feels like an oppositional relationship. Related to this, developers feel the County continually creates new policies and initiatives that adversely affect development, and which ultimately encourages them to focus on assets elsewhere in the region.

*****

The county council and the planning staff are focused on tax abatements as a way to stimulate development, especially housing. But developers in White Flint weren’t complaining about taxes. In fact, tax revenues are NECESSARY to finance infrastructure required to make development happen and function well. It is the absence of tax revenues that resulted in under-financing of infrastructure in White Flint, a key part of the area’s negative feedback loop.

Instead of taxes, the key issue identified by White Flint developers is the absence of job growth, which they believe would stimulate demand for housing and eventually make the economics of housing construction work even with high construction costs. In short: if you want more housing, create more jobs. All of these developers know what we have been saying on Seventh State for years: MoCo has one of the worst records on job growth and business formation of any large jurisdiction in the metro area.

The county’s terrible record on job growth and business formation must be reversed.

All of this points to the need for a strategic decision. MoCo can focus like a laser on job creation, doing everything possible to help entrepreneurs grow their organizations and create employment for residents. If the county does that, the vision of White Flint and other smart growth plans can be realized. Or MoCo can keep handing out tens of millions of dollars in corporate welfare as it has done for decades, thereby depleting its ability to construct infrastructure that facilitates economic growth. Or it can do nothing.

Those are the choices. What will MoCo choose?

An update on the Josiah Henson Museum

You have probably noticed the wonderful new Josiah Henson Museum building as you drive along Old Georgetown Road. The museum has delayed its opening to 2021 due to Covid, but its construction has continued throughout the pandemic.

Here are some images to tide you over until the official opening.

The story of Reverend Josiah Henson, a man enslaved from 1795 to 1830, is one of character, integrity, honesty, and courage. As he grew into adulthood, increasingly trusted with responsibility for other enslaved people, perseverance, difficult choices and survival characterized his daily journey. After experiencing heartbreaking disappointments and unthinkable abuse, his actions grew determined and redemptive. Henson eventually escaped to Canada in 1830, where he established a fugitive slave community called Dawn Settlement and became a minister, speaker and writer. He returned to the United States several times between 1831 and 1865 as a conductor on the Underground Railroad.

‘Advancing the Pike District’ advances to the Planning Board

On Thursday afternoon, December 17, the Montgomery County Planning Department’s Advancing the Pike District project team will provide an overview of key findings and potential solutions from the Development Trends, Infrastructure Update, and Short-Term Solutions Report. Advancing the Pike District is a Planning Department initiative to accelerate the transformation of North Bethesda around the White Flint Metro Station area. You can click this link to read the staff report .

Yes, the report is a long document, and you may have seen slides from the Planning Department’s presentation at our recent community meeting. But it’s a report worth taking a look at. It is chock full of facts and figures as well as plans, placemaking, pedestrian safety and proposals,

This item is currently #9 on the board’s agenda for December 17.
The Planning Board’s facility is closed to the public during the pandemic, but the public can watch the meetings live online and on-demand, or hear them in real time by calling 877-668-9160 (password: 24252020).