Showing posts with label Rockville Pike Plan. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Rockville Pike Plan. Show all posts

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Mayor & Council approve Rockville Pike Plan, EYA Tower Oaks project, Circulator study

The final Mayor & Council meeting of the summer in Rockville last night had a full agenda, with several long-term projects gaining approval. More than eight years after beginning the process, the Rockville Pike Plan received unanimous approval from the body. Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton reminded everyone that part of the delay was caused by the city's consultant, who drew up a plan that was not viable for Rockville. Successive mayors and councilmembers, and planning commissioners, were tasked with reshaping a European vision into something more suited to Rockville.

Depending on your perspective, the revised Pike Plan is either more flexible, or more favorable to developers, than the one sent to the Mayor and Council by the Planning Commission. Most prominently, building height restrictions will be much more liberal than the Planning Commission's height caps.

In other development news, the Mayor & Council unanimously approved EYA's Tower Oaks development, which will include 375 housing units along Preserve Parkway. Last minute edits to the plan included a notation that affordable units be spread out through the development rather than clustered in one spot. Newton suggested "scattered;" EYA SVP Aakash Thakkar said his firm uses the term "integrated" to mean the same thing. The latter language was deemed acceptable.

Councilmember Beryl Feinberg wanted some assurance that a shuttle would begin service for residents before 100% of the units were sold. Thakkar said 50% occupancy would create the "critical mass" needed to support the shuttle in terms of ridership. The Mayor and Council also accepted that provision.

Planning and Zoning Director Susan Swift suggested the Mayor & Council tie the shuttle to the issuance of occupancy permits for 50% of the single-family homes, townhomes and mulitfamily buildings. That would give City staff a way to verify the threshold had been met, she said.

Finally, the Mayor & Council voted 3-2 to approve a study of a Circulator bus or trolley within the City. City staff would develop a scope of work for the project in September. A consultant would be hired by early 2017, and a report would be due by Fall 2017.

Councilmembers Julie Palakovich Carr and Mark Pierzchala opposed the study. "I'm not enthusiastic about this," Pierzchala said. "As far as a Circulator type solutions, we have all the information we need right now. It's expensive."

Pierzchala said he also feared that a City Circulator would prompt Montgomery County to withdraw its investment in existing bus service, leaving Rockville taxpayers holding the bag. "I am really afraid...the County would have a justification to eliminate Route 45. Suddenly, we're in the transportation business."

After extensively considering various Circulator scenarios, Pierzchala said, "I can't make it work."

Palakovich Carr concurred. "I'm not sure what else there is to learn at this point," she said. "I just don't think we need to spend $60,000 or more." She suggested Rockville put its efforts toward County proposals like Bus Rapid Transit, and more direct door-to-door options for those in need.

Newton declared herself "disappointed" with the dissenters, arguing that the Circulator would address many of their stated political goals on the environment, among other issues. Feinberg proposed exploring having the study done by University of Maryland graduate students to save on costs.

While not ruling it out, Newton said it was important that the City use professional and experienced consultants. "This needs to be...done with the best experience and knowledge," she said.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Rockville Pike plan hearing is "The B.F. Saul Show"

Better call Saul. Last night's first public hearing on the Rockville Pike Neighborhood Plan was dominated by two complaints: the width of the Pike proposed in the plan is too wide, and the recommended building heights are too short. A good number of residents turned out to hammer these points home, likely to the delight of property owner B.F. Saul, which has been making both arguments for some time.

Todd Pearson, VP with B.F. Saul, testified on behalf of the company, showing a rendering of its planned Pike development that would cover 17 acres from the intersection of Halpine Road and Chapman Avenue up to Party City, and east to the railroad tracks. Pearson warned that height caps of 7 stories for residential and 10 for commercial could have "unintended consequences."

Those could include severe reductions in public and green space, and a lack of varying heights within a large building, Pearson predicted.

The width of the Pike should be more like what Montgomery County has planned for White Flint, 162', Pearson suggested. With the 252' width suggested by the plan, he said, there will be seven "pedestrian conflict points" for those making what he said would be a 1-minute crossing on foot. I think he had a good point when he cited the importance of extending East Jefferson through the Woodmont Country Club site, as well as the planned extension of Chapman, as important congestion relief projects.

Including a jobs-to-housing ratio also irked Pearson, who suggested that if one were to be in the plan, it should encompass a much wider geographic range.

Several residents testified that they moved to Twinbrook not only for the proximity to Metro, but also because they were aware of projects such as B.F. Saul's, and wanted that type of urban development.

Resident Brigitta Mullican called the B.F. Saul proposal a "fantastic project." Ellen Bogage, whose firm Chesapeake Public Strategies is managing community outreach for B.F. Saul, said a petition to reduce the Pike's width has received 218 signatures as of last night.

"Anything is better than what's there now," argued resident Colleen Reed. She encouraged the Mayor and Council to "recognize that Rockvillle is a city. I have no reservation about having taller buildings along the Pike."

Many who testified at public hearings during the process did have reservations, however, leading the Planning Commission to scale back what would be possible on the Pike.

Not everyone is on-board for narrowing the Pike. David Green, a longtime resident of Twinbrook, said he was "painfully aware" of how hard it is to get around Rockville due to the manmade barrier known as Metro. He said a 270' right-of-way was reserved along the Pike for that reason.

Green termed the shrink-the-Pike effort "slick marketing. Of course the developers want more land," he said. He urged the Mayor and Council to do everything they could to promote better traffic flow in Rockville.

"Please approve the Rockville Pike Plan with no more changes," Green said.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Rockville Pike Plan transmitted to Mayor and Council, public hearings set for April 11, May 16

The Rockville Pike Plan was officially transmitted to the Mayor and Council at last night's meeting. Planning Commission Chair Charles Littlefield was there in person, as the plan process reaches its conclusion with two public hearings, worksessions and adoption.

Public hearing dates were set by the Mayor and Council for April 11 and May 16. Yesterday's transmittal triggers a 90-day review period for the plan. Should the Mayor and Council ignore the plan for 90 days without adopting it, it would either take effect as is, or the City could grant itself one extension if it can demonstrate a good-faith effort to complete it.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Planning Commission wraps up loose ends on Rockville Pike Plan

Rockville Planning Commissioners tackled a few unresolved matters in the Rockville Pike Neighborhood Plan last night, and hope to transmit it to the Mayor and Council once final edits can be completed and a vote be held. While the commission's transmittal letter was the subject of some discussion, commissioners have suggested presenting the letter in-person to the Mayor and Council so that it does not end up getting lost (figuratively, more than literally) in the all of the paperwork.

The first question to settle was whether to keep building height descriptions in stories, feet, or a hybrid of both. Stories was the choice after a 4-2-1 straw vote, with commissioners Jack Leiderman, and Don Hadley dissenting, and Chair Charles Littlefield abstaining.

A second question was how to describe the City's goal for its jobs-to-housing ratio in the plan. Littlefield's proposed statement was considered too competition-oriented toward other job centers in the region by commissioners Anne Goodman and Gail Sherman. One point of reference was Rosslyn, which had nearly five times the number of jobs per housing unit as Rockville does.

Long Range Planning Chief David Levy cautioned commissioners to be careful in emphasizing a higher ratio than the City has today. Places like Rosslyn have buildings far taller than the commissioners have said they are comfortable with for Rockville, he noted. Ultimately, the commission decided the final language should seek to maintain the current mix, to ensure the City doesn't become a bedroom community.

Building heights have remained controversial throughout the Pike Plan process. But Leiderman was surprised to find that one issue the Commission resolved did not appear in the plan. At an earlier worksession, commissioners had agreed to limit residential heights to 7 stories, and commercial heights at 10 stories.  But only the 10-story limit appeared in the plan's text.              

Leiderman made a motion to restore the distinction, which passed 5-2, with commissioners John Tyner and David Hill dissenting.

Vision Zero, a global movement to eliminate traffic-related deaths by 2024, won't be in the plan, however. Commissioners voted 6-1 to omit the specific phrase "Vision Zero" from the plan. Littlefield cast the sole vote in favor of including it. No one stated a specific objection to the Vision Zero concept prior to the vote, but indicated they did not want to use the terminology.

Levy said that, while he might be speaking out of turn, he was sure the Mayor and Council would want to hear directly from Littlefield in person, when the commission officially signs off on the final plan.

Leiderman asked if the Mayor and Council would have to hold the one required public hearing after making substantial changes to the Plan, rather than before they deliberate. Staff said the law allows them to hold the public hearing at whatever point in the 150 day approval process they wish. That would mean the public might not have a say on any such changes, should they hold the hearing first.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Rockville Planning Commission reopens building height discussion in Rockville Pike Plan

The Rockville Planning Commission last night reopened discussion of perhaps the thorniest element in the draft Rockville Pike Plan, building heights. Commissioner Jack Leiderman expressed concern over the lack of transparency in the draft's current language on height. He noted that both the previous 1989 Pike Plan, and the Rockville zoning code, measure building heights in feet. The draft plan, in contrast, speaks of height in stories.

"Part of it is transparency," Leiderman explained, suggesting that the public would be fooled in regard to the actual heights that could end up on the Pike. A building described as "7 stories" could actually be the height equivalent of 12 stories, should the current draft language pass, Leiderman said.

Commissioner David Hill said the difference would be more aesthetic than a notable change in density. But Leiderman said that the height in feet was important, as it would have practical impacts such as permanent shadows, delay in ice melting, and incompatibility with the residential character of adjoining single-family home neighborhoods.

"I want a maximum expressed in feet even if we're using stories," Leiderman said. He added that he would prefer a cap on heights that would require developers to get permission to build taller, rather than simply give that height away "by right" to every project.

Some commissioners also suggested the visual chart on building heights was less-than-transparent, as well. Don Hadley, whose term as Chair of the commission ended last night, said that apparently "the intent was to avoid shock value" by not showing the highest building height possible. "I favor reviewing the issue," he added, and concurred with Leiderman's suggestion of a hybrid story/feet/cap model for heights.

"Is it the will of the Commission to revisit heights?" asked David Levy, Rockville's Chief of Long Range Planning.

New commission chair Charles Littlefield called a straw vote on the question. Commissioners narrowly voted 3-2-2 to reopen the height discussion. Planner Cindy Kebba said staff would come back with several alternative height schemes at a future meeting. Staff liaison Andrew Gunning advised commissioners that their schedule in the months ahead is growing increasingly tight, making it difficult to fit in the unexpected further discussion on the plan. He said there may be time at one of the February meetings to hold further discussion on heights.

Leiderman requested staff include a new visual chart of actual maximum building heights, to compare with the draft version.  He said he suspected it "would look quite different" from what's currently being shown.

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

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, February 12, 2015


A Mayor and Council worksession is scheduled for 7:00 PM tonight at City Hall, regarding the Rockville Pike plan. This first session will concentrate on roadway design and building heights, two topics likely to have the most impact on city residents in the future.

There is supposed to be a Community Forum segment prior to the worksession. Call the City Clerk's office at 240-314-8280 today to sign up to speak.

Monday, February 2, 2015


Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton delivered her State of the City Address last Thursday evening at the F. Scott Fitzgerald Theater, with the theme, Rockville: The City That Energizes. Her address touched on what's going right in Rockville, but also floated two ambitious proposals to improve the city in the future.

"The state of the city is strong," Newton proclaimed, and emphasized citizen involvement, city businesses, sound financial management, and charitable volunteerism as sources of that strength.

She said the Rockville Volunteer Fire Department will add a Pierce Arrow Pumper in a few months, and that the new Cambria Suites hotel will open in town center this spring. The latter is expected to boost tourist spending at town center businesses.

"We have a robust business community, which, in turn, supports the Rockville community," Newton said, underlining the county seat's diversity as a "multiethnic, multicultural, and multigenerational" city.

Referring to the city's strong finances, Newton noted that in FY2014, Rockville "finished with reserves in excess of 22% of next year's revenues." "We haven't raised our property tax in 7 years," she said.

She thanked the city's more than 1000 volunteers "who never seem to sleep," serving on Boards and Commissions, and at facilities and programs like the Rockville Senior Center. She reported the city's holiday drive raised $70,000 in cash, food and gift cards. In addition, Mansfield Kaseman Health Clinic served 2,096 patients last year.

Newton described Rockville's many neighborhood and civic associations as "the backbone" of the city.

In regards to economic development and jobs, the Mayor said that Rockville enjoys the "lowest unemployment rate in Maryland, just 4.4%." Referring to large scale redevelopment expected along MD Route 355 in the coming decades, she said "move over Potomac, here comes the Rockville Pike Plan."

Newton's speech also contained a pair of major proposals.

The first and most ambitious, which had its genesis in the 1990s Imagine Rockville discussions, is to bury Rockville Pike where it passes the town center and Rockville Metro station. This would create public and green park space at the existing surface level, with the highway running beneath it. She said that would provide a safer passage for residents of East Rockville to the town center, and create green space that would again give Hometown Holidays room to be something bigger than the street festival it has shrunk to.

"Think of it as our own Dupont Circle," she said. Citing Klyde Warren Park in Dallas, Boston's Big Dig, and Portland's Harbor Drive as examples, she said her proposal could provide a similar boost to economic development, health and the environment, and quality of life in the city.

If such a plan could be advanced, it would give Newton a legacy project similar to that of past mayors like Doug Duncan (Rockville Mall demolition and redevelopment) and Larry Giammo (Rockville Town Square). She acknowledged it would be an expensive proposition.

The second big idea floated in Newton's address was transforming the "blighted" Montgomery County Public Schools property on Stonestreet Avenue into a mixed-income, owner-occupied townhome development. Newton envisions turning a space known for "tractor trailers...sitting there filled with old desks and old books" into "brownstones fronting Stonestreet, with garages and yards behind," providing needed affordable housing, while improving the environment for existing residents. She suggested the redevelopment could be facilitated and financed by a public-private partnership.

Citing the contentious public hearings recently held on the proposal to loosen school overcrowding standards in the city's Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance, Newton said, "People want a vibrant city. They don't want to further overburden their schools." She argued that the city needs to find new solutions to overcrowding that don't involve weakening the APFS. Among possible answers, she pointed to acquisition of the surplus of vacant office space in the county, requiring developers to pay more for school construction costs, boundary changes and demanding more property tax money back from the state. Ultimately, she predicted, it will likely require a combination of all of those avenues.

Countering arguments that the APFO has stifled new school construction in the city, Newton thanked the school system for the forthcoming new Richard Montgomery Elementary School No. 5, and renovations at Julius West Middle School.

"Together, we can do great things," she said.

You can watch the entire speech here:

Monday, August 25, 2014


Should Rockville urbanize, or remain a suburban area with a vibrant commercial strip along Rockville Pike? There are dangers in chasing the latest trends, when making major planning and development decisions. While we're told White Flint urbanism-on-steroids is the future, it turns out the rumors of the suburban apocalypse were greatly exaggerated. Just two months after data showed more people again moving to the suburbs than to urban cities, sales of condos are being outpaced by single-family homes.

According to the National Association of Realtors, condo sales were flat last month, unchanged from the previous month. During the same period, single-family home sales rose by 2.7%, USA Today reported Friday. Southern and western states recorded the highest number of home sales, while the northeast had no growth over the previous month.

Apparently many Americans are still fond of trees, lawns and backyard barbecues.

Friday, August 15, 2014


The Mayor and Council will hold 4 public hearings on the new Rockville Pike draft master plan this fall. Their dates are September 29, October 27, November 17 and December 8. These hearings will be agenda items during the regularly-scheduled Mayor and Council meetings on those dates. To testify, call 240-314-8280 before 4:00 p.m. on the date of the hearing in question.

Thursday, July 17, 2014


The public record is now officially open for written comment on the final draft Rockville Pike Plan, the master plan that will guide future development along MD 355 within the city of Rockville. Rockville's Mayor and Council will be briefed on the draft plan at their July 21 meeting.

A public hearing will be held after Labor Day. You can start reading the plan draft here.

To submit written comments, email, or mail them to: City Clerk’s Office, Rockville City Hall, 111 Maryland Ave., Rockville, MD 20850.

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.

Thursday, June 12, 2014


The Rockville Planning Commission will vote next Wednesday on its final recommendation to the Mayor and Council regarding the Rockville Pike Plan. That discussion and vote will take place during the Commission's meeting at 7:30 PM, June 18, in the council chambers at City Hall.

Prior to that, however, the Commission will meet in executive session to obtain legal advice on master plan processes. That 7:00 PM session, in the Diamondback Terrapin Conference Room, will not be open to the public. The 7:30 session, is open to the public, and will be broadcast live on Comcast Channel 11.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014


The rewrite of the master plan for Rockville Pike could be sent to the Mayor and Council in June, Rockville Planning Commission Chair Don Hadley said Monday night. Hadley had been summoned before the council at the behest of members concerned that the Pike Plan process was taking too long. He submitted a written summary of the issues at hand, and highlighted some of the primary challenges in his remarks to the Mayor and Council.

Hadley noted that the consultants hired by the city to develop a Pike Plan concept had 4 years to complete their work. Translating those conceptual goals into a real-world plan is far more complicated, he said. "Structurally, the Pike Plan actually had two parts," Hadley argued: a policy part, and a practical side. That required the commission to convert policy goals into "technically proficient and enforceable law," Hadley said, "not arbitrary, [but] well supportable" city code.

"Hot topics," such as building height, naturally take time to work out among the "democratization of ideas" on the 7-member commission, Hadley said. The deliberative process among commissioners - who don't necessarily agree on all matters - has "been healthy for us," he said. Technical issues not addressed in the consultants' plan have forced the commission to take extra time, as well. Hadley pointed out that the consultants' plan did not include the massive bus rapid transit line in the center of the Pike, now being pushed on the city by the Montgomery County Council. How to balance the demands for safe bike routes, local bus service, and street parking for merchants, has been a major challenge, Hadley reported. And the current demand for surface parking and big box stores on the Pike doesn't line up with the new urbanist goals of the consultants, he explained. It has fallen to the commission to resolve these inconsistencies, Hadley said.

Most significantly, Hadley said, the consultants' plan ultimately did not reflect Rockville's values. He referred to a panel hosted by former commission chair Jerry Callistein at a city summit, which sought to determine the city's values. "Neighborhood-oriented, family-friendly small-town people," was the panel's final definition of the city's character, Hadley recalled; "that’s been our guiding influence.”

Hadley said that the incompatible nature of the policy goals and today's reality (walkable, mixed use development vs. the existing, popular commercial area along the Pike) would probably demand a reassessment of the plan's specifics and performance every two years. He also sought to assure elected officials that the delays were not political in nature. There "really aren't any politics" on the commission, Hadley said. "I wouldn’t want [the Pike Plan] to come to you with any sense that it has a particular axe to grind," he concluded.

Mayor Bridget Newton and the council briefly responded to Hadley's presentation and letter Monday night. “I thought your letter was very instructive,” Newton said. "We’re delighted to hear that it’s coming in June," said Councilmember Tom Moore, who had expressed concern over the delays.

Planning commissioners Anne Goodman, Jack Leiderman and John Tyner were present at the meeting.

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, October 17, 2013


Rockville's Planning Commission will continue to discuss, and update, the draft version of the Rockville Pike Plan during a worksession at its next meeting on October 23.

The meeting will begin at 7:00 PM in the Mayor and Council chambers at Rockville City Hall.

Also on the agenda, is a discussion of possible Mayor and Council changes to the city's Adequate Public Facility Standards (APFS), under Old Business.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013


A clause buried in the latest draft of the Rockville Pike plan could one day threaten homes on Lewis Avenue in Twinbrook, if not removed before the plan is voted on.

On Page 4-6 of the plan document, under the heading, "Incentives to Build Crossing over CSX," the following sentence appears:

While the current residential development along Lewis Avenue makes this difficult, future opportunities may allow such a...crossing.

If I am a homeowner on Lewis Avenue, I'd be wondering just what those "future opportunities" might be.

The language is clear that the points of crossing would be where current homes stand today. "Future opportunities," then, suggests a time will come when those homes will no longer block the way. A.k.a. demolition.

Some may dismiss the notion, but the facts suggest otherwise.

First of all, language like this - as I know from personal experience in the planning process at the county level - can be seized upon at a future date by a developer, and can be used to justify expansion across the CSX and Metro tracks into Twinbrook. If residents protest, they'll be overruled, as officials will find such expansion "consistent with the Master Plan."

Second, there's no such thing as a footbridge anymore. The law now requires even pedestrian bridges to be wide and strong enough to carry emergency vehicles.

Third, the process of decking over railroads and highways is standard practice. A seamless expansion of Pike properties across into Twinbrook would be easily achieved by that method. And, via this clause, such decking would ironically allow those developments to be even taller and denser.

Finally, to those who say it can't happen, I would refer you to the attempted purchase of the Sacks neighborhood adjacent to Bethesda Row. A developer offered single-family homeowners in that suburban-style subdivision millions apiece. The purchase ultimately failed when homeowners demanded even more, and then the real estate market crashed.

It could have happened in Bethesda, and, with this clause left in the Pike Plan, it could happen in Rockville.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013


The Rockville Planning Commission meets tonight at 7:00 PM at City Hall. Second on the agenda is a public hearing on the revised draft of the Rockville Pike Plan.

This is your chance to speak out. Do you like Rockville Pike the way it is, as a successful suburban commercial area? Or do you support the Plan's idea to urbanize the Pike with dense, mixed-use development?

Make your opinions known tonight.

First on the agenda, is a request from First Baptist Church at 55 Adclare Road. They are asking for a one-year extension for their church addition.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013


The Rockville City Council had issues with two vacancy appointment decisions proposed by Mayor Phyllis Marcuccio at last night's Mayor and Council meeting.

Three councilmembers, John Hall, Tom Moore and Mark Pierzchala, declined to support one of Marcuccio's nominations for the city Board of Supervisors of Elections, activist Drew Powell.

Powell has been a longtime opponent of developer influence in city and county elections, and was an outspoken critic of individual candidates' campaign finance activities in the 2011 city election.

Was this political payback, or simply a desire to explore other candidates, as some councilmembers suggested?

It has been established practice for mayoral nominations for appointments to be honored.  The fact that Marcuccio raised objection to that protocol as a councilmember in previous years was raised.  Marcuccio did so, but then-Mayor Susan Hoffman still prevailed in having sole power of nomination.

Thus the rejection of Powell was unusual.

Councilmember Bridget Donnell Newton joined Hall, Moore and Pierzchala later in the meeting in endorsing the reappointment of Kate Ostell to the city Planning Commission. Ostell is a longtime commissioner whose term actually expired last summer.

Marcuccio suggested it was time to add fresh blood to the commission. The four councilmembers disagreed.

This appointment is highly significant, as whoever is appointed will cast a powerful vote on the Rockville Pike Plan, on which billions of dollars in developer profits hinge.  Marcuccio has been critical of the plan, and her appointment could complicate approval of what appears to remain a developer-friendly document. Others feel Ostell's experience and involvement in the lengthy Pike Plan process add value to the commission's final deliberations, which will follow a public hearing on it.