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Residents skeptical of BRT and mixed-use development grill Montgomery council candidates

In the coming years, eastern Montgomery County could see some big changes, from faster, more reliable bus service to a new research and technology hub. Last night, candidates for County Council talked about these issues with some very skeptical Four Corners residents.

University Blvd approaching Route 29. Photo from Google Maps.

The Four Corners area, part of Council District 5, is slated for Bus Rapid Transit lines on Route 29 and University Boulevard. The White Oak Science Gateway plan would add research and technology office space along with with homes and shopping.

I live-tweeted the forum, along with Joe Fox and Jessie Slater. Here's a Storify. Update: If you don't see the content in the box below from the home page or another list of articles, try going to the individual post page.

Dan Reed is an urban planner at Nelson\Nygaard. He 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. All opinions are his own. 


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Storify not working on Chrome....

by JDC on May 8, 2014 3:17 pm • linkreport

Storify not working on Safari. Just a big blank window. What's a storify?

Maybe just some regular text, please.

by JoeyDC on May 8, 2014 4:56 pm • linkreport

The storify works for me on chrome, it just took a bit to load.

@JoeyDC - a storify is an aggregation of tweets (with pictures embedded), where the creator can add more text. It's probably the best way to recap a live tweeting event.

by Nick on May 8, 2014 5:20 pm • linkreport

Thanks for sharing about this event. I live in four corners and am all for improvements in public transit, brt, better ride on service and tod. In fact, the proximity to metro is one of the reasons I moved to this area. I couldn't make it last night but I hope those that opposed any new development weren't the only voice in the room. Even though the anti-everything people often drown out dissenting opinions, I have discussed and heard support for transit from many of my neighbors. Those for smart transit will get my vote in the next election!

by Jonathan on May 8, 2014 6:42 pm • linkreport

[Deleted for violating the comment policy.] I've been to most of the Council forums this year and this was the best so far. It was very substantive, at times entertaining and the candidates were very engaging. Everyone I talked with afterwards including the candidates had good things to say about it and the turnout was great so they reached a lot of voters. No one was intimidated. The moderator (who most everyone there including the candidates knows and respects) was making a joke. [Deleted.]
@Jonathan, it was not "anti-everything people" [deleted]. There were many questions on different subjects including ideas about improving transit [deleted]. The question about White Oak was how to make sure that the commercial part of the CR zoning actually gets built and that there are real jobs -- instead of all residential construction which is what is happening in the rest of the County. The audience submitted questions on cards [deleted].

by Facts Please on May 8, 2014 8:13 pm • linkreport

JDC and JoeyDC: Were you viewing the Storify on the home page? It looks like on Chrome at least when you click the "read more" to open up the post, it doesn't load the Storify properly, but if (at least on my computer) if you go to the main post page then it does. Does that fix it for you?

by David Alpert on May 9, 2014 2:49 am • linkreport

"Moderator Carole Ann Barth, president of the Montgomery County Civic Federation and an opponent of BRT and the White Oak plan, seemed to want to intimidate the candidates with her opening remarks."

Just to clarify, this forum wasn't sponsored by the MC Civic Federation . It was sponsored by 3 civic associations. She lives in that neighborhood and is well-known as very knowledgeable and respected by those who know her and the work she has done. The candidates even complimented her on her work. The candidates did not appear intimidated and I didn't interpret the comment as such. It was one of the lighter moments and most people, including the candidates laughed as it was obvious to most it was intended as humor.

"Audience members didn't get a chance to ask questions after the moderator was finished, but they did get to mingle with the candidates afterwards."

Audience members submitted questions on cards during the forum. Audience members also had the chance to meet and greet all candidates for about 30 minutes before and 20 minutes after the forum. As the end time was approaching, the audience was asked whether they wanted to continue with questions or stop there in order to provide more time to speak personally with the 5 candidates. The consensus was for the latter.

by Facts Please on May 9, 2014 4:16 pm • linkreport

"Tonight's topic of discussion: "Proposed threats to our community."

There was a description of the history and attributes of the neighborhood which included the affordability and ability to walk/travel short distance to the stores, restaurants and institutions in the center of the neighborhood & that these are some of the community attributes planners are trying to create elsewhere in the County. They've existed in that neighborhood for more than 75 years.

They described how the 2 roads had been widened many times over the years to accommodate previous upstream development, to the point where there is no room to widen anymore without taking more of this commercial property (as well as residential). They mentioned that there are obvious concerns about "threats to the sustainability of these community characteristics due to impacts from proposed projects" ...projects that would be the topic of some of the discussion during the forum. This was a reference to the later discussion of (1)the upstream adjacent proposed White Oak plan that currently proposes 25 million sf of additional development using CR zoning (total 45 million sf) with no staging of that development, and (2)the 2 BRT lines proposed through the center of the neighborhood.

The 3 proposed plans combined could result in requiring property acquisition for additional widening to accommodate. Residents and businesses have obvious concerns about the potential for any additional loss of property because it impacts the town center.

I counted a total of 21 questions, some of which were yes/no answers. There was a lot covered. 3 were about the proposed White Oak Plan (scale, smart growth 6 miles from Metro, getting the zoning balance right). 4 of the 5 agreed 25msf was not needed. The 5th was unsure. The area nearby has suffered from past bad planning with many sprawling subdivisions miles from any stores plopped down on what was farmland with TDRs used to preserve the farmland in the western part of the County.

One was about BRT and potential property impacts. One was about BRT stations. One was about special taxing districts that would add to the area property taxes above the limit to fund capital and operating costs for BRT.

There was also a question about improvements to existing transit services. They described that for years, the neighborhoods there have been requesting ped improvements, and to no avail -- bus shelter installations/stop improvements and the restoration of 2008 service cutbacks and deleted Ride On routes.

Less than 1/3 of the questions were about the proposed White Oak Plan and the BRT proposals still being studied. I think there should have been more discussion as it was apparent that not all the candidates were as familiar with the details of those proposals as they should be.

It's difficult to have a full discussion with 5 candidates and limited time. Still, there were a lot of topics covered in that time and all the candidates made some very good points. District 5 has some good candidates. There was a good exchange of ideas and a great turnout especially considering it was the same night as the MD Gov debate on tv and playoff game.

by Facts Please on May 9, 2014 5:58 pm • linkreport

I think the BRT plans deliberately ignore how much of the road traffic in the AM/PM on 29 is coming from Howard County.
Where are these Howard County commuters supposed to get on the bus?

by asffa on May 11, 2014 7:22 pm • linkreport

Facts Please: You say in one comment that the "threats to our community" statement was a joke, but then in the next, you seem to think these projects are indeed threats. So it sounds like you, at least, agree with what Barth said, which makes it sound like it wasn't a joke, at least not to everyone, and therefore Dan's criticism of Barth's statement isn't out of place.

If it sounded intimidating toward the candidates to him, then probably other people thought so too. Maybe she didn't mean it that way or meant to be lighthearted, but one thing I've learned from talking to a lot of people who go to forums is that comments from a person in a position of authority can seem threatening or intimidating or insensitive to folks with a different point of view, and that's something that's important for any speaker to understand and be sensitive about.

by David Alpert on May 12, 2014 3:25 pm • linkreport

David Alpert:
NO, I did not say that "threats to our community" statement was a joke. I said that it was not accurate. I said the comment regarding hard questions was humorous and the candidates and audience, many of whom knew the moderator and who were audibly laughing, did not appear intimidated at all as the author asserts. In fact it was an obvious light moment that most laughed at so it's hard to imagine why someone would try to accuse her of "intimidation".

The exact words regarding one of the other statements were "there are however concerns about threats to the sustainability of community [characteristics] due to impacts from proposed projects which will be a topic of SOME of the discussion this evening." The characteristics that were referred to immediately prior to that statement are the walkability to the commercial areas. As discussed, it's possible the commercial areas could continue to lose space due to continued road widening as a result of upstream mega development 6 miles from Metro stations.

It's not surprising if you are confused about the comments since you weren't there and deleted the previous comments about misinformation here. There were over 150 others present who came to listen, not smear and who heard the real forum, not the distorted version.

by Facts Please on May 17, 2014 7:28 pm • linkreport

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