Greater Greater Washington

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Eastern Montgomery residents want new jobs and transit in White Oak

One thing was clear at last night's public hearing on plans to create a transit-oriented town center and biotech hub in White Oak: almost everyone wants more jobs and amenities in White Oak, even those who aren't comfortable with new development in their backyards.


LifeSci Village, a proposed research park in White Oak. Rendering from Percontee.

This month, the Montgomery County Council took up the White Oak Science Gateway plan, which seeks to draw companies who want to be near the Food and Drug Administration's campus near Route 29 and New Hampshire Avenue. It proposes over 8,500 new homes and 40,000 new jobs in several urban neighborhoods, which would sit on three of the county's proposed Bus Rapid Transit lines.

Support for the plan was high, with 20 of 34 speakers in favor. As in a previous hearing at the Planning Board in May, residents were eager for new investment after decades of waiting. Even those who were skeptical of the plan's emphasis on transit and feared it would create a "tsunami of traffic" on Route 29 said East County needed the investment.

The County Council's Planning, Housing, and Economic Development committee will discuss the plan in a series of worksessions later this month before the entire council reviews it. No vote has been scheduled, but it's likely to happen within the next several weeks.

I live-tweeted last night's hearing and compiled the highlights in this Storify:

A planner and architect by training, Dan Reed also writes his own blog, Just Up the Pike, and serves as the Land Use Chair for the Action Committee for Transit. He lives in downtown Silver Spring. 

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Dan, I think you would agree, and you were sitting beside me during your presentation, that much of the support, particularly from residents,was conditioned on changes to plan from the Planning Board. Most notably the board and the developer want the county to commit to building the BRT and adding new interchanges on 29 before there is any development. Most civics, and you and I, testified in favor of staging the improvements at the same time as development. The current plan presumes that these improvements will be paid for by impact taxes from development.
But that is an enormous financial risk. There is no guarantee that companies will flock just to be next to FDA, a regulatory agency with limited research funding. Indeed, there has not been one tenant announced for the Percontee site. I think the county should start by improving the amenities in the area, namely by redoing the two nearby shopping centers into the mixed use residential/retail developments successful elsewhere in the county.
If Percontee wants to speed up the infrustructure improvements and is so confident of its ultimate success then it should be willing to put up a major portion of the upfront costs of infrastructure consts instead of asking taxpayers to bear the risk.

by woody brosnan on Feb 5, 2014 2:31 pm • linkreport

Why do you think BRT does anything for this project?

I believe the BRT is rather irrelevant to this project, since any transit commuters are likely to be reverse-flow, coming north in the morning and going south in the evening.

by C P Zilliacus on Feb 5, 2014 6:44 pm • linkreport

If they are attempting to get tax payers to fund the trolley aka BRT then the BRT will be a lost cause. Most people support High Speed Heavy Rail Transit because it is more dependable than a modern street trolley and yes they will have to complete the US Highway 29 with interchanges like they did with VA Highway 28 in order for that area to become attractive for new business.

by tom on Feb 5, 2014 6:46 pm • linkreport

Why would a business locate at this proposed "Science Gateway" instead of, say, Research Triangle Park, NC, where taxes are MUCH lower, the cost of housing is lower, and there is much less traffic? Also, there are three major universities within a short drive of RTP, while there is only respected university anywhere near White Oak (and not really that close).

by Louis W on Feb 5, 2014 7:39 pm • linkreport

Why would a business locate at this proposed "Science Gateway" instead of, say, Research Triangle Park, NC, where taxes are MUCH lower, the cost of housing is lower, and there is much less traffic? Also, there are three major universities within a short drive of RTP, while there is only respected university anywhere near White Oak (and not really that close).

(1) Don't forget UMBC, which is easy to reach from Fairland and White Oak via I-95. Also Johns Hopkins in Baltimore is a pretty easy trip from eastern Montgomery County.

(2) The one university you refer to, University of Maryland at College Park, has delusions among its management that joining the Big Ten will somehow make the school "better." I predict it will do nothing of the sort.

by C P Zilliacus on Feb 5, 2014 9:27 pm • linkreport

UMBC is 30 miles from White Oak and a 45 minute drive on a good day. Johns Hopkins is about the same.

Within 15 miles of RTP -- UNC, NC State, and Duke -- just to name a few.

by Louis W on Feb 5, 2014 10:07 pm • linkreport

NIH,Johns Hopkins, Walter Reed, Georgetown,George Washington University. There are lots of good reasons for bio-tech and drug companies to locate in Montgomery County, just not necessarily next to FDA.

by woody brosnan on Feb 5, 2014 11:18 pm • linkreport

Companies want to be close to FDA because that's where their products are approved (or not) to earn them incomprehensible amounts of money.

In regards to traffic, I agree that improvements need to be made however nothing (science gateway or not) will put a dent in the congestion at Four Corners unless some type of toll is implemented on 29 to sway HoCo drivers to find another way south to the beltway/DC.

by Lane on Feb 6, 2014 10:35 am • linkreport

Extend I-95 into DC

by tom on Feb 6, 2014 3:12 pm • linkreport

Oh, tom. Don't ever change!

by Gray on Feb 6, 2014 3:29 pm • linkreport

I'm just saying... If they really want to reduce heavy traffic on US Highway 29 and US Highway 1 then they should have extended I-95 into DC.

by tom on Feb 6, 2014 4:53 pm • linkreport

I don't mean to be negative, because there are a lot of great bicycling improvements in this plan, but... Sharrows on New Hampshire? Why not just hire snipers?

by Jonathan Krall on Feb 6, 2014 8:49 pm • linkreport

@ Tom:
A) where does 95 go into DC? There's no room.
B) extending 95 into DC would bring new traffic to 95, which would in turn push cars back onto the alternates to 95. Extending 95 would have several results:
i) over a short time horizon: only a portion of the southbound traffic on 29 would benefit from extending 95, and some of this traffic would began to shift from 29 to 95. However, some traffic that currently uses 95 but does not benefit from this extension may start to move to 29 as 95 gets more congested.
ii) over a long time horizon: extending 95 into DC causes more people to drive who would otherwise not drive at all, because improved access to and from DC destinations via 95 changes residential and business location decisions.
iii) As short and long term factors add congestion to 95, the benefits of the short term effect on 29 and other alternates further diminish.

by Solution Giver on Feb 10, 2014 9:45 pm • linkreport

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