Showing posts with label Montgomery County Planning Board. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Montgomery County Planning Board. Show all posts

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

America's largest crabapple tree would be relocated for redevelopment of Rockville office building

Tree designated "National Champion"
for its air and water purification
properties, height & circumference

UPDATE - July 21, 2020: The article has been updated to indicate that Montgomery County's assertion that a homeowner has agreed to accept the relocated tree is false; the homeowner has not even been contacted about the matter, much less agreed to accept the tree

A developer has proposed a plan to redevelop a one-story office building at 12500 Ardennes Avenue in the Twinbrook area of Rockville as a residential building. The property is directly adjacent to the City of Rockville, and is indeed partially surrounded by land within the city's jurisdiction, but falls under the planning authority of Montgomery County.

Developer Ardennes Partners, LLC is proposing a 203-unit residential building. It is requesting a 22% density bonus for affordable units it will include, and an additional 10% density bonus for workforce housing units. The project will be 198,718 SF in total, and 100' in height.

A national champion southern crabapple tree currently stands on the property (there are actually several mature trees on the site). It is the largest known southern crabapple tree in America, according to American Forests.

The developer has proposed relocating the tree to a "nearby" site on Vandegrift Avenue. That site is actually about four blocks away on the lawn of a private home, and is not visible from Twinbrook Parkway. However, the owner of the property Montgomery County claims would be accepting the tree tells me she has never given permission for the tree to be planted there, and that she has never even been approached by the developer or Montgomery County about the matter. There is currently a petition to stop relocation of the tree. Montgomery County Planning staff is proposing to require the applicant to be responsible for the survival of the tree at its new location for only five years.
Proposed site plan
A mostly-above-ground parking deck will hold 181 parking spaces. The site is a quarter-mile from the Twinbrook Metro station, and is allowed under Montgomery County rules to provide less than the minimum required parking spaces. An "urban plaza" will be constructed at the corner of Ardennes and Twinbrook Parkway.

It's unclear why the building could not have been configured to instead locate the plaza around the crabapple tree. The developer cites the need to grade the property, the need to construct a new sidewalk along Twinbrook Parkway, and Montgomery County's own demand that it dedicate right-of-way space along the parkway side to the County, as reasons the tree could not remain in place. Staff indicates in their report that the developer will be moving the tree at "considerable expense."

The Montgomery County Planning Board will review the proposed plan at its June 25 meeting. Planning staff is recommending approval of the plan, with conditions.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Montgomery County Planning Board seat open for a non-Democrat

The current term of Montgomery County Planning Board commissioner Gerard Cichy will end on June 14, and the Montgomery County Council is now accepting applications for the seat. Under the current rules, the board cannot have more than three members from one political party. Since there are currently three Democrats on the board, applicants for Cichy's seat cannot be a Democrat.

This does not mean you have to be a Republican to apply. Applicants could be Republicans or unaffiliated voters, but they can also be a member of another party such as the Green Party or Libertarian Party.

Annual compensation for commissioners is $30,000. A financial disclosure form must be filled out; only the ultimate commissioner selected by the Council will have his or her disclosure form made public prior to being sworn in.

It would be nice to have a member who represents the interests of residents, rather than the Montgomery County cartel! If you are such a person, here is how to apply:

Letters of application expressing interest, including a resume (no more than 4 pages) listing professional and civic experience, political party affiliation, home and office telephone numbers and an email address, should be addressed to: Council President Sidney Katz, County Council Office, Stella B. Werner Council Office Building, 100 Maryland Avenue, Rockville, Maryland 20850. Applications can also be submitted via email to county.council@montgomerycountymd.gov

Letters of application and resumes are made public as part of the appointment process, and are available for public review. The interviews are conducted in public and will be televised.

Letters with resumes must be received no later than 5 p.m. on Friday, April 17. It is the Council’s policy not to consider applications received after the deadline. After the closing date, Councilmembers will review the letters of application and select applicants for interviews to be held soon thereafter.

Monday, May 6, 2019

MoCo Planning Board to discuss 6-month pilot allowing ebikes/scooters on trails

The Montgomery County Planning Board will discuss a proposed six-month pilot program that would allow e-bikes and electric scooters to operate on some County trails at their meeting this Thursday, May 9, 2019. Montgomery County is still working out an agreement with four dockless e-bike companies for the pilot. If approved by the board, the pilot could begin as early as this month.

Only bikes powered by rechargeable battery will be allowed on the trails during the pilot. The trails selected are the Matthew Henson Trail (Aspen Hill/Silver Spring), Sligo Creek Trail (only the Montgomery County section), Long Branch Trail, Rock Creek Trail, and the paved sections of the Northwest Branch Trail within Montgomery County. Signs will be posted at the selected trails, and public announcements will be made by County government agencies, at least two weeks prior to the start of the program, County officials say.
Paved surface trails where e-bikes
and e-scooters could be used during
the six-month pilot program
Planning staff says that the trails selected are more often used for longer distance trips through stream valleys. The Parks Department wants to evaluate the results and user feedback before allowing the electric bikes on busier trails like the Capital Crescent Trail in Bethesda. They'll be examining conflicts with other trail users, rules violations, safety, logistics, and personal vs. commercial use.

Gas scooters and electric hoverboards and skateboards will remain illegal on all County trails during the pilot. Bikes cannot have throttle assist mechanisms.

The groundwork for the pilot was laid by a related park directive approved two years ago by the board. Staff are recommending approval of the pilot program.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

12 Stories opening at The Wharf: D.C. is doing what moribund MoCo won't for nightlife

Montgomery County is still reeling from the collapse of its nighttime economy following the County Council's disastrous Nighttime Economy Task Force initiative. Where there were crowds on sidewalks and corners outside of downtown Bethesda's nightclubs and bars prior to the initiative, 16 nightspots have shuttered since the task force debacle. Many other businesses slashed or eliminated their late-night hours. Downtown Bethesda sidewalks now grow empty and quiet after 9 or 10 PM. Thousands of young professionals have taken their wallets and purses to the District for nightlife since, including to The Wharf, where an exciting new rooftop will open tonight.

I recommended years ago that Montgomery County put incentives and requirements for nightlife, including rooftop nightclubs at the new hotels being approved for urban areas like downtown Bethesda. Those suggestions fell on deaf ears at the Council and Planning Board, as of course, it is much cheaper to put up a hotel with a non-active roof use. Naturally, our developer-controlled Council and Planning Board never put the public before the developers, which is how we ended up with no replacement cineplex and no replacement Capital Crescent Trail tunnel under Wisconsin Avenue in the Apex Building redevelopment - even though the Council and Board held full authority to require both. Heckuva job, Brownie!

By contrast, the District is getting its latest rooftop nightspot tonight, April 17, 2019 with the debut of 12 Stories, high atop The InterContinental Hotel at The Wharf. The 3500 SF rooftop features spectacular views of the Potomac River, waterfront and Washington, D.C. We could have had something like this on top of the new hotels coming to Wisconsin Avenue here, but...the Council was too busy collecting developer checks, and debating a ban on circus animals instead.
Current and prospective MoCo bar and restaurant
owners said, "Yes, Yes, Yes!" to privatization of liquor
sales, but our cartel-controlled County Council said, "No, No, No!"
At 12 Stories at The Wharf tonight, 13-foot floor-to-ceiling windows will give you views of the Jefferson, Lincoln and Air Force Memorials, as well as the pinnacle of the Washington Monument and Hains Point. From the future Marriott hotel in downtown Bethesda, nighttime will give you lovely views of car dealerships and a concrete parking garage. So much winning!
The J Street Spritz at
12 Stories at The Wharf
Tonight at 12 Stories at The Wharf, you could be sipping a zero-degree “Superchilled Martini 24” and taking in the sweeping vistas of the Nation's Capital. Perhaps you would prefer a “J Street Spritz,” made with Tito’s Vodka, Amaro Nonino, lime juice, raspberries, Domaine Chandon and sparkling soda. It's enough to make Jack Evans bust out the old Constituent Fund.

All that's busting in Montgomery County is the County budget, in the red again this year, with residents facing yet another increase in property taxes. With what the Maryland Restaurant Association complained was a "flat" restaurant and bar market in Montgomery County, record numbers of closures, and profits declining in a business with thin margins already, we're losing nightlife spending and alcohol sales to the District and Virginia, thanks to our archaic County government-controlled liquor monopoly.
The Wharf Burger
Just some of that lost revenue will end up being spent in D.C. at 12 Stories, where brunch will be added in May to a windows-on-the-capital-of-the-free-world menu that tonight already features locally sourced oysters, a buttermilk fried chicken sandwich, and a ceviche-style crudo.

While Montgomery County's "leaders" turn to taxpayers again this year for yet another payday 4.8% property tax increase, the developers of The Wharf in D.C. turned to the Gerber Group, the geniuses behind NYC’s Mr. Purple, The Roof and The Campbell, and Atlanta's Whiskey Blue, "known for its signature elevated nightlife experience and top-notch food and beverage," it says.

Montgomery County's vision for an "elevated nightlife experience?" "More taxi stands [ever heard of Uber and Lyft, guys?], more buses," and continued total monopoly government control of liquor sales to restaurants, bars and the public. No wonder Montgomery County is at rock bottom in the region by every relevant economic development measure.

They blew it, folks.

Photos by Anna Meyer

Friday, March 23, 2018

MoCo Council again tries to sabotage Montrose Parkway East

This week's so-called "compromise" on the Montrose Parkway East project is actually another attempt by the Montgomery County Council to either sabotage, or altogether cancel, the long-delayed highway. Amidst the political pablum of County Executive Ike Leggett's press release, clearly written under duress, was a sentence that did not receive sufficient analysis.

Leggett, who correctly did not want to delay construction of the road at all initially, stated that the one-year delay of the highway would be used to make design changes related to bicycles and pedestrians. He did not specify what those were, or who would approve those changes, and under what public oversight.

What we do know is that developers have wanted to kill the road outright, because it only benefits residents and commuters. It does not help developers, because it is a relief valve, rather than a road that lets developers build more "stuff." Developers want the money from the Montrose Parkway East to go to projects across the County that will allow them to build more stuff, the taxpayers who forked over the highway money be damned.

What we also know, is that several developer tools on the Planning Board have long dreamed of canceling the elevated portion of the parkway over Parklawn, in order to allow developers to build up to the edges of what would be an ordinary urban street. I was able to stop this attempt singlehandedly in 2013, when my testimony changed the votes of several commissioners, who were poised to cancel the grade-separated design for Parklawn at the behest of now-chair Casey Anderson. They also want other sabotage design changes that would similarly increase traffic congestion and lengthen travel time for commuters using the parkway. Such changes would ensure drivers in Rockville, Aspen Hill and other points east of a much-longer trip to and from I-270. Day after day after day.
CLICK HERE to take the first step in
shortening your commute
"Design changes" are right out of the Council playbook, and were previously used by Councilmember Roger Berliner to yet again delay the M-83 Highway. M-83 on the master plan alignment was ready to start construction on an up-or-down vote by the Council, after being recommended by both upcounty residents and MCDOT. Berliner, at the behest of developers, threw the project into an unrequired new approval process that included yet another public hearing. M-83, like MPE, is an old road needed decades ago, and won't by itself allow any development that couldn't go forward today.

It's critical we elect a Council that will cancel any sabotage design changes to the Montrose Parkway East, and will begin construction on that project and M-83 immediately.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

MoCo planning staff recommends disapproval of 1000 Westmore Ave. as bus depot site

A second Rockville site targeted by Montgomery County as a potential school bus depot, 1000 Westmore Avenue, failed to gain approval from staff at the County Planning Department yesterday. The staff report recommends the County Planning Board disapprove the County's request to acquire the site, a proposal to be taken up by the Board at its June 16 meeting.

In the report, staff indicates that they conclude the proposed acquisition of the site by the County for parking school buses there is inconsistent with the County's master plan and the existing zoning of the property. They say the County has failed to provide sufficient information regarding all of the potential impacts on the surrounding residential neighborhood. In absence of that information, staff says they have independently concluded that the noise impact could be far higher with buses than under other light industrial uses in that zone. Other impacts identified by staff include traffic, safety and environmental issues.

Indicative of the rush to acquire any usable site for buses, the result of County elected officials' failure to do so prior to the deadline for turning over the existing Shady Grove bus depot to developers, the County did not submit a Site Selection Study or analysis. Without such a study, staff wrote, they cannot support the acquisition of this - or any other - site by the County for a bus depot or parking lot.

The IM 2.5-H-50 zoning of the Westmore site does not allow industrial uses with excessive noise, dust or other disruptive impacts, and does not require the sort of transportation links that a fleet of buses would need to get in and out of the neighborhood.

In another indication that the County Council did not do its homework, the County Department of General Services Deputy Director Greg Ossont wrote to planners that DGS is using money allocated to it by the Council last summer to buy the Westmore site. All nine councilmembers voted in February to approve funding for design and construction of a bus depot at the other controversial Rockville site, the Carver Educational Services Center. Several councilmembers have now attempted to distance themselves from that vote, claiming they had not read the resolution they voted for.

Were it not for those two actions by the Council (among others), we would not be in this situation today, an embarrassment the Council understandably wants to downplay. Never has "the dog ate my homework" caused so much trouble for so many communities.

Planning staff heard loud and clear from Rockville's Mayor and Council, and residents, that Westmore - like Carver - was completely unacceptable for a depot. The Legacy at Lincoln Park Homeowners Association, the Lincoln Park Civic Association, Rockville Housing Enterprises, and the East Rockville Civic Association were among the formal organizations weighing in against the bus plan for Westmore.

Several letters noted that the bus plan is in conflict with the Lincoln Park neighborhood plan residents collaborated with the City to pass in 2007, which included the intent to phase out industrial uses around the community.

The final decision now rests with the Planning Board.

Should the Board follow the recommendation, and with the Carver proposal on life support, the County will be in full panic mode shortly in its effort to find a site. Ossont has recently indicated the Gude landfill is off the table due to environmental issues. Where to next? Derwood? Avery Road? Darnestown? The plot thickens.

The question now is, which MoCo community is going to be left without a chair when the music stops in this fiasco, unless the Council simply blows up the whole "Smart Growth Initiative" project, allowing the depot to remain at Shady Grove. It is unclear whether they would face legal action from the developer if they were to do so.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Should developers get tax cuts as County faces "perfect storm" of development, school overcrowding?

The first public discussion of two proposed massive tax cuts for developers took place before the Montgomery County Planning Board last night, but we won't have a sense of where this scheme is heading until we hear what the commissioners themselves have to say about it. That discussion will take place at a worksession next Thursday, June 9.

But to hear from parents and PTA officials at last night's public hearing, the school facility needs are great. And according to County Executive Ike Leggett, the County Council's disastrous FY-2017 tax-and-spend-and-tax-again budget means there will be no extra money next year.

The thought of cutting even a dime of taxes for developers - as taxes were just hiked to record levels on residents last week - should not even be under consideration by any credible public servant. We should be talking about an equal tax hike for developers, not a tax cut.

"The idea that growth and density are the solution to all problems" is the problem, suggested resident Max Bronstein. A representative of the Bethesda-Chevy Chase cluster called the massive pending redevelopment in downtown Bethesda, Chevy Chase Lake, Westbard and Lyttonsville "the perfect storm," which will have great impacts on individual schools. He and Bronstein both noted that those single-school impacts often can be hidden from attention by the County's policy of measuring capacity by cluster averaging, rather than by each school's capacity.

Edward Johnson, a public school parent who lives in Bethesda, said the proposed reductions in what developers will pay related to school capacity "stands out as a loss to the County. We already don't have adequate funding" as it is. If anything, Johnson suggested, fees paid by developers should be going up, not down. "The developers are building the houses," said a representative of the Springbrook cluster, and should be contributing toward the cost of the students they are generating.

"We are many, many years behind constructing elementary school capacity" in the County, said Melissa McKenna, the Chair of the Capital Improvement Program committee of the Montgomery County Council of PTAs. "Please keep in mind that 2500 students are enough to fill three-and-a-half elementary schools," she said.

One mechanism being used to deliver the massive tax cuts to developers is to only count student generation from developments built in the last 10 years, rather including homes built before then. McKenna asked the board to "reconsider using all-year rates" instead, which the planning staff's own report shows would generate as much as 60% more revenue for school construction - and even that isn't enough, as that's the tax level we're at right now for developers. As it stands, McKenna observed, developer school payments "strike me as under-received."

Clearly the County Council and planning staff are aiming to shift the cost burden of school construction from developers to residents, as the new FY-2017 budget proves. A massive tax hike for you, while giving a massive tax cut for developers, is simply immoral. If we are in as bad of a shape with infrastructure as we are told, what sane person would proposed reducing the burden of developers? What is the argument? To encourage more development with even less revenue to cover costs? Nuts.

A separate issue in the Subdivision Staging Plan that contains the developer tax cut proposals is whether or not to extend the tax exemptions for developers currently allowed via an Enterprise Zone in downtown Silver Spring.

One resident noted that it has cost the Silver Spring community severely in lost adequate facilities revenue, citing the "unintended consequences of the enterprise zone." Twenty years of exemption from school payments and taxes has had "consequences for our schools."

But representatives of downtown Silver Spring projects already in the works say it would be unfair to change the rules now. Attorney Bob Dalrymple, representing Washington Property Company, said his client's profit margin is already "razor-thin" on its Ripley public-private partnership project that includes a new Progress Place facility. "The real issue is the economic viability [of the project] and general fairness here," Dalrymple testified. He suggested the Board grandfather the WPC project to retain the enterprise zone tax terms.

Attorney Pat Harris, not testifying for a particular client, agreed that grandfathering would be a solution. Getting rid of the enterprise zone in the middle of the development process "creates an incredible burden" for existing projects.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Process that favors developers over citizens, such as in Rockville bus depot schemes, targeted by residents

Residents organized by Save Westbard gathered at the Washington Waldorf School in Bethesda last night to discuss next steps in what is becoming a Montgomery County-wide citizen uprising against a planning process dominated by development interests. With the recent passage of the Westbard sector plan, attempts by the County to place several bus depots in residential neighborhoods in Rockville, controversial developments planned in Lyttonsville and downtown Bethesda/Chevy Chase, and the Planning Board approval of an urban-style low-income apartment complex in rural Damascus, disparate citizen groups are linking together to change the process, and boot out the County Council that voted unanimously to approve the Westbard plan and Carver bus depot.

One indication of the frustration with County elected officials was activist and attorney Robin Ficker collecting a bounty of new signatures for his term-limits initiative. Ficker believes he will come in with more than the 10,000 signatures required for term limits to be placed on the ballot for voter approval or rejection. If approved by voters, Councilmembers Roger Berliner, Marc Elrich, Nancy Floreen and George Leventhal would be forced to step down in 2018, and could not run again for those seats for four years.

Two new websites are being launched in the effort at Westbard and countywide.

MCCPR.org is planned to be the hub of activism for a county-scale citizen operation to reform the planning process, and reduce the influence of development interests in County planning and politics. Currently, the Council receives more than 80% of its campaign contributions from developers and development attorneys, with the exception of Elrich, who accepts no funds from development interests.

Evidence emerged that the Council has actually been cynically crunching the voter numbers, and had concluded that the number of voters at Westbard alone could not boot them from office. That Machiavellian calculation emboldened them to unanimously pass the Westbard plan despite overwhelming community opposition and anger. The same calculations could be underway for the Westmore Avenue bus depot site, where the County Council and Board of Education are not stepping in to stop it. With large, mobilized citizen groups now linking up, all bets are off for their reelection in 2018.

More specific to Westbard (but potentially duplicable in other areas facing sector plan rewrites), is a second site, PlanWestbard.org. Jack Lopez, a resident and professional urban planner, will head up the site. It will not only dive in-depth into the Westbard plans expected to be unveiled next week, but also present alternative concepts going forward.

Lopez says he will try to bring new tech innovations other jurisdictions and the private sector are using in planning to the analysis. Many of the methods currently used by the County to study traffic, for example, are vague, inaccurate, and incomplete.

Longtime County activist Stan Wiggins presented an analysis of the option to incorporate, which a majority of residents voted to explore back in April. It was hoped that an incorporated southwest Bethesda, or Lyttonsville, for example, would give local residents authority over land-use decisions like Rockville and Gaithersburg currently enjoy. Wiggins found that a new municipality's land-use authority would be retained by the County, unless a provision in the law was overridden by the state legislature. Given that many state-level office holders also receive hefty checks from the same developers, that is unlikely to happen.

This is just the beginning, as the large turnout at last night's meeting suggests.


Monday, May 23, 2016

Montgomery County planning massive tax-cut for developers as they raise taxes on you

This Thursday, Montgomery County will raise your taxes to the highest level ever. And next week, they will discuss the biggest developer tax cut ever. 

Awk-ward.

On Thursday, the Montgomery County Council is expected to unanimously approve an FY-2017 budget that raises your taxes to a record, all-time high. It will include a property tax hike so massive, it required a unanimous vote by the Council last week to exceed the County's charter limit on property taxes. And it will hike the recordation tax you will pay when selling your home, or even just refinancing your mortgage. Notably, the budget shifts the cost of school construction from developers to taxpayers.

But the Council isn't done helping developers, who account for over 80% of councilmembers' campaign contributions, yet.

The Montgomery County Planning Department is now proposing a massive tax cut for developers.

That is not a misprint.

Just as the County has rejiggered its traffic congestion measurements to reduce taxes for developers, now the County political cartel is proposing to do the same for school capacity and construction costs.

Three key school funding equations would be changed under the planning staff's recommendations, and would result in developer tax cuts up to 59.4%!

Here's how the scam will work:
New math will make it
appear fewer students
are being generated
by new development
First, much like the "new math" planners now legally use to make failing intersections and overburdened roads appear to pass traffic tests, planners are proposing to change the equation for student generation rates. The "new math" will base the forecast only on housing built in the last ten years, which will - surprise! - slash the student generation rate significantly (anybody remember a little thing called "The Great Recession"?). Just a quick glance at the "before and after" colored bars in the graph above shows you just how drastic the change will be (green represents the number of students forecast under the proposed new math).
Massive developer tax cut
number one
The new, lower student generation rate will be combined with a biennial recalculation of school construction costs, to - surprise again! - massively slash school facility payments for developers. For example, the elementary school payment for a mid-rise apartment unit is currently $2,838. Under the new tax cut, that ES payment would drop to $1,495. How about a high-rise payment for the high school level in Bethesda, Silver Spring or Rockville? It will absolutely plunge from $804 to $394.

Sounds like a sweet deal, right? "But, wait - there's more!"
Massive developer tax cut
number two
Impact taxes developers pay will also be lowered under the new biennial formula. As the planning staff acknowledge in their report, under the new formula, "all School Impact Taxes will decrease." The mid-rise apartment building school impact tax per unit would drop from $12,765 to an astoundingly cheap $4,659.

In an additional proposed change, the current .9 multiplier in the school impact tax would be removed. This would preserve the type of massive tax cuts proposed for all but single-family homes. Which would also further discourage developers from building single-family homes, which cannot be built in the same density as townhomes and apartment buildings, and therefore generate fewer students on a lot of the same size than multi-family housing.

Think back to recent development fights in places like Westbard, downtown Bethesda, Rock Spring, White Oak and Lyttonsville, as well as the Adequate Public Facilities battle royale in the City of Rockville. At the outset of many of those discussions, the County Council and Planning Board Chair Casey Anderson told us they were going to "start a conversation" about how they could allow the massive development their developer supporters wanted, and somehow provide the infrastructure that would be required to support it.

Would you have imagined at that time that the plan was actually a ruse to open up the formulas and instead give those same developers a massive tax cut?

Well, if you read my blog back then, you might have known something was up.

It's unlikely anyone has any doubts about how arrogant and patronizing the County Council and Planning Board are at this point. You can be sure there's much "mansplaining" ahead from both, as they try to educate us to understand schemes and treachery - er, sorry, "Subdivision Staging Policy" - so complex it is simply beyond the small mind of you, the citizen.

Are you ready for term limits yet?

The Planning Board is expected to hold a public hearing on the proposals, and the rest of the SSP, on June 2, 2016.

So, to summarize, this Thursday, Montgomery County will raise your taxes to the highest level ever. And next week, they will discuss the biggest developer tax cut ever. You can't make this stuff up, folks! This is what happens when you have a political cartel where government policy is for sale to the highest bidder. And more than 80% of the money is coming from developers.

Res ipsa loquitur.

Friday, August 28, 2015

MoCo planners recommend moving Rockville Confederate statue to Beall Dawson House, or "private entity"

Montgomery County planners are recommending the Montgomery County Planning Board endorse moving the controversial Confederate statue from the Red Brick Courthouse to the Beall Dawson House in Rockville. As an alternative, they suggest giving it to the United Daughters of the Confederacy, or another private owner. As a last resort, they recommend relocating it to one of two possible County parks, in Potomac or Darnestown.

Such a move is hardly agreed upon yet, but any removal of the statue will have to go through the Rockville Historic District Commission. That body - mostly unknown to the public, but well-known to readers of this blog, which covers its meetings regularly - has jurisdiction over the Rockville Old Courthouse Historic District, in which the statue currently stands.

The statue itself is owned by Montgomery County, as is the property it rests on.

Montgomery County Council staffmember Marlene Michaelson was directed by Council President George Leventhal this summer to convene a committee, to discuss the relocation of the statue. Michaelson began a site search, and inquired about one in particular, Woodlawn Manor Special Park.

Several meetings were held in late July and August. Leventhal then invited the following individuals to participate in another meeting on August 11:

Timothy Chesnutt, Director of Recreation and Parks, City of Rockville
Anthony Cohen, President, Menare Foundation and Button Farm
Bonnie Kirkland, Assistant Chief Administrative Officer, Office of the County Executive
Jamie Kuhns, Senior Historian, M-NCPPC
Joey Lampl, Cultural Resources Manager, M-NCPPC
Matthew Logan, Executive Director, Montgomery History
Joy Nurmi, Special Assistant to the County Executive
Nancy Pickard, Executive Director, Peerless Rockville
Anita Powell, President of the Montgomery County Maryland Branch NAACP and Lincoln Park Historical Foundation
Laurie-Anne Sayles, President, African American Democratic Club of Montgomery County
Scott Whipple, Supervisor of Historic Preservation Unit, M-NCPPC

Powell is also a commissioner on the Rockville HDC.

From a list of 14 potential sites, the group did not agree upon or endorse a final location for the statue, but generated a shorter list of 5 potential locations:

1. Beall-Dawson Historical Park in Rockville.
2. Callithea Farm Special Park in Potomac.
3. Darnestown Square Heritage Park in Darnestown.
4. Jesup Blair Local Park in Silver Spring.
5. The Edgewood Farm (privately owned) in Gaithersburg/Unity.

Some participants expressed concern that the County would lose control of who could access the statue, should the private owner wish to restrict public access. The County might also lose the ability to provide context in any display of the statue, with some worrying the display could continue to be offensive to some. Others felt the statue should remain where it is, with better interpretive display elements.

A chart is scheduled to be posted on the Montgomery County Council website next week, to allow for public comment.

RockvilleNights.com has obtained the chart already, however (click to enlarge):


If you can't wait until next week, comments on the statue can be sent to Council President George Leventhal / Montgomery County Council / Re: Confederate Statue / 100 Maryland Ave. / Rockville, MD 20850, or by email to county.council@montgomerycountymd.gov.

Someone will also have to pay for the "hard costs" of moving and maintaining and securing the statue. County Executive Ike Leggett has identified the following costs:

 Access (if driveway, path, parking, trail, etc. are needed or to achieve ADA compliance)
 Fencing
 Lighting (depending on which site is selected)
 Security
 Conservation
 Interpretive Signage and other Historical Display Items

Montgomery County's Department of Parks has stated it does not believe the statue should go to a public park in the county.

Callithea Farm is primarily an equestrian facility on River Road, and the statue would have to be fenced to keep visitors separated from pastured horses. The park is adjacent to the Camp at Muddy Branch site, a Union camp during the Civil War, and a trail would have to be built from Blockhouse Point Conservation Park (the modern location of the camp) into Callithea Farm. No lighting could be used, as it would attract insects that carry diseases afflicting horses.

Darnestown Square Heritage Park seems an unlikely location, as it is adjacent to a Harris Teeter-anchored shopping center on Route 28. 18,000 Union soldiers camped there, but does that make sense as a tie-in when you consider the statue remembers Confederate soldiers? Wouldn't the risk of vandalism - likely to persist at almost any publicly-accessible location, particularly with the media attention and controversy - be high there, as well? There is no vehicle access at this site, either, and it contains a cemetery at which the grounds may not be disturbed or altered.

Jesup Blair Local Park is a more accessible location, in a higher population area - which obviously would increase the vandalism risk, as well. Located at Georgia Avenue and Blair Road near the D.C. line, the park is named for a member of the famed Blair family, which has been extremely prominent in county and Maryland history - including during the Civil War.  That connection, and specifically, the Blairs' close ties to the Lincoln administration (and the fact that Montgomery Blair's house was burned by the Confederates), make this again seem like a downright nutty context for a Confederate statue. In my opinion, at least.

Planning staff is discouraging placement of the statue at any of these 3 County parks.

Their top recommendation is to move it to the Beall Dawson House, or transfer it to the Daughters of the Confederacy or another private owner.

If it is necessary to utilize a County park, however, staff is recommending Callithea Farm - but only if "it can be housed in a true Civil War visitor center." That would require the statue to be stored at County expense until such a facility could be funded and constructed.

The second choice of planners is Darnestown Square. They are recommending the Planning Board ask Leggett and Leventhal to remove Jesup Blair from consideration.

Leggett is expected to appear before the Rockville HDC at its September 17 meeting. The County Planning Board will discuss the matter and vote on their recommendations at their September 3 meeting.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Montgomery County Planning Board to weigh in on Rockville Confederate statue location

The Montgomery County Planning Board does not have jurisdiction over the Confederate statue at Rockville's Red Brick Courthouse. But it plans to weigh in on the topic Thursday morning, September 3.

According to the meeting agenda, the board will be briefed by Park and Planning staff on the statue. It will then be asked to name 3 parks it believes the statue should be placed in, should it end up in a park outside the city of Rockville. Finally, it will officially give its support of the statue's relocation.

The statue is owned by Montgomery County and is located on county property. However, the County must formally apply to the Rockville Historic District Commission on September 17 to relocate it.

Friday, December 20, 2013

MONTGOMERY COUNTY PLANNING BOARD ABANDONS ASPEN HILL ROAD EXTENDED

The Montgomery County Planning Board voted unanimously Thursday afternoon to abandon the Aspen Hill Road Extended right-of-way between Veirs Mill Road and Twinbrook Parkway. "I don't see any reason not to abandon it," board chair Francoise Carrier said. This vote clears the way for redevelopment of the Halpine View garden apartments, which currently comprise one of the few existing affordable housing complexes in Montgomery County. Such redevelopment will surely allow luxury apartment buildings to loom over the adjoining Twinbrook neighborhood within the City of Rockville.

I do not know who might have submitted written testimony on the matter besides me. But the questions raised in my testimony were never addressed by the board. In fact, my written testimony was entirely ignored. The only significant issue of any sort, which was not in my testimony, was raised by Commissioner Casey Anderson. Anderson expressed concern that some notation be made in the record to preserve the county's right to provide trail access from Twinbrook Parkway for pedestrians and cyclists.

It is simply beyond belief that a body responsible for planning and transportation can simply decide not to consider the future uses of such a right-of-way. And why the county continues to aid and abet the demolition of what existing affordable housing we have, is a serious question that needs to be answered.

During the discussion, it was revealed that conditions 3, 4, and 5 were revised - 4 substantively - since the staff report was made public. Not even the applicant had the language. Is this what passes for open data and citizen involvement in planning in Montgomery County?

Prior to the hasty vote, Carrier said, "I'm helping the developer here." No one can dispute that.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

ABANDON ASPEN HILL ROAD EXTENDED? HOLD ON A MINUTE...

The Montgomery County Planning Board will take up a landowner's request to have the county abandon its right-of-way through the Halpine View apartment complex, originally planned as an extension of Aspen Hill Road from Veirs Mill Road to Twinbrook Parkway, this Thursday afternoon.

A perfunctory planning staff report is recommending the board vote to abandon the right-of-way, citing the North Bethesda-Garrett Park master plan recommendation to do so.

The ramifications of the abandonment are far more complicated than the staff report would suggest, however.

First, and foremost, the main driver of the abandonment is neither sound transportation policy, nor concern for the environment (an Aspen Hill Road extension would cross Rock Creek). Rather, it is to promote and facilitate urban redevelopment of the Halpine View garden apartment complex. Halpine View is one of a dwindling number of affordable and spacious housing developments in the county. Its design, much like Privacy World in Glenmont, emphasizes a suburban scale setting, and well-maintained trees and green space. Certainly, the buildings are aging. But to preserve existing affordable units, renovation would be far better than turning the site into another "town center" for rich people. Current rents at Halpine View range from $1000-$1600 a month, and only about two blocks from the Twinbrook Metro station. This makes the complex a valuable one for working families in Montgomery County.

But much like Privacy World and other models for suburban, multi-family housing development, Halpine View is now sought after by developers for dense, urban-style development. Such "town center" density is entirely inappropriate at this location, literally across the street from single family homes in Twinbrook and Aspen Hill. Furthermore, the lure of redevelopment - dangled by developer-beholden council members for decades in front of landowners in Wheaton, Glenmont, Aspen Hill, Rockville, Bethesda, Long Branch, etc., has discouraged routine renovations and maintenance at some properties. After all, why spend money to upgrade your building(s) if you think you're going to be tearing them down in a few years? Remember that when supporters of redevelopment try to convince you that this or that shopping center or apartment complex is "shabby," or obsolete for "the modern amenities young professionals demand today." Any such amenities can be added to any building.

Rather than giving massive tax giveaways to developers, the county would be better off using those funds to assist property owners - as necessary - to finance such renovations and improvements. That would be a far better use of $72 million than just giving it away to White Flint developers, as the county council did a few years ago.

Beyond the crisis of affordable housing we continue to experience in Montgomery County, Aspen Hill Road extended is a potentially vital transportation facility. Current county leaders have no intention of completing the Rockville Freeway/Rockville Facility (a.k.a. Montrose Parkway, in part) all the way from Falls Road to the Intercounty Connector. Therefore, lateral traffic movement remains severely constrained in the county.

Should the Rockville Facility never be extended to Connecticut Avenue, Randolph Road and other local roads remain the only routes between White Flint and Aspen Hill. In that case, Aspen Hill Road Extended would be an important transportation facility.

There is also great potential for inappropriate use of "rapid transit" to upzone retail centers in Aspen Hill to high-density urbanization. Again, Aspen Hill Road Extended would certainly be a necessity under those circumstances.

Finally, a potentially high-traffic redevelopment is going to occur at the intersection of Aspen Hill Road and Connecticut Avenue - as a Walmart, or otherwise. Yet again, Aspen Hill Road would be a major route for patrons of that site.

In conclusion, there is no immediate need to abandon Aspen Hill Road Extended, other than private profit by a developer. The Planning Board should table this request indefinitely.

Retaining the Aspen Hill Road Extended right-of-way is in the best interests of the public, public safety, transportation needs, and vital to maintaining existing affordable housing units.