Is the Rockville Planning Commission taking too long to produce the final draft of a new Rockville Pike Plan for approval by the Mayor and Council? The answer varies among city elected officials. Councilmember Beryl Feinberg brought up the issue at the March 17 Mayor and Council meeting, under the Future Agendas item.
Feinberg requested that an update on the commission's Pike Plan progress be scheduled for a future meeting, saying that - in her view - "it's been stalled." Mayor Bridget Newton said her perception is directly the opposite. "I don't think it's stalled at all," Newton responded, adding that the "Planning Commission has been working hard on that."
"They have had this plan for years," Councilmember Tom Moore countered. Moore said recent decisions by the commission to further study some elements of the plan "alarmed some of us."
Several councilmembers reached a consensus that summoning Planning Commission Chair Don Hadley to provide an update at a future meeting would be satisfactory. Feinberg said she is seeking a "timeline for completion," and the ability of the council to "have our input to what's going on."
"What's going on," of course, is really more a projection of underlying tension between factions, with very different visions for future development in the city of Rockville. It's also an interesting study in the specific power, and influence, the office of mayor holds in the city. While the outcome of November's election appeared to favor the more pro-development Team Rockville faction, the ability of a mayor to strongly influence the makeup of commissions can allow him or her to still have a significant impact on major decisions.
Choices made by former mayor Phyllis Marcuccio have had just such an impact on the Pike Plan, and the process. When the plan process was, indeed, started "years" ago, there was a much more favorable majority for a high-density plan on the Planning Commission. There was a sense that the process was, if anything, moving too swiftly for some at that time. But with the exception of Jerry Callistein, Marcuccio's approved nominees have taken a decidedly more skeptical view of whether or not Rockville should rush to be just like White Flint.
Not only have the originally-proposed building heights come into question, but aspects of the plan glossed over by the well-paid consultants - and in the initial discussions - have come under more scrutiny. Hadley took a deliberate, thoughtful approach as a commissioner, and his elevation to chair has permitted the commission to operate in a similar fashion. New commissioners Jack Leiderman, Charles Littlefield and Anne Goodman have brought a fresh approach. Leiderman in particular has convinced many colleagues, and even city staff, to question points in the draft plan that had previously just been accepted as fact or fate. And many more of the concerns raised by the majority of citizens, who opposed the draft as written, have been taken into account.
As a result, the plan that will be sent to the council will be notably different than the one many had expected to be approved by 2012. While at this point still far more urban than today's Pike, many fairly radical proposals have been scaled back.
A plan that will have major impacts on the city, and particularly upon the neighborhoods that border the Pike Plan area, deserves a thorough process. With White Flint's radical changes still unproven to be financially sustainable or wise planning, there's no urgent need to rush completion of this document.