Showing posts with label Don Hadley. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Don Hadley. Show all posts

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Team Rockville councilmembers blasted for "pettiness" in denying reappointment of Hadley to Planning Commission

Planning Commissioner
Don Hadley
Updated: February 24, 8:14 AM*

Rockville residents turned out in force last night to ask the three City Council members who declined to support Don Hadley's reappointment to the Planning Commission to reconsider. Demanding at least an explanation for why they opposed his return, citizens asked the Council to put politics aside. As with other contentious debates involving the future of growth in the City, residents who appear to be in the majority were told that - in effect - there is a silent majority that does not testify, but must be given equal or greater weight than those who do show up.

The sometimes-heated debate included a suggestion that one councilmember be recalled from office, and a Hadley supporter on the Council asking her colleagues to "search their souls."

Hadley became embroiled in the 2015 election after the Team Rockville slate's mayoral candidate Sima Osdoby accused him of being a business partner of incumbent Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton's husband, and therefore having a conflict of interest in moderating the King Farm candidate forum. Hadley strongly contested these and other allegations made by Osdoby, and warned her and a blogger of potential legal action should his law practice and reputation be damaged.

Some residents feel the post-election rebuke of Hadley, a highly-respected land-use attorney, is strictly politics and bad blood spilling over from the nasty election season.

"Why are we getting into all this pettiness," resident Patricia Woodward asked. "Why don't you all grow up? Enough is enough!" Fellow West End resident Jack Gelin called the 3-2 vote against Hadley a "sad performance." Hadley "served with grace and distinction," Gelin said, arguing that "there is no credible challenge to Mr. Hadley's qualifications."

Joe Jordan, a resident who criticized councilmembers Virginia Onley, Julie Palakovich Carr and Mark Pierzchala for their votes against Hadley in a February 9 email, last night said he hoped their action was not "petty retribution." Citing Hadley's dedication, "integrity, transparency and fairness," Jordan said, "Don has more than earned reappointment."

Longtime city activist Drew Powell concurred, describing Hadley as "the most fair person I've ever met." Powell said he was "saddened" by the Council vote on Hadley, and implored them to work together and reconsider the nomination.

A member of the City's Traffic and Transportation Commission chastised the Council for its "appalling behavior," singling out Onley's conduct as "disgraceful." Recalling that he "felt physically ill" after hearing the results of the Hadley vote, he suggested Onley be recalled from office.

The issue is so heated in the community, that Councilmember Beryl Feinberg's husband found himself testifying before the Council for the first time, and defending Hadley's qualifications. Feinberg herself later said she was "proud to say that I voted for [Hadley's] reappointment along with the Mayor." She asked Newton to "put his name forth again," and her colleagues to "search their souls" about this matter.

One resident, in demanding the reasons behind the dissenters' votes, said, "if you can't give 'em, then I don't know why you sit there."

Following the conclusion of the Community Forum portion of the meeting, the councilmembers under fire did give some further explanation of their votes.

Onley fired back at the harshest criticism, condemning the "accusations" and "name-calling." For those who questioned her previous argument that Hadley would not bring diversity to the commission, Onley noted that she is a "67-year-old African-American woman," and that it would be "disingenuous" to claim her concerns were not genuine. "Whether you agree with me or not, please be as respectful of me as I am of you," she said.

Palakovich-Carr and Pierzchala offered the strongest criticism of Hadley and the current makeup of the Planning Commission. The commission is now "stacked with people who have similar perspectives on [land use] issues," Palakovich Carr said. She charged that current commissioners have "no expertise" on transportation or transportation planning.

Pierzchala began by praising Hadley as "a wonderful man," but then ripped the commission for what he felt were unnecessary delays in completing the Rockville Pike Plan, which has taken five years to complete. "I don't think the Planning Commission is doing the job," Pierzchala charged. "They do not represent the community." Commissioners have defended their approach, noting that changes the Council made to weaken the city's Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance required the plan to be revised. And, indeed, the changes the Commission has made to the plan strongly reflect the feedback they received from "the community."

Pierzchala also recalled that past mayor Phyllis Marcuccio declined to re-nominate past Planning Commissioners Kate Ostell and Jerry Callistein.

In response to suggestions that he and the rest of Team Rockville are beholden to developers, who have privately complained loudly about the Commission foiling their grander plans, Pierzchala said, "I don't appreciate that."

Interestingly, Palakovich Carr and Pierzchala described diversity on the Commission as being more of an ideological issue than a racial one, arguing that those who favor smart growth and denser growth aren't currently represented on the body.

One does have to wonder where those pro-urbanization residents are in all the public proceedings. A majority of voters indeed wanted the three Team Rockville residents on the Council, and voted thusly. But they also returned Newton to office, and she holds tremendous power over development via appointments to the Planning Commission. Newton has been clear that she will favor growth that benefits the City, rather than simply development interests. Her appointments reflect that, and Newton and Hadley's popularity among residents suggests the approach is what a majority want.

There is a growing effort in the County by developers to suggest there is a silent majority who favor the urbanization they are offering. The members of this silent majority, they say, simply don't have the time to testify or write letters. Engaged citizens are described as busybodies who have nothing better to do. Montgomery County Planning Board Chairman Casey Anderson is the foremost proponent of this theory.

But the silent majority suggestion threatens democracy itself. A loud minority that can simply ignore masses of residents who turn out in force, is not what anyone had in mind when the nation was founded. I'm sorry, but we have a system. We have a public process. And if you choose to not participate, you forfeit your political power as a citizen. Period. Let's be frank: the "silent majority" Anderson and others speak of are the developers, ever trying to find new ways to subvert the public will and sheer numbers of Rockville's well-organized neighborhoods.

It is virtually assured that Hadley will not be reappointed by this current Council. The three members who oppose him made that clear last night. That's too bad, although Newton can leave him on the Commission by simply not nominating a replacement, as long as he is willing to serve.

But it's also too bad for the City in the larger sense. Volunteers to serve are hard to come by, much less ones as qualified as Hadley. To hire an attorney or planning staff member of Hadley's caliber would cost the City six figures. They've had his services and good judgement for free on the Commission.

I've been an observer of the Planning Commission for at least 17 years, and it is difficult to think of a commissioner who had the knowledge, deliberative and thoughtful approach, ability to listen to colleagues and the public, and the skill to forge a consensus on difficult issues while placing residents first, that Hadley has brought to the panel.

Speaking of majorities, I would challenge anyone to produce a majority of residents who feel the consultant's original Pike Plan proposal is better for the city than the plan the Commission is about to transmit to the Council.

Finally, many engaged and qualified residents have come forward during these growth debates who themselves would likely be fine members of the Planning Commission. They should apply for a seat on it when candidates are sought in the future.

* Although the quotes attributed to Joe Jordan are correct, the wording was updated in one sentence to better reflect the intent of one of his statements.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Rockville Mayor and Council vote to ask state to study burying MD 355 through town center

Rockville's Mayor and Council voted unanimously to ask the state of Maryland to study the potential of burying Rockville Pike (MD 355), where it passes by downtown Rockville and the Rockville Metro station, during a worksesson on the topic last night. It would be the most expensive of 3 options designed to improve traffic flow, accommodate the proposed 355 and Veirs Mill Road Bus Rapid Transit systems, and create new economic development opportunities for the City.

The concept was first proposed during the 1990s, and Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton has been a strong proponent of the idea since. A preliminary proposal by a trio of consulting firms hired by the City would have 355 running as a four-lane highway underground from Dodge Street to a point north of Beall Avenue. On the new "surface" level created above that would be four lanes of local traffic, and two dedicated BRT lanes. The consultants were recommending 10' lane widths to discourage higher vehicle speeds. Newton said she was skeptical that would work, particularly with the popularity of wide, large SUVs and the heavy truck traffic on the Pike. Consultants said the underground option could be sold to the state as a way to make up for past design mistakes by Maryland in Rockville, and solve issues like the mixing bowl at 355 and Veirs Milll, while allowing Veterans Park to grow in size.

Utility relocations above and below ground would be a major cost factor in the tunnel option. The underground 355 would also mean acquiring 12,500 SF of right-of-way from 15 landowners along the route, which isn't that much in the grand scheme of land deals.

The total estimated cost of the tunnel facility would be $214 million, the study predicts. Development opportunities created by the plan would include redevelopment of 255 Rockville Pike, and two sites alongside the Rockville Metro station that currently serve as bus bays.

However, there would be potential for even more air rights development than the plan shows.

Newton asked if the tunnel could be shortened to reduce the cost. The consultants said a 1.3 mile tunnel would be the "sweet spot" for the project. The Mayor also pressed for one of her priorities in the concept, the creation of a large village green that could serve as not only public space, but also to host events such as the large scale Hometown Holidays concerts currently not possible since the E. Middle Lane parking lot was redeveloped.

While the consultants recommended against getting too detailed at this early stage, it would seem that an at-grade road/BRT alignment over the tunnel that wasn't so wedded to the current route of the Pike could be adjusted toward the tracks, for example. That would open up more space for development and a villlage green that wouldn't be possible if it had to be split down the center by a road.

Air rights over much of the tunnel could bring significant private investment into the project. Councilmember Mark Pierzchala and Planning Commissioner Don Hadley both agreed that buildings of perhaps 12 stories would be needed to make the project viable. Hadley noted that the cost should be put into the long-term context of the benefits of burying the Pike. He compared it to the cost of tuition to a fine university that would pay off later in life.

I think that's clearly the case. Separating through traffic and local traffic would not only restore the 33% capacity that BRT will steal in any Pike segment where it gets dedicated lanes taken from cars, but could also create more of a human environment above ground, and be a significant advancement toward the Vision Zero concept in the town center area. The concept aims to eliminate all deaths from traffic accidents by 2024.
Don Hadley
In other news last night, a majority of councilmembers from the Team Rockville slate declined to support the reappointment of Hadley to another term on the Planning Commission.  Councilmember Virginia Onley said she would like more diversity, and to limit the number of terms served by volunteers. Onley has voted to reappoint others to successive terms on commissions, however. Hadley is a highly-respected land use attorney who has won praise from residents for his deliberative and thoughtful approach.

But don't expect to see Hadley disappear into the good night just yet - unless he wishes to do so. One of the powers a Rockville mayor has is the ability to simply not make a new appointment, when he or she faces opposition to a candidate from a majority on the Council. Newton and her predecessor, former Mayor Phyllis Marcuccio, made wise use of this authority, and ended up ultimately winning majority support for replacement commissioners who represented their priorities on land use decisions. You'll find few citizens in Rockville who think the consultant's Euro-style Rockville Pike plan was better than the one the Planning Commission is wrapping up now.

At the end of the meeting, the Mayor and Council also voted unanimously to support a state Senate bill (SB 271) sponsored by Sen. Nancy King, which would provide more school construction money to Montgomery County.

Photo courtesy City of Rockville

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Rockville Planning Commission postpones vote on next Chair

Planning Commission Chair
Don Hadley said he is ready to
turn the gavel over
The Rockville Planning Commission declined to vote on who its next Chair will be last night. Commissioners were undecided as to who wanted to take on the responsibility, and wanted the two absent members to have a say in the decision. That decision will now come in January.

Commissioner Jack Leiderman was next in line under the traditional criteria, but declined the Chair position when asked by his colleagues. Leiderman cited his often-outspoken opinions, and the fact that his term is winding down with no guarantee of reappointment, as reasons for declining the chairmanship.

David Hill, a longtime commissioner who has served as Chair in the past, said he felt he would continue to be most effective without the title of Chair, as it frees him up to fully engage in the discussion and make motions on planning items. Commissioner John Tyner, another veteran who has chaired the body, said he would be willing to do it again if necessary. All agreed they would prefer if one of the newer members of the Commission would take the Chair position. Commissioner Anne Goodman declined for personal reasons. Commissioners Charles Littlefield (who was floated as a potential chair by several commissioners) and Gail Sherman were not at the meeting.

Current Chair Don Hadley said it would be a negative for the institution of the commission for him to serve in that role beyond this month. He said the commission is best-served if the leadership chair doesn't become too closely associated with one person. Hadley asked Hill to lead an offline discussion to attempt to reach a consensus on who is interested in the seat. At the commission's January meeting, members will have to either vote at the outset of the meeting, or appoint a pro-tempore chair to get through the meeting agenda that night. Then a discussion and vote can be held later in the evening.

As the commissioners prepared to adjourn, they were stunned to hear of the departure of Senior Assistant City Attorney Marcy Waxman. Waxman said she appreciated the opportunity to work with the Commission over the past several years, and would miss them personally and professionally. She noted she had been working for the City on a temporary basis since August.

Waxman did not mention what her next career move would be, but her LinkedIn page says she is now a Real Estate Agent and Attorney with RE/MAX Realty Group. The commissioners expressed their gratitude for her service. Waxman said she will be succeeded at the Commission by two new attorneys hired by the City.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Attack on Newton backfires as Planning Commission chair demands retraction of "false" accusations

Rockville Planning Commission Chair and practicing attorney Don Hadley has forcefully responded to "grossly, recklessly and intentionally false" accusations made about him by Team Rockville mayoral candidate Sima Osdoby, and Chevy Chase blogger David Lublin. In a letter Monday, Hadley put both "on notice" regarding the allegations, which Lublin doubled down on yesterday by posting an Osdoby press release to his Seventh State blog.

Former Rockville mayor Steven Van Grack was also the subject of attack in the press release, which was supposed to be a critique of incumbent Mayor Bridget Newton's alleged "conflicts of interest."

But Hadley's response appears to demolish the allegations - and those allegations may have backfired, with consequences that extend beyond today's Mayor and Council election.

For starters, Hadley notes that he was nominated to the Planning Commission in 2010 by then-mayor Phyllis Marcuccio, not Newton, who had no such nominating power when she was a councilmember in that year.

More to the point, Hadley declares that he, in fact, has "never been a business partner with [Fred] Newton or Mayor Newton, directly or indirectly, in any project or enterprise." His involvement as an attorney as it related to a property developed by Newton's husband was merely an "arms-length settlement" for the transaction, Hadley wrote. "I am not in business with Mr. Newton in any way, [and] the seller conducted the historic designation process [for 408 Great Falls Road] prior to Mr. Newton becoming interested in the property," he added.

Hadley and the Newtons are not even "close family friends," as was alleged, Hadley said.

He concludes his letter by warning Osdoby and Lublin that his law practice and reputation may have been damaged by their allegations, and that he is already receiving calls regarding the charges that are taking time from his work. Hadley urges them to retract their statements, and says he will "look to you and and those participating with you for damages incurred."

"All of this is done by you on election eve for the cynical purpose of immediate political and personal gain," Hadley wrote to Osdoby and Lublin.

Rockville voters go to the polls today to elect a mayor and four councilmembers. You can find your polling place here. 

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Still deciding who to vote for today? Click on the "Election 2015" tag at the bottom of this post (desktop browser version) to read all of the election and debate coverage here on Rockville Nights.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Rockville Planning Commission approves Avalon Bay project, mulls new tools to control school overcrowding

A development project delayed repeatedly over the last decade had yet another scare last night before the Rockville Planning Commission. But Avalon Bay's Twinbrook Station apartment site plan ultimately gained approval, before the end of another epic Planning Commission meeting - a meeting that began last night at 7:00 PM, and ended early this morning.

Avalon Bay has proposed building a 55' high, 238-unit apartment building at 12720 Twinbrook Parkway. There will be 24 studios, 115 1-bedrooms, and 99 2-bedroom units, and a 351-space parking garage. Thirty units will be set aside as affordable housing. Amenities promised include a swimming pool, fitness center and club room. Despite the Twinbrook Parkway address, the main driveway access will be off of Ardennes Avenue.

The project site is less than a quarter mile from the Twinbrook Metro station. Ranging from only 3-4 stories despite that transit-oriented location, the project had to also balance its proximity to the single-family home neighborhood directly adjacent to it. Commissioners - including Jack Leiderman, who cast the only dissenting vote against the plan - praised the applicant for its restraint on height and density.
View of rooftop deck at
future Avalon Bay Twinbrook
apartments, including
outdoor grill station
Concerns mostly centered on its impact on schools, including Twinbrook Elementary; traffic circulation; and public safety.

The school question caused the commission to briefly jump ahead to a discussion of what school capacity data it should consider related to projects, which had originally been confined to a later agenda item. Leiderman argued strongly that - despite this year's decision by the City Council to allow more overcrowding, by weakening Rockville's Adequate Public Facilities Standards on school capacity - the Planning Commission retains significant oversight authority and responsibility to ensure adequate classroom space.

“I do have one concern here that has to do with schools," Leiderman said of the Avalon Bay project. "Twinbrook Elementary is struggling with being over-capacity. The APFS standard, per se, when we go to the finding that we would make…the standard number three about the adequate public facilities standard…that does not preempt a municipal planning commission from taking into account what’s going on at a local school near the site."

While Avalon Bay's projected student impact "may not trigger an automatic moratorium, I would contend that the planning commission still” has authority to consider the capacity of schools in that cluster, Leiderman suggested. He recalled that Councilmembers Tom Moore and Virginia Onley, in voting for the APFS change, "made the point that nothing in the APFS change restricts the planning commission from evaluating [school capacity] on a case-by-case basis. I take that to heart [in considering] the general welfare finding. I’m not equipped with enough data to make a finding."

“We suggested that that’s not appropriate,” planning staff liaison Andrew Gunning said of why staff was not furnishing all of the numbers Leiderman and others have requested. Because the city has adopted a new standard, it should stick to that in measuring impacts of developments, Gunning argued. “To look at two different sets of measurements…would be really confusing and introduces a lot of, just, confusion,” Gunning said.

Leiderman replied that detailed data is necessary for the commission to holistically consider whether or not there are adequate public facilities to permit approval of a particular application. As it stands, “I don’t have the information I would need as a commissioner to do due diligence to make a finding,” Leiderman said.

Commissioner John Tyner disagreed. “We are bound by what current law is. That is what staff has based their recommendations on,” Tyner said.

But the "legislative intent behind [the current law] was that the commission still uses its judgement," Leiderman said. “If site plans were simply based on numbers, we wouldn’t need commissioners. [Considering school capacity] is still in our purview.”

Avalon Bay's attorney, Barbara Sears, objected to the late discussion of new school-capacity criteria. "I believe in the rule of law," Sears said regarding the new APFS revision. "I know you’re disspointed it was adopted, but the city has adopted" a lower standard.

Commission chair Don Hadley agreed with Sears in principle, suggesting that Avalon Bay - as the first applicant to come before the commission under the new standards - shouldn't be penalized for that random fact. He concurred with the idea of the commission discussing new tools it could utilize to fulfill the responsibilities Leiderman suggested were within its authority over schools. But, Hadley said, "this is not the project" to have that discussion around.

With school concerns off the table, there were not any issues that threatened to derail the project.

Regarding traffic, some commissioners were concerned that the Ardennes access would have a negative impact on streets like Halpine Road. Katie Mencarini of the Rockville Department of Public Works said that traffic studies showed the Avalon Bay development would actually generate less vehicle trips than the previous office use.

Leiderman, in discussing the lack of rear driveway access for firetrucks, segued into a discussion of a catastrophic fire at another Avalon Bay development in New Jersey. That fire left 1020 residents homeless, and is the subject of ongoing litigation and investigation by authorities, Leiderman noted.

Avalon Bay's Martin Howle acknowledged the January blaze at its Avalon at Edgewater apartments was "clearly a tragedy." New Jersey fire officials blamed that five-alarm inferno partly on the building's "lightweight wood construction," according to

But, Howle asserted, "the building actually performed the way it was supposed to," allowing occupants to escape. He said Avalon Bay has hired safety officers since the fire, and promised their Twinbrook project would have an "upgraded fire suppression system," beyond what current regulations require of developers. "We take these issues very seriously," Howle assured commissioners.

Commissioner David Hill questioned if there would be sufficient parking, were the 2-bedroom unit tenants to have more than 1 car. Sears said the parking-to-units ratio at Twinbrook would be 1.5, higher than the 1.2 average among other Avalon Bay properties. Hill also expressed concern over the lack of employment in the all-residential project. Sears replied that the primary motivation for the 100% residential proposal was that "the community didn't want to see retail in there." She noted that there are many jobs available within short walking distance of the site, most notably at the Department of Health and Human Services site.

Tyner moved to approve the site plan. His motion was seconded by Commissioner Anne Goodman. Commissioners approved the project by a 6-1 vote, with Leiderman dissenting.

The commission held a short discussion of the APFS staff report, but decided to postpone an in-depth conversation due to the early morning hour. Leiderman mentioned that courts have ruled schools are a local concern, meaning that the city could write laws regarding them, even if it doesn’t directly control them. He also suggested there needs to be an adequate public facilities element in the citywide Master Plan the commission is currently working on.

Renderings courtesy Avalon Bay and
SK+I Architecture
All rights reserved

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

No apologies: Rockville Planning Commission responds to Councilman's query regarding Pike Plan

Rockville Planning Commission
Chair Don Hadley
Rockville Councilmember Tom Moore wrote to the city's Planning Commission to request an update on when the Mayor and Council might expect the Rockville Pike Plan back from that body. That letter was brought up at the commission's last meeting. According to commission chair Don Hadley, Moore expressed a strong interest in receiving the plan in time for the current Mayor and Council to act on it prior to Election Day in November. Should this not happen, Hadley said, Moore implied that the work of residents, staff and elected officials would be wasted.

Commissioner John Tyner noted, jokingly, that Moore "didn’t thank the members of the Planning Commission of our 4 years of work on this project." Overall, none of the commissioners expressed any concurrence with Moore's choice of timing, and several referred to it as an "artificial deadline."

To the idea that any further delay would have wasted time and effort, Commissioner David Hill responded that the commission had taken great time and effort to obtain citizen feedback on the plan, and said "I don’t think that’s a wasted effort in any manner."

Commissioner Jack Leiderman argued that it was the Council majority that overturned the city's Adequate Public Facilities Standards for school overcrowding that was actually to blame for the holdup.

"When the Mayor and Council unilaterally changed the apes standards, it sort of changed the groundwork upon which our plan had been developed," Leiderman said. "We did warn them in advance that it would be disruptive to the planning process for the Mayor and Council to move precipitously in that area. They chose to go ahead and do that."

 "I don’t make any apologies to anyone on the council 
who’s asking why is there a delay, because the council majority
 is actually the cause of the delay."

"I think this commission reserves the right to reassess the plan in light of what now needs to be discussed," Leiderman continued, "because the [Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance] and APFS are repeatedly referred to in the plan. And so I don’t make any apologies to anyone on the council who’s asking why is there a delay, because the council majority is actually the cause of the delay."

After getting feedback from commissioners, Hadley said he would compose a letter representing their thoughts on the matter. "We’re not a political body, we’re not playing politics," Hadley said, stressing that the commission is committed to updating the plan under the new APFS standards in the best interests of residents.

"The easiest way to put it," Tyner suggested, "is that when we’ve completed our deliberations, and have come up with a plan that’s in the best way for the needs of the citizens of all of Rockville, then we’ll send it forward."

Thursday, July 9, 2015

" Potentially catastrophic " changes wrought by Rockville APFS vote

Unintended consequences, or a "shell game"? How some changes slipped through along with Rockville's adoption of Montgomery County's school capacity standards, was a question on the minds of several Planning Commissioners at last night's meeting.

Commissioner Jack Leiderman questioned city planning staff regarding a little-noticed change in traffic standards, which mysteriously accompanied the relaxing of school standards, in the City Council resolution.

The change now exempts age-restricted senior housing projects from traffic impact standards. As senior housing has little to do with school capacity, Leiderman wanted to know why such a change was made, and how it was done without alerting the commission or the council. "I'm a little bit troubled by the process involved," Leiderman said.

Under the new standard, Leiderman argued, if Redgate Golf Course were redeveloped as a Leisure World-style community - minus facilities that would subject it to traffic penalties - the resulting major automobile generator would be entirely exempt. Leiderman said the new policy "could be potentially catastrophic."

Staff Liaison Andrew Gunning and Chief of Planning Jim Wasilak said the change likely slipped through when staff tried to match the subdivision staging policy with that of the county's.

Leiderman noted that Mayor Bridget Newton brought the traffic policy change up twice during council discussion of the APFS changes. Commission Chair Don Hadley recalled that he mentioned it specifically during his Annual Report briefing to the Mayor and Council.

A suggestion of drafting a text amendment to correct the unintended change was proposed by Leiderman. Commissioner David Hill preferred to limit action to a letter alerting the Mayor and Council to the problem. Hadley offered a compromise: a letter that would outline how the Mayor and Council might consider correcting the language. Leiderman moved to adopt Hadley's suggestion; his motion was seconded by Hill.

The motion passed unanimously.

Acting on a question of senior housing had some additional impetus with word that the developer behind the Quality Suites project by I-270 may be rethinking the project. Once planned as "multi-family housing," the hotel conversion had been switched to senior housing, and had obtained a school capacity waiver from the commission under that guise. If the project is reconsidered, the developer technically still has approval for multi-family housing, Wasilak said, having not yet acted on the senior housing plan. The project could now go forward as multi-family housing, now that the moratorium has been lifted by the APFS vote.

APFS battle may not be over yet in Rockville

Planning Commission
Chair Don Hadley
The 3-2 vote by the Rockville City Council to drop the city's tighter school capacity standards in favor of Montgomery County's was the end of the Adequate Public Facilities Standards battle, right? Maybe not, if discussion at last night's Rockville Planning Commission meeting was any indication.

Rockville Planning Commissioner Jack Leiderman, acknowledging to his colleagues that he was opening a "big can of worms," suggested the council's action has several implications the Planning Commission must now address.

Leiderman stressed that the Mayor and Council had been warned by both a memo, and a report delivered by Commission Chair Don Hadley, that much of the commission's and residents' support for the draft Rockville Pike Plan was predicated on the safeguards provided by the APFS. He noted that the plan refers in several sections to the APFS as written at the time the plan was drafted.

By only one deciding vote, Leiderman said, 3 councilmembers "shot the horse out from under the rider." With the APFS "gutted," Leiderman suggested, the draft plan may no longer enjoy the support it once had. In fact, it may need to be revised and adjusted for the new standards, he said.

The Planning Commission is required to consider school overcrowding and protect future residents in the Rockville Pike Plan area from having to attend overcrowded schools, Leiderman argued. To that end, he proposed two actions.

First, Leiderman recommended the commission add language to the Pike Plan that would reflect the 2005 school standards, and would apply only to the Pike Plan area. What the council passed was only a resolution, not a text amendment, he said.

Second, Leiderman asked planning staff to continue to provide commissioners with the same school capacity data it had been collecting and furnishing since 2005. That would mean breaking the numbers down by individual school, forecast over a 5 year period, and also taking into account development that is in the pipeline.

Staff Liaison Andrew Gunning said planning staff are still having an internal discussion about how to implement their responsibilities under the new standards. He said that staff will discuss the potential of collecting the old data alongside the new county calculations, and report back to the commission.

The presentation by Chief of Planning Jim Wasilak clearly showed how deceptive the county standards are, compared to the former APFS standards. Whereas several areas of the city were in moratorium for development prior to the change, the entire city is now open for development, without a single desk being added to any school. And the cluster averaging shows school capacity being far greater than it is at many individual Rockville schools in reality.

Commissioner David Hill said he was uncertain that the commission would be able to have a tighter standard for the Rockville Pike corridor than for the rest of the city. But, he added, the commission should develop a solid argument justifying doing so, if it wishes to act on Leiderman's proposal.

Hadley acknowledged that the APFS change indeed has serious implications for the Pike Plan and planning in general. He said that he will work to come up with new language for parts of the draft plan, to reflect the new reality.

In short, the councilmembers who sought the standards change may have inadvertently slowed down the already-lengthy Pike Plan process even further. The commission was supposed to respond to a Mayor and Council communication regarding the plan, leading to some debate last night on how to respond.

Commissioners voted unanimously to have Hadley draft a cover letter reflecting where things stand in light of the APFS change. Hadley also said that it may be beneficial for Rockville to have the final Pike Plan informed by the major goals of the city's next Master Plan, a separate process that only recently got underway.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Choice Hotels street renaming request needs more...choice in Rockville

The decision on what - if anything - to rename Renaissance Street to in Rockville Town Center has been delayed again by the Rockville Planning Commission. Last night, representatives of Choice Hotels appeared before the commission in person. Previous discussions, at which Choice did not appear to personally plead the company's case for the name change, were unsuccessful.

Despite the in-person plea, the commissioners did not find the present options any more appealing than they were a few weeks ago. Commissioner Charles Littlefield, echoing the efforts of many in the community to establish a Rockville Science Center and promote science in the city, suggested Galileo as a potential alternative. Chair Don Hadley said he didn't think most people visiting the street were there for science. Hadley and some commissioners thought Hospitality might be an appropriate name. He said it would show the city's appreciation for Choice locating its headquarters there, and also emphasize that the town center is a welcoming place.

Commissioner Jack Leiderman wasn't as enthusiastic, noting that there are Hospitality Ways all over the country, "one off every off-ramp." He said he wasn't so much concerned with having a name that reflected a particular industry, as having one that was specifically related to Rockville. "I'd like some more choices," Leiderman said.

More choices are what the commission will get, a Choice representative promised. "I appreciate that none of these names resonate with the [commission]," he said. He added that the company was very appreciative of the commission's time in taking up the request, and that it is very important to them. Choice will now try to generate some additional name possibilities over the next couple of weeks, and submit them to city staff.

The commission will then revisit the discussion of the change at its July 22 meeting, Staff Liaison Andrew Gunning said.

Friday, January 30, 2015


Ahead of a February 2 discussion and February 9 vote by Rockville's Mayor and Council on the proposed changes to school capacity standards in the city's Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance, the Rockville Planning Commission approved a memo expressing its opinion on the matter. The opinion is advisory to the Mayor and Council, separate from the actual legislation that will be voted upon on February 9. The memo was approved at Wednesday night's meeting.

In discussing the memo's final draft, prepared by Commissioners Charles Littlefield and Anne Goodman, some changes were suggested. Goodman and Commissioner Jack Leiderman agreed that a line proposing the city fully adopt the Montgomery County APFS, if the school standards were changed, should be eliminated. Leiderman said it would be preferable for the Mayor and Council to make changes in that event, rather than require automatic adoption of the County policy in whole.

Chair Don Hadley informed his colleagues that a pending Maryland court case could require delay of the city requesting an "authoritative interpretation" from the state's Attorney General's office on whether the Mayor and Council indeed have the authority to change the APFS. He said an Anne Arundel County case pending before the State Court of Appeals will determine if a jurisdiction can "have laws passed by the legislative body that are inconsistent with the Master Plan."

The case will involve the legal standing of a citizens association to challenge something inconsistent with a Master Plan. And how "inconsistent" is defined, Hadley said.

Hadley advised that requesting an opinion from Attorney General Brian Frosh be put on hold until the court rules in the Anne Arundel case, or else "we'd be asking the AG to get ahead of the court." He suggested the Attorney General could then issue an opinion. Hadley noted that the Attorney General's brief in the case reflects his office's Fall 2014 opinion that has raised the question of whether or not the Mayor and Council have the power to change school standards.

Commissioner John Tyner questioned if Commissioner David Hill's previous concern that the school changes might be unconstitutional should be written in authoritative language, or by stating the commission believes there is a chance it might be. Tyner suggested "may well be unconstitutional" for the language. The commission's "resident expert", Commissioner Dion Trahan, said that the argument wouldn't "hold water," in his professional opinion. Trahan holds a graduate degree in Constitutional law. No clear final language was stated aloud on that point.

Hill moved that the document be adopted and transmitted to the Mayor and Council by today. The memo was unanimously approved by the commission.

Thursday, December 11, 2014


The Rockville Planning Commission voted unanimously last night to oppose proposed changes in the city's Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance regarding school capacity standards. Some on the city council are in favor of replacing the current school standards with those used by Montgomery County. The changes would include averaging school populations over a cluster, rather than measuring overcrowding at each individual school, as the current Rockville standard does.

Commission Chair Don Hadley reiterated his previous remarks that the recent legal opinion handed down by Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler suggests the Mayor and Council lack the authority to change the APFS school standards. Hadley said they and the commission "need to find out what the rules of the road are," before changing the standards. Commissioner John Tyner said the recommendations of the city's APFO Committee a couple of years back - to implement no changes to the Rockville school standards - were forwarded by the Planning Commission to the Mayor and Council. "My opinion has not changed on that," he added.

There was a sense among some commissioners that something fishy is going on, and that the proposed changes are being pushed behind the scenes for an unstated purpose. "I'm fearful something non-transparent is going on that should be made transparent," Commissioner David Hill said. Commissioner Jack Leiderman said the demand for changes is certainly not coming from the city's residents. "Whenever there has been a proposal to weaken the APFO, this room has been filled to capacity" with citizens opposing the change, Leiderman noted. He said the January 5 date for the APFO public hearing - during holiday vacations - appeared to have been "frankly, chosen to minimize" public input.

Hill said he welcomed a "vibrant public debate" on school standards, but agreed that January 5 was not particularly conducive to having one. He reiterated Tyner's point that the commission had already spoken to the school matter by forwarding the committee report to the Mayor and Council. "I am not ready to change" school standards, Hill said. He said other jurisdictions in the state have used Rockville's 2005 APFO standards as a model, and therefore, the authority issue is very appropriate for Gansler to address at this juncture. Commissioner Anne Goodman concurred that the city should get a legal opinion from Gansler before acting on the APFS. "We have a legal uncertainty," Hadley said. "It leaves us in a very tenuous position."

Leiderman suggested the commission go on the public record regarding the controversial January 5 public hearing, and send a formal letter to the Mayor and Council. Hill said he agreed "it's the Planning Commission's place to make a recommendation."

Hill prepared language for a commission resolution that would reiterate the body's support of the 2012 APFO committee recommendations. He said they should emphasize to the Mayor and Council that those recommendations were "the product of a citizen committee that spent many hours" studying the complex issues related to adequate public facilities. Leiderman argued the commission should add one element missing from the committee recommendations, namely, to affirm that 110% of capacity is the maximum allowable in a particular school. He also said that passing the proposed changes would not be a mere alteration of regulations, but a de facto repeal of the APFO - an act that would require a text amendment. Leiderman warned that the county has even considered raising its weaker standard to a higher level of acceptable overcrowding - which would leave Rockville's schools well over the 120% county standard.

Ultimately, the commissioners came to a unanimous recommendation that the Mayor and Council should not change school standards at this time. 

Meanwhile, former mayor Larry Giammo posted a second article on his blog regarding the APFO controversy. Giammo was mayor when the city passed the original ordinance, which several commissioners argued last night is clearly working to prevent further school overcrowding. This latest post is devoted to debunking the stated rationales for loosening school standards in Rockville.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014


Rockville Planning Commission Chair Don Hadley dropped a bombshell in the heated debate over the future of the city's Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance/Standards last night. During his annual presentation on city planning and development, Hadley touched on the APFO issue. Just as some councilmembers are prepared to loosen school overcrowding restrictions on development, Hadley cited a recent legal opinion by Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler that suggests they lack the authority to do so.

The opinion resulted from a 2011 request by the Mount Airy Town Council to settle the question of whether the council could amend or change a comprehensive plan or plan element formulated by the town's planning commission. The council and its attorney believed it could. "Respectfully, we disagree," Gansler wrote back in his November 18, 2014 opinion.

Based upon Sections 3-202 and 3-205 of the Maryland Code’s Land Use Article, the 2012 Code Revision notes, and his review of legislative history, Gansler concluded the council lacked the legal authority to change a planning commission plan or plan element without receiving a new recommendation from the planning commission. Gansler's opinion argued that the council could only approve or disapprove of a plan, not alter it.

The opinion does not apply to counties or Baltimore City, but does apply to municipalities like Rockville.

Accordingly, Hadley suggested at last night's Mayor and Council meeting, the APFS changes proposed by some councilmembers are in conflict with both the current Rockville Master Plan, and also state land-use laws.

Councilmember Tom Moore, an advocate for changing the APFS school standards, vigorously disagreed. "You made a pretty bold claim," Moore charged, saying that Rockville City Attorney Debra Yerg Daniel had concluded the opinion did not apply to the APFS change "because it's not a Master Plan item." 

But Daniel's legal opinion has not been made public, and - under Mayor and Council privilege - must remain secret unless the Mayor and Council waive their right to confidentiality. Hadley asked if the city attorney's decision would remain "under a rock" where the public cannot review it.

Mayor Bridget Newton and a majority of the council said they were willing to waive their legal right to confidentiality, although Moore raised the question of whether there were any negative implications for the city in doing so. The APFS issue "is on a fast train, and four of us have asked you" to make the decision public, Newton said to Daniel.

Daniel agreed to make her opinion public, but it is not known how soon it will be released as of this writing.

An extra dash of intrigue has now been added to the debate, which had tensions high all evening. Near the meeting's end, Newton and Moore clashed on a labor relations item being added to a future agenda. Moore opposed the item, interjecting repeatedly. "Councilmember Moore, you are out of order," Newton said firmly, as Moore continued to protest.

Hadley said that, as chair of the commission, "I'm a dummy if I sit here and watch" the APFS matter be resolved by the council, if it has no legal authority to do so. He pointed to the city's master plan language and state land use rules, both of which explicitly emphasize that school capacity must be provided to support new development. The Mayor and Council should ask Gansler for an opinion on their authority to tamper with the APFS before doing so, Hadley suggested.

"I wouldn't mess with the APFS until the Attorney General rules," Hadley advised. "The city doesn't want me to do this, but we've got to do it."

Thursday, October 9, 2014


The new building would be
on the site of the parking lot
pictured at upper left
The Rockville Planning Commission is recommending the Mayor and Council reject proposed changes to the second phase of the Duball project in Rockville Town Center. Duball has filed a request to nearly double the number of units in its planned apartment building at 198 E. Montgomery Avenue from 222 to 400, while reducing parking by 25%. The building would rise on the second half of the former city parking lot in front of the Regal Cinemas.

Commissioners were convinced it was too much, too soon for Rockville Town Center. Chair Don Hadley said he would not necessarily oppose the change at a later date, but not at this stage of the town center's development. One central question was whether the nature of the town center has been fully defined or realized yet. It seems to be primarily a dining destination right now, and just how urban it should become - compared to Bethesda, for example - is not yet determined, in Hadley's assessment. Parking is felt to remain a concern in town center, and was the developer's albatross at last night's meeting.

Ultimately, the Commission voted 4-1 to recommend non-approval of the request, with the motion being made by Commissioner Jack Leiderman. Commissioner John Tyner, the lone dissenting member, argued that the increased density would be essential to the commercial viability of Rockville Town Center. Several tenants have vacated, or been evicted from, Rockville Town Square over the last few months. Some have blamed rising rents, while others feel the parking situation is responsible, relative to the free and easy parking offered by nearby competition like Rio/Washingtonian Center.

Duball's phase 1 project is already under construction across from the proposed new building site, featuring The Upton apartments, and a Cambria Suites hotel.

Thursday, June 19, 2014


The Rockville Planning Commission delayed its scheduled vote on the new Rockville Pike master plan at last night's meeting, in order to give the Mayor and Council, the public, and other interested parties time to study the finished draft. Given that an official transmission of the draft would trigger a 60-day review by the Mayor and Council, several commissioners expressed concern that summer would not afford the maximum time and attention to review of the document.

Following two hours of discussion, the commission voted unanimously on 3 straw votes, worded by commissioners David Hill and Jack Leiderman. The first vote was to direct the planning department to draw attention to the publication of the final draft plan on the city website. Second was to delay the formal vote in order to allow all interested parties time to review the many changes to the final draft. A final vote asked the Mayor and Council to provide "timely" advice regarding the timeframe in which it is prepared to begin the formal 60-day review process. This would likely include at least one public hearing.

Planning staff sought a more formal directive from the commission, but Assistant City Attorney Marcy Waxman backed the commissioners' decision to rely on a straw vote. Several commissioners said they wanted to avoid any sort of formal vote before giving elected officials a chance to review the plan. Now the exact calendar will be determined by the Mayor and Council's response to the commission's action. Commission chair Don Hadley requested the planning staff assist him in drafting a communication to the Mayor and Council regarding the body's decision.

Commissioner Dion Trahan expressed some disappointment in the delay of the plan's approval, saying enough feedback had already been received on the plan. "I have to work in the summer," he added, suggesting the vacation season shouldn't impact the work of city officials. He and Commissioner Charles Littlefield both stated that municipal governments need to be efficient in their land-use decisions. Leiderman noted that many significant changes had been made, and that all affected parties needed sufficient time to review what is essentially a new document.

The next move will be determined by the Mayor and Council. It certainly makes sense, given that it is difficult to get any meaningful public participation during the summer vacation months.

Friday, May 2, 2014


A request for a parking waiver by JBG entity "Hungerford Retail II, LLC" failed to convince a skeptical Rockville Planning Commission last week, leading the development's attorney to request a deferment of the petition. The project is a 2-story, mixed-use building with office and restaurant space, where a former Giant grocery store was recently demolished. A 41% decrease in parking spaces was requested for the structure, which will include a one-level, below-grade garage.

The waiver request stumbled out of the gate, with the last-minute revelation that the applicant had not apprised nearby residents of the parking changes. A communication from the West End Citizen's Association earlier in the day suggested neighbors were not yet informed of the plan, and requested a postponement of the decision. “It is with some puzzlement that I’ve learned that WECA was not involved, was not notified about this parking waiver," Commissioner Jack Leiderman said. "We did receive a letter from the president of WECA to postpone the waiver. As a commission, we need to slow down and get the input of the community." Commissioner John Tyner concurred, characterizing the applicant's failure to inform WECA in advance as "a strategic error." City planning staff member Cas Chasten said that, while waiver applicants are not required to notify neighbors, city staff had strongly advised them to do so.

Commissioner Dion Trahan was equally concerned about neighborhoods that would be affected by parking changes in East Rockville, such as Lincoln Park. The failure to notify them made the applicant appear "insincere," he said. "Whenever the citizenry talk about these back room deals going on in City Hall, this is what they’re talking about,” Trahan added.

The applicant's attorney, Erica Leatham, said they apologized to WECA and the Planning Commission for the lack of communication.

Another major concern among commissioners was the relevance and accuracy of the parking studies submitted by the applicant, which were designed to support approval of the waiver.

The wheels came entirely off when the applicant's parking consultant, Edward Papazian, was caught off-guard during cross examination by Leiderman.

Papazian had stated that the high volume of parking recorded in a study of Rockville Town Square garages on Thursday, December 12, 2013, was atypical. Demand would be less on the average night, Papazian claimed, because the city's Christmas tree lighting event had inflated the numbers on the 12th.

"Would it surprise you, sir," Leiderman asked, "to learn that the tree lighting event was actually a week before, on Thursday, December 5th?”

"We were there, our people were there," Papazian insisted.

Leiderman begged to differ, citing official transcripts of a Mayor and Council meeting three days before Papazian's claimed tree lighting ceremony.

"It’s a matter of public record," Leiderman said. "I have The Mayor and Council meeting [transcript] of December 9th, [during which] Councilmember [Beryl] Feinberg reported that she attended the Rockville Christmas tree lighting on Thursday, December 5th."

Leiderman said the false information regarding the parking counts called the whole report into question. "I don’t trust your report, with all due respect. If I had more time, what other junk would I find in it?" Leiderman asked. "You’re coming here with this report that’s filled with numbers, and we’re supposed to base important land use decisions on the accuracy of them. You’re attributing [numbers] to something that didn’t even happen, some data that could have just been a routine Thursday night with [it being] hard to park in the city. You’re saying it’s [the tree lighting]. It didn’t happen. So, I’m looking at this report going…”, Leiderman concluded with an expression of disbelief.

Many commissioners, including Chairman Don Hadley, expressed concern that the urban parking concept was out of sync with the reality of Rockville as a suburban city of residential neighborhoods. Using Montgomery County parking studies and practices would put future growth in Rockville on a course more in line with denser areas like White Flint or downtown Bethesda, something the city does not want, Hadley suggested.

"The assumption that this is an urban area…probably misses the mark on what we deem or believe to be the reality in Rockville, now and for the future," Hadley said. "[I]f [people] want an urban area, they can go to New York, Chicago or L.A." Large parking garages may not be preferable to suburban clientele, Hadley said. Most families with children won't ride bikes to the town center, he argued, saying most will "hop in the car." Moreover, between existing transit options, and those on the drawing board, many suburban residents "won’t have public transportation that is desirable for their preferences” anytime soon, he said. Hadley noted that Montgomery County Government's perception of urban is “vastly different” from Rockville’s definition.

Leiderman expressed similar skepticism of the applicant's smart growth predictions. He pointed out that previous town center projects were held to a higher standard than the applicant was proposing for itself. Urbanization proponents, Leiderman said, are "wanting to buy in to the aspirational goal that Rockville will no longer be a suburb, it will be an urban center, and everyone is going to be on a bike, and walking, and 75% of the people working here will use transit…that’s not what the numbers for the Choice Hotels site were based on." Leiderman predicted "people are going to park in the residential neighborhoods,” or take their business elsewhere, if parking is difficult.

Commissioner Charles Littlefield expanded on Leiderman's reference to the impact on businesses, warning that one bad parking experience is enough to send patrons elsewhere to dine and shop. Littlefield cited the free and ample parking at Gaithersburg's Washingtonian Center as a better model. "I’ve never once not been able to find parking” at Washingtonian Center, Littlefield noted. Leiderman said difficulty and inconvenience locating parking would deter customers, "as things get built out, having a harder time finding parking, having to go higher and higher” in the garages, he said.

The idea that customers could park in other garages would be shifting the cost of parking to taxpayers and other adjacent property owners, Leiderman said.

By this point, the applicant had also lost Commissioner David Hill's support. Considering that the applicant had already received significant exemptions on parking for the project, Hill said, "I as a public official can’t countenance making that number bigger. He said Bethesda or White Flint-style development is not what Rockville wants for its future.

"I'm not comfortable passing our responsibility onto the chief of planning," Hill said. "I have no problem with the argument that you qualify for the waiver [but] I would like to see us leave this in a position where we can continue talking."

In addition, Hill felt that the city is facing a larger issue with this and future parking waiver requests, which the city's zoning code is currently unequipped to address. "I think that what we should be doing right now is having a legislative discussion about changing the zoning ordinance," Hill suggested. He also doubted the numbers regarding how many customers would indeed be on-site, as opposed to traveling by car. "You haven’t cleared the very high wall" to justify an exemption, Hill concluded.

With the request obviously heading for rejection, Leatham then asked the commission for a deferral. After some discussion among commissioners as to how citizens could best be heard, and to whether or not it would be best to extend this petition, or require a new one, the commission voted unanimously to defer the waiver request, and leave the public record open.

The applicant was advised to gain public input from residents of nearby neighborhoods before returning. Leatham said there was no guarantee the specifics of the request would change, but that the applicant would gather more data in support of a waiver.

Hadley somewhat jokingly apologized to the applicant's representatives, for having to take a "horsewhipping" during the four-hour meeting.

Thursday, March 27, 2014


Can you tell what impact
bike facilities will have
on College Parkway
from this map?
Would you buy a car sight unseen, if the salesman said he could only tell you it was a 4-door sedan? Rockville residents are being asked to comment on the draft update of the Rockville Bikeway Master Plan at a public hearing on April 9. But critical information is missing from the draft, according to Rockville Planning Commissioner Jack Leiderman.

While the document illustrates many common on-road bike facilities, and lists a recommendation for specific roads within Rockville, Leiderman noted that residents have no way to know how the proposals will affect parking, the width of existing travel lanes and other relevant details.

Andrew Gunning, the city's assistant planning director (and staff liaison to the planning commission) said planners hadn't gone into that level of detail at this stage. "I'm requesting it," Leiderman responded. "How am I going to comment" on the plan without knowing the details, he asked.

This situation is virtually identical to that of the recent Montgomery County Transit Corridor Master Plan process. With relatively few details worked out on the specific design and traffic impact of the county's proposed bus rapid transit system, the plan was rammed through by the council, with promises that the details would be known later. But if some of the potential impacts were untenable, why would a citizen allow the BRT Master Plan to pass?

The same applies to the bike plan. Should the plan be approved, it will become the document that can be referenced to justify a wide range of changes to city roads. Once adopted as a master plan, those changes - like BRT - will become "a fait accompli," as Leiderman put it Wednesday night.

"I'm not just going to rubber stamp a list of streets," Leiderman said.

Also at Wednesday night's meeting, Planning Commission Chair Don Hadley discussed his upcoming  appearance before the Mayor and Council at their April 7 meeting. Hadley invited his fellow commissioners to attend, but said he has not yet been informed of the format of the discussion. Commissioner John Tyner somewhat jokingly suggested Hadley review the comments of Councilmember Tom Moore on the topic prior to the evening. Moore was critical of the commission's pace last week.

Leiderman advised Hadley to emphasize the importance of taking time to get the plan right: "Measure twice, saw once," he said.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014


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.

Thursday, December 12, 2013


Rockville Planning Commission Chair Don Hadley was reelected last night to continue in that position for a full term in 2014. Hadley was nominated by Commissioner John Tyner, and his nomination was seconded by Commissioner Jack Leiderman. The nomination was approved by the commission 4-0, with Hadley himself abstaining.

This will be Hadley's first full term as chair of the city's planning body. He was nominated as chair this year, after former Mayor Phyllis Marcuccio declined to reappoint former chair Jerry Callistein to the commission when his term expired. Hadley has been critical of pressures from development interests to urbanize the city as a commissioner, and as a 2013 candidate for the city council.