The rewrite of the master plan for Rockville Pike could be sent to the Mayor and Council in June, Rockville Planning Commission Chair Don Hadley said Monday night. Hadley had been summoned before the council at the behest of members concerned that the Pike Plan process was taking too long. He submitted a written summary of the issues at hand, and highlighted some of the primary challenges in his remarks to the Mayor and Council.
Hadley noted that the consultants hired by the city to develop a Pike Plan concept had 4 years to complete their work. Translating those conceptual goals into a real-world plan is far more complicated, he said. "Structurally, the Pike Plan actually had two parts," Hadley argued: a policy part, and a practical side. That required the commission to convert policy goals into "technically proficient and enforceable law," Hadley said, "not arbitrary, [but] well supportable" city code.
"Hot topics," such as building height, naturally take time to work out among the "democratization of ideas" on the 7-member commission, Hadley said. The deliberative process among commissioners - who don't necessarily agree on all matters - has "been healthy for us," he said. Technical issues not addressed in the consultants' plan have forced the commission to take extra time, as well. Hadley pointed out that the consultants' plan did not include the massive bus rapid transit line in the center of the Pike, now being pushed on the city by the Montgomery County Council. How to balance the demands for safe bike routes, local bus service, and street parking for merchants, has been a major challenge, Hadley reported. And the current demand for surface parking and big box stores on the Pike doesn't line up with the new urbanist goals of the consultants, he explained. It has fallen to the commission to resolve these inconsistencies, Hadley said.
Most significantly, Hadley said, the consultants' plan ultimately did not reflect Rockville's values. He referred to a panel hosted by former commission chair Jerry Callistein at a city summit, which sought to determine the city's values. "Neighborhood-oriented, family-friendly small-town people," was the panel's final definition of the city's character, Hadley recalled; "that’s been our guiding influence.”
Hadley said that the incompatible nature of the policy goals and today's reality (walkable, mixed use development vs. the existing, popular commercial area along the Pike) would probably demand a reassessment of the plan's specifics and performance every two years. He also sought to assure elected officials that the delays were not political in nature. There "really aren't any politics" on the commission, Hadley said. "I wouldn’t want [the Pike Plan] to come to you with any sense that it has a particular axe to grind," he concluded.
Mayor Bridget Newton and the council briefly responded to Hadley's presentation and letter Monday night. “I thought your letter was very instructive,” Newton said. "We’re delighted to hear that it’s coming in June," said Councilmember Tom Moore, who had expressed concern over the delays.
Planning commissioners Anne Goodman, Jack Leiderman and John Tyner were present at the meeting.