I hope you are all ready for the holidays ......I for one am most certainly not! But I am looking forward to the good spirit that comes with them.
It has been a busy six weeks or so since our last newsletter. A few surprises, not all of them particularly welcome, and a few controversies. The surprises include a $40 million price tag to run the Capital Crescent Trail through the Purple Line tunnel in Bethesda and a new process for selecting the much needed new middle school in the BCC cluster; the controversies include a developer's proposal to put a Walmart within 1500 feet of a metro station on Rockville Pike and the ongoing debate about the County Executive's proposed curfew for teenagers.
In between, my colleagues and I approved a new approach to zoning in our commercial areas; pushed hard on having our county catch up with all of the surrounding jurisdictions on Bikeshare; held the first ever joint Montgomery County/Prince George's County Transportation Committee meeting to discuss our regional transportation issues; and are about to redraw our Council district boundaries such that District 1 will soon include the good people of Kensington and Poolesville.
It's enough to make you want to enjoy the holidays. Hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving.
Kensington Sector Plan Under Review
Today, the Council's Planning, Housing, and Economic Development Committee (PHED) held a work session on the Kensington Sector Plan - the first one since the Council approved the amendments to the CR (Commercial Residential) Zone which created two new zones, the CR Town Zone (CRT) and the CR Neighborhood Zone (CRN).
Although I am not a member of the PHED Committee, I participated in the meeting since in a very short while, the Council will approve new councilmanic districts and Kensington is likely to become part of District 1. Overall land use and zoning strategy for the planning area were discussed and planning staff presented an overview of proposed heights and densities.
On December 5, the PHED Committee will begin to review property specific recommendations. It is anticipated that the Committee will finish its work in time for the Plan to be reviewed by the full Council sometime in January. Until then, I will be following the work of the committee closely.
Where Do Big Box Stores Belong
And What Should They Look Like in Smart Growth Areas?
Depending on your personal perspective, shopping preferences, environmental outlook, and general view of the county, you may answer this question differently than your neighbor, the business man or woman up the street from you, or even your family members. I do not have a strong reaction to big box stores in and of themselves like some do. I shop at Costco, PetSmart, and Best Buy just like many of you, and while I recognize the value of Walmart, I am not a fan of theirs.
But when we think about smart growth and the limited land available in our county for development and/or redevelopment, and for how long a large project defines an area, I do believe we have an imperative to think carefully about how best to use the precious land resources we have -- especially in close proximity to transit opportunities like Metro. We must plan for our future by making wise land use decisions in order to mold the kind of communities that will best serve our existing residents as well as the generations to come.
I do not have any intention of blocking big box stores from coming to the County or of delegating to community organizations matters that I believe are fundamentally government decisions and are currently addressed by government. On the contrary: I believe many big retailers are desirable for our county and are an essential part of a thriving economy.
However, not all big box stores come in the same shapes and sizes. The sprawling, expansive box stores of old are undergoing transformations all over the country as they try to fit in with an urbanizing landscape. There are fine examples of retailers building two and even three story retail establishments in order to better adapt to their surroundings. Some include structured underground parking and are incorporated into larger mixed use projects in order to limit adverse environmental impacts and reduce the overall footprint or impact on a given neighborhood.
I have been thinking a great deal about this issue in light of a proposed redevelopment project on Rockville Pike that would bring an 80,000 square foot Wal-Mart very close to the recently-approved White Flint Sector Plan which will transform the White Flint area into a more lively, pedestrian and bike friendly place. This project is only three tenths of a mile from a metro station which makes the property perfect for transit oriented development - commonly thought of as mixed use development or a combination of residential and commercial use - as opposed to a project that would be so car-centric in nature. This project is, to my way of thinking, a throw-back to the suburban model we are trying to move beyond. As a result, I am exploring with the Planning Board staff ways in which we could set forth in our zoning ordinance exactly what we expect of development that is this close to a metro.
I shared my thoughts last week in a letter to JBG Rosenfeld in response to their proposed retail project on Rockville Pike. I welcome your thoughts on this topic as well.
T&E Committee Collaborates With Our Neighbors to the East
A few months ago, I ran into Prince George's County's Transportation Committee Chair Eric Olson at a meeting. After chatting a while, I proposed that our two committees meet to discuss regional issues facing both our counties.
On November 3, the T&E Committee, which I chair, held a joint meeting in Laurel with the Prince George's County Transportation Committee. This marked the first time ever that committees from the two counties collaborated in this way.
We discussed topics of mutual interest related to the Purple Line, heard what each jurisdiction has planned for their respective rapid transit networks, and received a briefing from members of the Maryland Blue Ribbon Commission on Transportation Funding on their recommendation for an increase in the gasoline tax to fund our transportation infrastructure needs. The meeting was a great success, laying the foundation for future collaboration between our two counties.
White Flint Projects Moving Forward
The White Flint Sector Plan, approved by the Council in March 2010, is starting to show signs of life! Three sketch plans have been submitted to the Planning Department: one by Federal Realty to redevelop the first phase of their project at Mid Pike Plaza, a second by JBG Companies for Phase II of their North Bethesda Market development, and a third by Promark Real Estate to redevelop an assemblage of properties at the corner of Nicholson Lane and Rockville Pike via a project called North Bethesda Gateway. These sketch plans will kick off the buildout of the sector plan and begin transforming the White Flint area into a more vibrant, pedestrian friendly place to live and to visit.
The County has also been busy preparing for the implementation of the White Flint Sector Plan. The Executive Branch held a series of meetings with the White Flint community to determine what the major public amenities of the plan should look and feel like. The civic green, the new recreation center, the library, the recreational loop and a new regional services center were all discussed in detail. The results of this public process were recently released and can be found here if you're interested.
There is a lot of excitement about this award winning plan and I, like many of you, am eager to see what White Flint will become.
Bethesda-Chevy Chase Middle School #2
Like many of you, I was very surprised to learn that MCPS Superintendent Dr. Joshua Starr recommended convening a new site selection process for the new middle school in the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Cluster. Given that his FY13-18 CIP recommendations, submitted to the Board of Education the Friday before, made no reference to a new process, this was a particularly unexpected change of course.
Nevertheless, the Superintendent believes a new site selection process can be undertaken without causing delays to the project's expected 2017 completion. I have reiterated to the Superintendent and to my colleagues on the Board of Education that it is absolutely critical this project remains on schedule.
It is also true that the process used by the school system was flawed: notwithstanding that all of the sites under consideration were public sites, the process was not open to the public generally. Instead, selected representatives of the cluster met in the early part of 2011 and worked hard to come up with two top recommendations.
The first choice was nixed when our Planning Board made it clear that they would not allow the use of park land, on which the school system does not retain recall rights, for a new school. The second choice -- Rock Creek Hills Park -- remains viable, but has also been met with resistance, particularly by the immediate neighbors. Unless some unprecedented public/private partnership arises, and can be closed in time, I personally will be surprised (not for the first time obviously) if the new look arrives at a different conclusion.
Nonetheless, I recognize it is the school system's prerogative to make these sorts of calls -- and I know both the Superintendent and the Board of Education share my commitment to providing adequate facilities that give our students the best educational environment to thrive.
Ultimately, my concerns -- that the new middle school provide enough capacity to provide relief to the cluster's severe overcrowding and that the project is completed as soon as possible -- remain the same. It is with these objectives in mind that I hope the new Site Selection Advisory Committee completes its work thoroughly and switfly.
Speaking of surprises, we got another one from the state transportation folks in charge of the Purple Line. We have now been informed that to have bikers use the same tunnel as the light rail into Bethesda it will cost the County an additional $40 million. That, ladies and gentlemen, is a big chunk of change.
The Planning Board has asked the state to look at several alternatives, including potentially moving the station. Our Council has been asked to weigh in as well, insofar as the state needs guidance for the design phase we have now entered. As I wrote on the Washington Area Bicyclist Association's blog, I will be exploring all of the options and meeting with all of the stakeholders on this development.
CR Zone Amended
Two New Mixed Zones Approved
One of the major land use changes that our county is undergoing is making sure that in our currently zoned commercial areas, we allow for mixed use development that will include residential uses. These so-called CR Zones were first approved for use in the White Flint Sector Plan when the Council approved the new master plan for that area.
Afterward, it became clear that while the new CR Zone worked in White Flint, it was not as fine tuned as necessary to work for other communities, such as Kensington, Wheaton, and Takoma Langley. So, the Planning Board, in Zoning Text Amendment 11-01, recommended creation of two new CR Zones - the CR Town zone (CRT) and the CR Neighborhood Zone (CRN). And while there is always a great deal of confusion with what a zone allows and what a master plan allows, it is important to remember that zones focus primarily on allowed uses and maximum densities, while the master plans sets forth the specifics, block by block.
The biggest change the CR Zones will bring to these master plans is redevelopment that allows both commercial and residential in places where only commercial use was allowed previously. What does this accomplish you may ask? Mixed use development is an appealing land use goal in places where residents want the convenience of amenities at their doorstep. It can help create places where people can work, live and play all in the same area and therefore, potentially use their car a lot less. Mixed use zones can also help revitalize areas that are economically stagnant by creating walkable, pedestrian friendly areas that draw in new residents.
But we already had some mixed zones in our county's land use toolbox. "Why did we need a new zone?" some have asked. There were several reasons - first, the existing mixed use zones weren't producing mixed use results; second, the existing process was not as transparent or predictable as desirable. Under the new system, developers can earn the right to build to the maximum density permitted by the master plan if they agree to provide public benefits and amenities carefully selected from a defined list of options in consultation with the Planning Board. Another benefit of this family of zones is the ability to differentiate core development areas in a master plan by designating CR or CRT and the transitional areas of development adjacent to existing residential neighborhoods where the CRN Zone can be utilized.
While no zone is perfect, the Council determined on an 8-1 vote that the this new family of CR Zones will serve as a useful tool for advancing our smart growth policy goals, enlivened communities, while at the same time protecting our lovely residential neighborhoods.
Our County is pursuing a number of avenues to piece together funding so that we can bring the sturdy red bicycles to areas of Montgomery County that are best-suited for them. Among them, DOT is applying for a state grant that would be used to fund part of the capital cost of installing stations, Senator Brian Frosh and Delegate Bill Frick have offered their support in pursuing a state bond bill, and there is significant interest in the private sector in helping to jump start this endeavor as well.
As part of this phase of our pursuit, County Executive staff is hosting a Bikeshare Open House on November 29 from 6-8:30 PM at the Executive Office Building in Rockville, and will be looking for input on Bikeshare station locations. Of course, you can always email my office with your thoughts as well, and I'll make sure they make it to the right place.
Chevy Chase Lake Sector Plan Update
The Chevy Chase Land Company has been busy meeting with many neighborhoods and community groups as Planning Staff heads into the final phase of its work in drafting the Chevy Chase Lake Sector Plan. It is anticipated that the Planning Board will review the staff draft in February 2012 and that the Planning Board's approved plan will come to the Council for review in the fall of 2012.
As the district councilmember, my staff and I are following this plan closely, but it will be some time before my official input is sought. In the meantime, I encourage you to provide your feedback and input to the Planning Staff and Planning Board and hope that you will participate in the Planning Board's public hearing on the plan later this winter/early spring.
The Montgomery County Charter requires that the County be divided into five Council districts for the purpose of nominating and electing five members of the County Council. To that end, it also requires that a Commission composed of nine residents be selected from lists provided by each political party, following each federal census, to set the district boundaries.
Montgomery County's population grew by 11.3% in the last decade gaining almost 100,000 people since 2000. Our Council District, District 1, grew by about 6%, adding 10,906 people to total 185,462. Since the district with the fewest people and the district with the most people may not exceed a 10% difference of the ideal district population, some adjustments in Council boundaries were necessary to reflect new population figures.
Under the Commission's proposal, District 1 will pick up new communities and new geography. My district will extend further east and will also extend in the west all the way to the Fredrick boundary. So, the good people of Kensington and Poolesville will now become constituents of mine and the agricultural reserve will be one of my charges. I will now have the largest (by population) district in the County and a big chunk of real estate too!
One area that regretfully will no longer be part of District 1 under the proposal is Randolph Hills. I have grown particularly fond of this community over my first one and a half terms on the Council, working closely with them on issues related to public safety in their park, zoning issues, and the White Flint Sector Plan. The Randolph Civic Association is one of the strongest community groups I have had the pleasure of working with, and I know that their leadership will continue to serve them well - along with their new District 4 representative, Councilmember Nancy Navarro.
Suspects Charged in Two Potomac Burglaries
Detectives from the Montgomery County Police 1st District Investigative Section have charged two suspects for two burglaries that occurred in November in Potomac. The suspects were identified as Demar Anthony Brown, age 27, with no fixed address, and Jonathan Abraham Mulatu, age 20, of Baltimore.
In the month of September, 1st District detectives and police crime analysts noticed a burglary trend emerging in the Potomac area. The burglaries appeared to have similar characteristics, to include the type of property that was stolen and the fact that force was used to enter the homes. Patrol officers and detectives began to examine the trend and determine possible suspects. Detectives developed Brown as a possible suspect and shared this information with other jurisdictions, to include Fairfax County, Virginia.
On November 8, Montgomery County police officers became aware that Fairfax County had arrested Brown and Mulatu that day for committing a burglary in Great Falls, Fairfax County, Virginia. Working with Fairfax County detectives, Montgomery County detectives determined that Brown and Mulatu were responsible for at least two burglaries in Potomac. The two burglaries, one burglary at a residence in the 9800 block of Potomac Manors Drive and another burglary at a residence in the 11200 block of River View Drive, both occurred on November 5. Montgomery County Police 1st District detectives obtained a warrant for Brown on November 11 and obtained a warrant for Mulatu on November 16, charging the suspects with two counts of first-degree burglary. Because Brown and Mulatu remain in the custody of Fairfax County for the burglary committed in Great Falls, Montgomery County Police have placed detainers on both suspects for the cases in this county.
This investigation is on-going and Montgomery County detectives will continue to explore the probable involvement of Brown and Mulatu in other burglaries in the county.
There are currently vacancies on the following boards. The deadline for application is November 30 - please send a resume and brief cover letter to firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to apply. More information on each of the boards can be found here.
Alcohol and Drug Abuse Advisory Council:
Members of the Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Advisory Council advise the Department of Health and Human Services, the County Executive, and the County Council in identifying local alcohol and other drug abuse program needs, assist in the development of plans to meet those needs, make recommendations in the budget process relative to those programs, and promote public education regarding alcoholism and other drug abuse.
Commission on Children and Youth:
This Commission advises the County Executive, County Council, Department of Health and Human Services, and Board of Education on policies, programs and services which support children, youth and their families.
Criminal Justice Coordinating Commission:
This Commission includes representatives of criminal justice agencies, local municipalities, judges, elected officials and the public-at-large. The Commission must evaluate the organization and adequacy of law enforcement and the administration of justice in the County.
Committee on Hate/Violence:
This Committee develops and distributes information about hate/violence in the county and promotes the positive value of ethnic and social diversity. The Committee advises the County Executive, County Council, and County agencies about hate/violence in the county, and recommends policies, programs, legislation, or regulations to help reduce the incidence of such acts.
Noise Control Advisory Board:
This eleven-member board must advise the County Executive, County Council, and the Director of the Department of Environmental Protection on noise control issues. The Board reviews and makes recommendations on the effectiveness of the County's noise control rules and regulations.
Board of Social Services:
This thirteen member Board advises the Department of Health and Human Services, the County Executive and County Council, as well as the Social Services Officer on the local application of state policies and procedures, receives briefings on local department activities, and communicates to the residents broad and comprehensive information as to the objectives, policies, programs and problems of local social services and public assistance administration in the County.