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Does redevelopment along transit have to be 18 floors?

Last Friday, I spoke to the Bethesda Chamber of Commerce. My interest spiked when I heard the first speaker, a visiting fellow in Brookings' Metropolitan Policy program, criticize the Planning Department. In his opinion, we were not maximizing the opportunity presented by the Purple Line in Chevy Chase Lake.


Photo by patrickd on Flickr.

Specifically, he referred to the Chevy Chase Land Company's holdings at Connecticut and the Capital Crescent Trail. He mentioned he thought it was critical to maximize the transit investment.

I quickly added a slide to my presentation to address his comments. And what I told the assembled when I had the floor was that there is no transit system in the world that creates 18-story buildings at every transit stop. In fact, most transit stops have very little density relative to what the Brookings speaker may have thought is appropriate.

I included in my presentation a video I took at a major intersection in Toronto on a cold spring day around 4 p.m. More than a dozen street cars go through this intersection in about 30 seconds. The buildings are all four floors or less.

This intersection is about 2.0 km from downtown. Count the streetcars going through the intersection in about 35 seconds. Even a guy on a bike. How tall are the buildings? Were we not maximizing the transit investment? Or is this a great example of how transit serves its purposemoving people from one place to another, providing options for people to move to where they want and need to go.

The same is true for the Toronto subway stations. The one I used for commuting if I did not take a streetcar passed through neighborhoods of three to five-story buildings all along the corridor. The subway line ran under Danforth Ave, including Greektown, an incredibly vibrant 24-hour neighborhood, then continued for miles, with a stop every four blocks or so. (Cue the movie, My Big Fat Greek Wedding). In sum, a pedestrian-oriented, active, mixed use, diverse corridor with three-story buildings on top of a subway line with about a dozen stops. Any Toronto resident would say we capitalized on our transit infrastructure.


Photo by Geof Burbridge.

This is the 502 street car line in Toronto I used to ride to work every day. There were two other lines that shared some of the route. It traveled for over 20 km across the width of the city. Check out the buildings that line the street. Ends was a terrific clothing store with some apartments up top. For the most part, the buildings are two and three floors along the route except at major street intersections. During rush hour, you never wait for more than four minutes for a ride.

The point is simple. Not every transit station has to be downtown Silver Spring or Bethesda. In reality, the best transit systems have a very diverse network of transit stops.

A month ago, I spoke to residents in Park Hills, located around the Wayne-Dale intersection west of downtown Silver Spring. Great people, willing to listen about change, transition, transit and stable residential neighborhoods. They asked about the changes the Purple Line might bring to the Wayne- Dale intersection in terms of land use. Well, not much, for a number of reasons.

  1. This is a stable residential community. The purpose of public transit is to move people to where they want to go, not to tear down neighborhoods to do it. These goals are not at odds, they can work together.
  2. Wayne & Dale will not be downtown Silver Spring. There is a lot of property to develop in downtown Silver Spring for decades to come, and we hope the Purple Line will help. And maybe the residents of Park Hills will ride the Purple Line to get to Fenton Village and its restaurants in the future. Imagine, public transit getting people to entertainment rather than just being used to up-zone every neighborhood a rapid transit line runs through.
  3. Nobody would invest the money, even if it were permitted, to buy up small lots at high prices, just to build a low-scale building where the number of units would not be a whole lot different than the original houses on the site.
  4. There should never be tall buildings at Wayne & Dale. It does not make sense. With so much infill to do elsewhere, new rapid transit will help maximize the potential for redevelopment where it makes sense. And it does not make sense everywhere.

For those of us who have run streetcars into new emerging neighborhoods, who rode them each day through vibrant, ethnic, low-scale neighborhoods to reach the 50-story buildings downtown, we understand how transit connects people and neighborhoods. Rockville Pike has a subway under it, and, we hope, terrific bus service in the future.


The new JBG building, just under 300 feet high, stands a block away from townhouses on Woodglen Drive, which are across the street from a seven-story building that houses a new Whole Foods on the ground floor.

This building height/use relationship is terrific; after a few months, everyone seems happy, except for a few people quoted in the paper saying they are not used to parking in a parking structure to go grocery shopping. (Welcome to the 90sthis is how the rest of the urban world shops.) This is a place where we decided maximizing transit investment makes sense.

There is road capacity on the Pike. There is an existing transit line with lots of capacity. The location is a major regional shopping node, and it can be designed so that within a block, there are townhouses.

Chevy Chase Lake meets none of those characteristics. In Chevy Chase Lake:

  • There are considerable issues with traffic
  • If this was such a desirable location, something would have happened here in 2004, during the biggest real estate boom ever, when there was 250,000 square feet of approved building capacity that was never taken advantage of.
  • This is not downtown Bethesda, so would 18- and 19-story buildings really be appropriate at this location?
  • Would 4.5 million square feet make sense at this location, as some have suggested?
  • Should there be a near- and long-term strategy of phasing zoning and infrastructure to provide for sound, orderly development with higher levels of capacity once the Purple Line arrives?

Planner Elza Hisel-McCoy narrates a presentation explaining the Planning Department's preliminary recommendations for the Chevy Chase Lake Sector Plan.

We believe there should be orderly development structured around reasonable expectations of what might and should happen within this small node along a busy street. We have floated the idea that the near-term strategy should reflect the current approvals for development that has existed for many yearsan extra 250,000 square feet, with the added flexibility to convert some of that space to residential uses.

We also suggest that once the Purple Line is under construction, additional floor area capacity be raised another 750,000 square feet, for a total of just over one million additional square feet. Those recommendations fall right within the Brookings fellow's criteria for upzoning around transit. With the exception of a transit corridor running out of Dallas, I believe he will be hard pressed to say the early ideas for this plan are not building on transit investment.

I stated to the Bethesda Chamber that the role of the planning department in master planning was not to increase land values, but to manage expectations. This means creating plans that have both short- and long- term scenarios. It also means setting the stage to maximize real estate where it makes sense, and at a scale appropriate to the immediate environment.

I have asked the staff working on several master plans to look at implementing "phased" zoning, where changes are made now in expectation of local potential, and then, when certain conditions and infrastructure change occur, maybe additional capacity is freed up. In this way, the community understands how the future landscape can evolve over time, and builders and landowners realize how their land holdings may develop over the next five, 10 and 20 years.

The County has had many master plans built on grand visions that had little basis in reality. Not every commercial area has the potential of White Flint, not even the area north of Montrose, as I wrote about a few weeks ago. And this is a good thing. MoCo is very fortunate to have such a diverse set of neighborhoods. Our planning efforts should capitalize on the individuality of each of those communities to help them grow and thrive and, more importantly, help the diverse people living in our communities realize the potential of their neighborhoods.

Rollin Stanley is Director of the Montgomery County Planning Department. Previously, he held top planning jobs in St. Louis and Toronto. He blogs regularly at the Planning Department Director's Blog, which features the tagline, "No place is worth visiting that doesn't have a parking problem." 

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I am not familiar with Toronto, but I know many neighborhoods in Boston around transit stations that are similar to what you describe. In these neighborhoods, the areas off the main streets have much higher density than Chevy Chase does. They are usually a mix of one-, two-, and three-family houses, most of them with very small setbacks on all sides.

We have a trade-off. If we were to significantly increase the density in all the neighborhoods within half a mile of the transit station (say by rezoning to allow three or four housing units on each existing lot) then less density would be needed at the transit station. Howver, the political consensus in Montgomery County for several decades has been to provide density tightly packed around stations rather than to spread it out in this manner. Therefore, we need more height and density in the immediate vicinity of the station.

I do agree with you about Dale Drive. East Silver Spring is more densely populated than Chevy Chase, and has a much greater resemblance to the Boston neighborhoods I know. Plus, the Purple Line will not provide as good a quality of transit service there, because it will not have its own right of way, and therefore won’t support as much density at stops away from heavy rail stations.

by Ben Ross on Jun 15, 2011 1:29 pm • linkreport

I would hate to apply this logic to the EFC plans in Arlington. Every transit stop there needs to be turned into Ballston or Rosslyn -- models of urban success.

by charlie on Jun 15, 2011 1:55 pm • linkreport

I agree with the justification for not up-zoning at Wayne and Dale. In fact, it's a shame that Blair High School isn't located there anymore. That's 2,800 students (and hundreds more faculty and staff) who could've used the train without adding a single square foot of new development to the neighborhood.

I'm on the fence about Chevy Chase Lake, though. The neighborhoods in Toronto Rollin describes may be low in height, but they're far denser than any comparable area of two- or three-story buildings in Montgomery County: apartment buildings and rowhouses and very little off-street parking, I'm sure, compared to neighborhoods of mostly single-family homes with yards and garages in Chevy Chase or Silver Spring. The density is also a lot more even - you'll have three-story buildings next to the streetcar and three-story buildings a few blocks away. It's the same story in the old streetcar neighborhoods of West Philadelphia or along Georgia Avenue in D.C. Like Ben said, recreating that in Chevy Chase would require tearing out houses for blocks around the station and replacing them with mid-rise buildings.

The real precedent for Chevy Chase Lake are the other developments Francis Newlands built up and down Connecticut Avenue in the District, where you have taller buildings along the avenue (where there used to be streetcars) and single-family houses behind. Besides, there are already 10+ story buildings in the area now. Someone in another post pointed out that one of them is a retirement home, but it's not like elderly people don't use public transit.

Toronto's a great precedent for making vibrant urban neighborhoods, but an even better example for Connecticut Avenue already exists a few blocks away.

by dan reed! on Jun 15, 2011 2:12 pm • linkreport

The point is simple. Not every transit station has to be downtown Silver Spring or Bethesda.

Respectfully, this is asking the wrong question. We should be asking "Are we better off with more or less development at the Purple Line stop in question?"

The developers are chomping at the bit to build residential and commercial buildings in the area. There are people and firms that would like to move into the taller buildings. But Montgomery County's response is: Hey, not every transit hub has to be dense. Move to Silver Spring.

Coincidentally, Toronto doesn't have the Height Act limiting their CBD. We do. That puts pressure on surrounding jurisdictions to build more density.

Undoubtedly, the world will not end if Montgomery County chooses the less dense option. We will, however, be worse off. The Purple Line will be less useful than it would otherwise be if we chose the less dense option.

by WRD on Jun 15, 2011 2:15 pm • linkreport

It is ludicrous and obstructive to say that areas around streetcars or metro need to be 18 floors high. London, Paris, Amsterdam, Prague, Brussels and Rome prove that.

by Jasper on Jun 15, 2011 2:17 pm • linkreport

2 minor technical comments...
- Use autostitch.net for easy & free photo stitching
- < /u > !

And...
I agree that not every transit stop needs to be high density... I spent many many weekends at my grandparents' home in a Philadelphia neighborhood which would easily be Philly's Chevy Chase equivalent. Queen Lane is smack in the middle of residential, with medium-density rowhomes south/east and low-density high-income residential to the north/west. There are also two projects-era high rises which no one has ever seemed fond of (including its own residents).

The neighborhood is also served by the East Falls station, which includes a low-rise downtown that's revitalized quite a bit in the last 10 years. Further along that line toward Norristown, Manayunk has similarly come back to life along with a slew of other areas around pretty much every other stop on the line.

I'd say low-rise and high-rise can both work; it's really a matter of what the public interests are for that area. To that end: MoCo has a strong interest in concentrating their job & population growth around transit, in which case high-rise is certainly one way to get more bang for the buck. But the Chevy Chases are also fond of their small-town feel, and I have to admit that it does have a certain charm. Both sides really have a good case.

by Bossi on Jun 15, 2011 2:18 pm • linkreport

Paris and the other Euro cities aren't appropriate examples in this case, because the only way they can achieve high densities without tall buildings is by covering entire neighborhoods with midrises. Tall buildings in commercial and mixed-use areas allow us to reach high densities while retaining the single family detached character of the surrounding residential neighborhoods.

In other words, if you want to reach high densities without tall buildings, you can't have single family detached houses anywhere nearby.

Is that a trade-off Chevy Chase would make? Somehow, I think not.

by BeyondDC on Jun 15, 2011 2:55 pm • linkreport

I will have to echo what others would say that if you're only given so much space with to actually add density then you have to build taller to achieve the same density. When I re-read the first post the drawings and the fact that a trail is a key component of the development it reminds me of reston town center. There on 3 sides its all low buildings until you're right inside the town center area. This is changing however as the surface lots around the town center are being filled in but its a good example I think of what the CCLC is trying to emulate but with rail instead of the toll road.

by canaan on Jun 15, 2011 2:59 pm • linkreport

As a Silver Spring resident, we NEED these types of high density developments in order to bring property prices (rental and condo) down to the point it is affordable for federal workers. Low density around transit is a crime.

by Redline SOS on Jun 15, 2011 3:15 pm • linkreport

It is unfortunate how some people (in particular, the dis-proportionately vocal advocates for high-rise, high-density development) want to impose their vision of the "ideal" community on other people. Mr. Stanley said it perfectly: "MoCo is very fortunate to have such a diverse set of neighborhoods." If you want to live in a high-rise in an urban setting, there is no shortage of options (Bethesda, Silver Spring, White Flint, Friendship Heights, etc). If you prefer a McMasion with a big yard, there are plenty of those out there for the taking (Olney, for example). Want something in between? You'll have no problem finding it. Even if the CC Lake area could accomodate the type of development the CCLC proposes, why do it? It's not necessary for the greater good of the county (there are a lot of other sectors being re-developed right now in conjunction with CC Lake in order to accomodate the county's projected growth) and it's not what people in the community want.

With the CC Lake area, Mr. Stanley and the Planning Department have done a commendable job so far. They have had to determine a scale of development that takes into consideration the interests of the existing community, the needs of the county as a whole (current and future residents), and the limitations that come along with this particular sector (we're not dealing with a blank canvass here, folks). They have struck a pretty fair balance in my opinion, and that has been no easy task.

And, by the way, has anyone seen a 65-foot building recently? It is still pretty darn high. I wouldn't call it a low-rise by any means.

In response to WRD's comments about the Height Act: are you really implying that the Height Act has somehow resulted in such a critical shortage of commercial space in D.C. that there is a need to build 19-story high-rises in Chevy Chase? That's a stretch.

In response to Dan Reed, who stated: "The real precedent for Chevy Chase Lake are the other developments Francis Newlands built up and down Connecticut Avenue in the District." With respect, the key phrase there is "in the District" -i.e., a city. Not Chevy Chase, a suburb. Also, regarding the high rise on Conn Ave that is a retirement home, my earlier point was that the reason this building was able to be absorbed into this sector is that it is full of seniors. While they may still be somewhat mobile (I hope), they are not driving to work, dropping off the kids at soccer practice, etc. - you know, adding a signficant amount to the already existing traffic congestion. By contrast, high-rise residential and office buildings would have such an effet. My point, therefore, was that the senior living facility should not be pointed to as proof that high-rise, high-density development is suitable for this area.

by PDM on Jun 15, 2011 3:20 pm • linkreport

So PDM, does this mean that the suburbs must always remain constant at the expense of farmland further out? If the region is willing to invest in a mass transit line, shouldn't there be some nodes along its path that are designed to enable people to live in one area and work in another without using an automobile?

Or is it your position that Silver Sprint and Bethesda are those opportunities and the Chevy Chase Lake area ought to remain constant?

by William on Jun 15, 2011 3:24 pm • linkreport

>It is unfortunate how some people want to impose their vision of the "ideal" community on other people.

But you're allowed to?

by BeyondDC on Jun 15, 2011 3:29 pm • linkreport

Want something in between? You'll have no problem finding it.

Show me where in Montgomery County I can find, or build, a two-family detached house on a 40 x 100 lot. Show me a single family house with a porch that leads directly down to the sidewalk and no side yard. Show me townhouses with on-street parallel parking in front.

it's not what people in the community want.

"The community" that has organized into a coalition against this project extends into the Village of Chevy Chase. Downtown Bethesda is much closer to the project than the Village of Chevy Chase. Downtown Silver Spring is almost as close. Owners of single-family homes are not "the community"; they are probably a minority of the population in Montgomery County.

by Ben Ross on Jun 15, 2011 3:55 pm • linkreport

It is ludicrous and obstructive to say that areas around streetcars or metro need to be 18 floors high. London, Paris, Amsterdam, Prague, Brussels and Rome prove that.

Or, closer to home, you know, like every single Metro station in DC.

Heck, the development around Brookland is barely two stories tall, and the neighbors are in hysterics about one 4-5 story building being considered nearby.

Honestly, this article seems like a straw man argument for not building at all.

If we're going to build tons of cheap transit, like Toronto has, that's great, and we don't need to maximize density as much. If we're investing in in heavy rail (ie. Orange Line), or a fast/expensive LRT line along a mostly-dedicated ROW (ie. Purple Line), we're going to need to make the most out of our investment, and concentrate around the station stops to make that investment available to the greatest number of people possible.

If you're opposed to all new development, but want a faster ride to work, you might need to begin accepting the reality of much higher local taxes, because density is also necessary to pay for these projects.

by andrew on Jun 15, 2011 3:58 pm • linkreport

As much as RedLineSOS sounds like a broken record, he's right. The rent is too damn high.

Residential units near metro are in HUGE demand, and people are willing to pay for it, which has driven prices up tremendously. This cycle has been reinforced by the fact that most new construction is focused on "luxury" units that are not even remotely affordable to the majority of residents.

Either we start building density (and cheap units) on top of Metro stations, or we write our transit system off as a toy for the rich.

by andrew on Jun 15, 2011 4:02 pm • linkreport

Oh, and there's still plenty of low-rise single-occupancy residential homes right near the Orange line. There were relatively few single-family homes obliterated by the high-density development there. If anything, I-66 and the Beltway disrupted more existing neighborhoods.

by andrew on Jun 15, 2011 4:06 pm • linkreport

Plus, yes people who live in any development built along would probably still drive but not not to work, during the peak times when traffic is worst. Plus if you're a resident who drives to work then there is also a great likelihood that you can now not worry about driving as well since you're all of sudden living near a rail station.

by Canaan on Jun 15, 2011 4:25 pm • linkreport

BeyondDC: No, not at all. I'm sorry you took my post that way. I should have been clearer. My point is that it is unfair for some people (or developers) to impose sweeping changes on existing communities, especially when those advocating for such change do not have a vested interest (financial, emotional, etc) in that community the way existing residents do. If this area was completely undeveloped or blighted (vacant, etc), then I would say have at it. But it is an existing community that people truly love and who want to protect all that is good about this area.

At the same time (this goes to William's question), existing communities should not resist all change, especially if doing so would cause other areas to suffer. All communities (yes, even Chevy Chase) have room for improvement. Compromise is key.

Case in point: I personally would like to see even less development at CC Lake than what is recommended by the Planning Staff, but such is life. Instead of railing against Mr. Stanley for not coming up with recommendations that suit my exact specifications, I'll just commend the Planning Staff for attempting to strike the right balance between no change and the drastic change sought by the developer. As a result, I'm confident CC Lake will represent a fair compromise that, as I explained above, does not embrace one vision over another, but attempts to accomodate all interests.

by PDM on Jun 15, 2011 4:28 pm • linkreport

@PDM

Of course, potential residents and potential employees of that development ought to have a say, too.

We know the region will grow. Those new people will come - it's only a matter of when, where, and how.

I'll agree with others - this post is asking the wrong question. WRD is spot on: We should be asking "Are we better off with more or less development at the Purple Line stop in question?"

I'd also note that 'we' should be defined broadly - not as just the adjacent stakeholders, but as the larger community and region as a whole.

by Alex B. on Jun 15, 2011 4:38 pm • linkreport

- This conversation reminds me of Yonah Freemark's refelections on the competing roles of transit (development vs. serving the (existing) community, esp. the poor) at The Transport Politic

- The pent-up demand for construction of various sorts is surely in part a product of DC's deadly combo of height limit + powerful neighborhood groups. Tenley and Brookland (and Eastern Market, etc etc) residents resist development, which pushes development out to the burbs, where it's harder to get around.

by EJ on Jun 15, 2011 4:58 pm • linkreport

PDM, That's a basically reasonable statement, and I agree that existing and future residents should be one of the voices that goes into determining the vision for an area. But our entire region is affected by where and how development happens, so I don't accept that the only voice that matters is neighbors who already live within 1/2 mile, or inside whatever arbitrary political jurisdiction the land happens to fall in.

All that square footage has to go somewhere. If one community opposes it, they are in effect imposing it on someone else. Should Chevy Chase be able to dictate that Gaithersburg or Frederick have to take on extra growth above and beyond their fair share, in order to keep Chevy Chase from ever changing?

And of course, it's not just the immediate residents of Gaithersburg or Frederick who would suffer if that happened, it's everyone. The whole region would suffer from increased traffic congestion, pollution, and the myriad of other detrimental effects of sprawl.

So it's really not about imposing change, because the region is growing (and therefore changing) whether you or I like it or not. It's about finding ways to accommodate growth and change in ways that are most fair and least damaging. It's wouldn't be fair for the entire region to treat Chevy Chase as a dumping ground for all the growth that's coming and turn the community into a cluster of 70-story Manhattan-sized towers, and in the same manner it's not fair for Chevy Chase to close up shop and push its share of growth out on the rest of the region.

Now, maybe 18 stories is a fair amount of growth for Chevy Chase and maybe it isn't. I don't really know. Maybe the most appropriate level of density would be 6 stories, or it just as easily could be 30 stories. The point is, no small group of people gets to dictate to the rest of the region how growth happens. We're all in this together.

by BeyondDC on Jun 15, 2011 5:08 pm • linkreport

@EJ

I also think there is just demand, period.

DC is one of a handful of areas of the country that's doing fairly well economically. There are jobs here, and that's bringing people in. I also think there's pent-up demand for walkable, urban places - but that must be put in the larger context of just plain ol' demand.

by Alex B. on Jun 15, 2011 5:10 pm • linkreport

Redevelopment along transit doesn't need to have 18 floor buildings but the Purple Line needs to provide an appropriate return on investment. It's a huge and expensive project and the primary way it will pay for itself is through more jobs, homes, and retail. Given the cost, one needs to pursue every economically viable development opportunity.

by Falls Church on Jun 15, 2011 5:30 pm • linkreport

In response to WRD's comments about the Height Act: are you really implying that the Height Act has somehow resulted in such a critical shortage of commercial space in D.C. that there is a need to build 19-story high-rises in Chevy Chase?

Yes, I do mean to say that outright. Two qualifications. First, there isn't a shortage per se, but a combination of low supply and high prices. Second, there isn't need to build a high-rise in Chevy Chase. I acknowledge that by saying "Undoubtedly, the world will not end if Montgomery County chooses the less dense option."

However, there is demand to build the high rise.

Look, the larger argument I have with this is more basic. The housing supply is limited by zoning code, the Height Act, geography, and other factors. This makes housing more expensive in the region. One way to combat that is allow more housing.

You can do that with mid-rises as far as the eye can see. You can do it with taller buildings. You can even do it with exurbs, to a lesser extent. But this particular development is prime territory for denser development, in my opinion. (Also in the opinion of the developer, whose money is on the line.)

Those who wish to prevent a high-rise can try to band together and buy the land. But I suspect you don't want less development that much, so instead you petition the government instead. I oppose the restriction, especially in this case, and support the taller buildings.

by WRD on Jun 15, 2011 5:34 pm • linkreport

@ Ben Ross:
"Show me where in Montgomery County I can find, or build, a two-family detached house on a 40 x 100 lot. Show me a single family house with a porch that leads directly down to the sidewalk and no side yard. Show me townhouses with on-street parallel parking in front."

What can I say, you've stumped me. I don't know if such housing options exist under the current zoning laws. Until the County Council smartens up and rezones the county accordingly, we'll just have to gaze at such lovely locales as South Boston, East Baltimore, and Cranson RI -- places where such housing is typical -- with envy.

Don't get me wrong, I share your frustration. I would love to see all single family lots chopped up into 1/32 acre parcels, on which the dwelling units are not houses but old train cabooses no longer in service. Think about it: the increased density would prevent sprawl and be environmentally friendly, as no trees would need to be harvested for building materials. That's my idea of the perfect housing solution, and until the county council forces everyone to abide by my idea of how we should live , then I'll have to agree with Ben that this county just plain sucks.

by PDM on Jun 15, 2011 9:37 pm • linkreport

until the county council forces everyone to abide by my idea of how we should live

Right now the county council forces everyone to abide by your idea that no one should be allowed to live in a single family house unless they agree to mow a big lawn. (And there's a law that requires them to mow the lawn, enforced with much more vigor than the law that requires shoveling snow off sidewalks.)

Is the purpose of zoning to exclude the kind of people who like living in South Boston and East Baltimore from Montgomery County? I don't think so. Apparently you do.

by Ben Ross on Jun 15, 2011 10:01 pm • linkreport

Ben,

I was simply pointing out -- in a smarta*s way-- that the style of housing you personally find so desireable (the lack of which apparently is the bane of Mont County) is quite abundant in places that are, for whatever, the butt of many jokes (you've seen Dumb and Dumber, right? Hence my reference to Cranston). At the same time, your preferred form of housing can also be found in very nice areas throughout D.C. And North Bethesda. And King Farm. And, well you get the point. The larger point I was trying to make is that to each their own: what you find desirable, others may not. The same goes for the sort of neighborhoods I like, such as those consisting entirely of recycled train cars. The county has done a fine job of making sure we have the best mix possible. It may not meet your exact specifications, but a little give and take is part of life

And by the way,you'll have to explain what you mean by "the kind of people who like living in South Boston and East Baltimore." I don't even know what "kind of people" I'm supposedly trying to exclude. Please educate me. I'd be interested to hear what sort of generalizations you have in mind with respect to these communities. White people, black people, rich people, poor people, people who just can't get enough Lady Gaga? Who? My apologies if I took your comment the wrong way, but please don't imply that my (or anyone's)desire that the character of the existing residential neighborhoods near these transit stations be preserved is really just a pretext for excluding others. We can preserve existing neighborhoods while at the same time welcome new residents of all backgrounds into a variety of housing options that, hopefully, allow the county to grow in a smart, forward thinking manner. To suggest that I (or anyone in the Chevy Chase community) harbor such motives is an unjustified cheap shot (and quite cowardly, since you do so over the anonymity of the internet). On the whole, the debate that Mr. Rollin's post has spurred has been quite intelligent, thoughtful, and respectful. You, sir, crossed the line by resorting to such shameful tactics.

PDM

by PDM on Jun 15, 2011 11:38 pm • linkreport

How is Ben Ross writing cowardly under a pseudonym? That's his name.

PDM: You're right to feel that people who live in a community should have some say with what happens in their neighborhood. But so should the person or entity that owns the property. And both of these interests should be tempered by a planning strategy that balances the demand of market actors with transportation efficiency, the natural environment, the architecture, and other closely related conditions.

You make a mistake, however, in claiming that these changes are forced upon communities or at lease that that this is a bad thing. The community is not the only political agent, so emphasizing its choice ignores the consequences on the broader region and also on the people who live in the community.

What has created these stable communities is primarily zoning: a set of regulations that forbid an owner (forces not to) build certain things in certain ways. Sometimes, it requires builders to build things, like parking. So, keeping these buildings off this location is in fact forcing others to create the neighborhood that appeals to the group in power.

On the other end of the scale, the insistence that close-in, transit-rich neighborhoods stay low-rise forces others to live in more expensive housing further in, or more problematic housing elsewhere. In general, it drives up the cost of housing by making it scarcer relative to the demand. Either another area has to absorb the population, or they are squeezed out to the perimeter.

So, saying that there are other places where one is free to live in apartments or townhouses is too simple. How much do those areas cost? How many people want to live in them? How far away from work are they? There is a sense of scale and a sense of cost you haven't considered in saying that other options exist.

We can preserve existing neighborhoods while at the same time welcome new residents of all backgrounds into a variety of housing options that, hopefully, allow the county to grow in a smart, forward thinking manner.

This is precisely what both the CCLC and the County's plans argue for. This is what works about Arlington-style TOD.

by Neil Flanagan on Jun 16, 2011 2:05 am • linkreport

I see it both ways as well. At what point do you identify your "stable community"? Is it a neighborhood, town, or county? In this case I think it has to be a county perspective since the Purple Line will cross several neighborhoods/towns with-in it's length. But while packing in 18 stories worth of people makes more sense on paper, I think the artistic view shouldn't be lost.

18 stories might work for Balleston and Vancouver, but it's not as nice an urban streetscape as say 4-8 stories. Paris has a preaty uniform height of 6-7 stories and it feels just about right. Also, one has economic considerations of construction technics like one can only build 4-5 stories with wood before going to concrete or steel. Then there's the 2 story concrete plinth with another 4-5 stories of wood. Throw in the length which some people will walk 4-5 stories, and you begin to inform the discussion with market and economic realities that might affect the eventual build-out.

I'm not saying 18 or even 30 stories ought to be banned, but maybe this first build-out can be 4-8 stories, with a future jump to 15-30 in 50 years. Having a Houston/Friendship Heights like skyline with isolated towers interspersed with 2 story retail doesn't seem like the best outcome. I would recommend talking to some construction people, take some surveys of the general population, do some empirical research as to what would make the best residential street, and try to come up with a plan that represents our larger communities best investment, not just on paper, but in it's built-out reality.

by Thayer-D on Jun 16, 2011 7:54 am • linkreport

CCL is not part of a dense urban fabric, as are the Boston and Toronto transit stops. It is an island of development potential in the midst of low-density suburbia. To make the transit stop as viable as possible, as much development as feasible should be carried out there. The points about Conn. Ave. in the District are well-taken. Large buildings on the street give way to leafy neighborhoods with single-family homes. There is no reason why high density at CCL need change the lifestyles of surrounding neighborhoods for the worse. In fact, it will improve lifestyles by putting amenities in walking distance. It will increase property values, not decrease them. Eighteen stories may seem high, but there already is a 14-story building there.

by Steve on Jun 16, 2011 8:59 am • linkreport

Show me where in Montgomery County I can find, or build, a two-family detached house on a 40 x 100 lot. Show me a single family house with a porch that leads directly down to the sidewalk and no side yard. Show me townhouses with on-street parallel parking in front.

King Farm. Kentlands. Parts of Silver Spring.

by J. Walker on Jun 16, 2011 9:34 am • linkreport

> It may not meet your exact specifications, but a little give and take is part of life.

Of course, this applies to you too. It means that maybe the developer doesn't get to build buildings quite as large as s/he might like, but they're probably going to be bigger than you'd prefer.

by BeyondDC on Jun 16, 2011 9:37 am • linkreport

Thayer-D stated: "I would recommend talking to some construction people, take some surveys of the general population, do some empirical research as to what would make the best residential street, and try to come up with a plan that represents our larger communities best investment, not just on paper, but in it's built-out reality."

That's a great idea. That's exactly what the Planning Department has done and is continuing to do. And, after doing so, the Planning Department concluded that the CC Land Co's proposal is just not necessary, desirable, or feasible. And, while their recommendations may not please everyone, their professional assessment is entitled to some deference. What I find so puzzling and frustrating (not frustrated with you Thayer-D- we agree quite a bit and I'm just using this reply to make a larger point not directed at you) is that if you are looking for a Planning Director who is pro-transit, pro-density, anti-sprawl, you really hit a homerun with Mr. Stanley. Take a look at his credentials: I'll put his bona fides up against anyone who writes forthis blog. Therefore, when someone like him, with a proven track record, comes out and says, essentially, that the County needs to put the brakes on what the CC Land Co is trying to do with the CC Lake Area,then I think we ought to take note. I'm just saying . . .

by PDM on Jun 16, 2011 9:56 am • linkreport

At the same time, your preferred form of housing can also be found in very nice areas throughout D.C. And North Bethesda. And King Farm. And, well you get the point. The larger point I was trying to make is that to each their own: what you find desirable, others may not.

I'm pleased other commenters pointed out the irony here. PDM, why not apply the whole "to each his own" philosophy to Chevy Chase Land's proposed development?

18 stories might work for Balleston and Vancouver, but it's not as nice an urban streetscape as say 4-8 stories. Paris has a preaty uniform height of 6-7 stories and it feels just about right.

This illustrates what I believe is the wrong approach to zoning policy. Buildings of a certain height don't spring up because some bureaucrat says they can or because a certain height "feels about right." A combination of incentives drives the construction, not some squishy feeling about what height "feels right" to us.

Market forces along the relevant stretch of Connecticut Avenue support taller, denser development. The region will be better off with the denser development.

by WRD on Jun 16, 2011 10:04 am • linkreport

There are plenty of areas left in PG county that are appropriate for high rise dwelling very close to the DC border. What developers (and "new comers") want, understandably, is more housing /in the already toni neighborhoods that exist/. When put in that perspective, the "needs" and "demands" are not a transportation and housing priority of the region, they're a housing and transportation "desire" of people to partake in what others have already built. Unfortunately, those who already bought into the neighborhoods (at considerable personal expense) are saying is that you'll destroy the economic value of their neighborhood through this development. That's not altuism vs. selfishness, that's selfishness vs. selfishness --a much different debate.

If all that's needed is midrise building close in to the city, parts of Anacostia and PG county are cheap, and available for development. The developers don't want these projects, because the people crying for zoning relief to build in established wealthy neighborhoods don't want to mix in with the people in the neighborhoods that would best serve their transportation needs.

by ahk on Jun 16, 2011 10:13 am • linkreport

King Farm. Kentlands. Parts of Silver Spring

King Farm and Kentlands are in Rockville and Gaithersburg, outside Montgomery County's zoning control. The development you show in Silver Spring has off-street parking, as required under the zoning code.

by Ben Ross on Jun 16, 2011 10:17 am • linkreport

That's a little simple AHK, you can't build on land you don't own (or don't have the means to) and you can't build on land they way you want unless the local regulations permit. Also, This development isn't in question out of the blue but specifically because of its location on the purple line and its proximity to jobs in bethesda and silver spring. So it isn't just that a mid-rise building needs to exist close to the city but one that maximizes the transit and land-use potential.

by Canaan on Jun 16, 2011 11:21 am • linkreport

Canaan: The build on land you don't own argument isn't any more valid in PG than it is in MC. I'm not sure I see your point.

The purple line is just supporting a preconcieved notion that the only place people want to live and work is MoCo. If the purple line moves to PG, there's still no developer wanting to develop there, because it's not cool or desirable for new people to move there.

by ahk on Jun 16, 2011 1:47 pm • linkreport

The Purple line does go to PG, and there are major TOD plans for some of the PG stations. Downtown College Park being probably the most prominent.

by BeyondDC on Jun 17, 2011 9:48 am • linkreport

Right, and I don't see how "there is empty land over there why not build on it?" is similarly applicable.

by Canaan on Jun 17, 2011 11:50 am • linkreport

One more thing, in PG the "coolness" factor is low on the list of obstacles that would prevent similar development and something that I would doubt figure into a builders mind. That and to echo what beyonddc said that the purple line is slated to go to New Carrollton I don't see why wanting to see a particular development occur in montgomery means that I don't want to see something in the adjacent county.

by Canaan on Jun 17, 2011 11:56 am • linkreport

I live near BOTH sites that are the focus of this article.

No, it doesn't have to be 18 stories high. I can understand some of the current residents' concern about some plans that have several buildings all over 8 stories high - some as high as 18.

But the area is a good one to go up some floors. Montgomery County's traffic will only get worse if it doesn't find some ways to create greater housing density in what is prominently a single family dwelling county.

The current situation in the area is unacceptable and it will get WORSE when the Powers That Be drop Walter Reed Army Medical Center on top of Bethesda Naval Hospital. Do we want all those folks driving to the area or living in it? Do we want to pave more of the county and increase sprawl? NO.

by Capt. Hilts on Jun 17, 2011 4:35 pm • linkreport

Ben Ross is right. The DC area needs more neighborhoods like those Ross describes. Or the ones that lie behind the commercial buildings in the Toronto video.

In Toronto, status doesn't come from the size of your lawn. The Annex is VERY nice and the lawns are VERY small. It's the best of all worlds.

by Capt. Hilts on Jun 17, 2011 4:47 pm • linkreport

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