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Clarksburg day care stuck in traffic

If the Maryland suburbs held a pageant, Clarksburg might win the contest for Miss Step. A recent decision by the Montgomery County Planning Board only enhances the community's claim to the title.

According to this decision, current Clarksburg residents may not get a day care facility they badly need because future residents will generate too much car traffic for existing roads.

Photo by the author.

The last planned development along I-270 in upper Montgomery County, Clarksburg has been a headache for the county government since before construction started in 2000. Clarksburg was supposed to be a transit-oriented community.

What transit? The MARC train station in Boyds, an as-yet purely notional Corridor Cities Transitway that will not even go all the way to Clarksburg, and RideOn bus #75, which operates every half hour on weekdays only.

In 2005, Clarksburg residents discovered a string of site plan violations that led to the appointment of an ombudswoman and the resignation of the Planning Board chairman.

Clarksburg Town Center still doesn't have its Town Center retail district, and there's a new working group to help figure out who will pay for the roads and parks in the parts of Clarksburg that have already been built.

Nonetheless, some 14,000 people now live in Clarksburg, and they need services nearby. Daycare is an obvious priority among these services, and so a planned day care center and after school program, at the intersection of MD 355 and West Old Baltimore Road, just north of Germantown, is welcome.

Unfortunately, it might not get built, due to the recent Planning Board decision which effectively prioritizes the needs of future Clarksburg residents for wider roads over the needs of current Clarksburg residents for nearby day care.

The reason for this backward logic is the Local Area Transportation Review (LATR) part of Montgomery County Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance (APFO). The LATR is based on "critical lane volume" (CLV), a measure of the number of vehicles moving through an intersection's through or left-turn lanes in an hour.

The logic of the Planning Board's decision goes like this:

  1. The Planning Board has already approved a lot of new housing in the area. (The Planning Board staff report does not name the approved developments, but they probably include Miller & Smith's "Gallery Park" and Winchester Homes's first development at Cabin Branch.)
  2. When this housing has been built and people move in, they will drive through the intersection next to the site of the proposed day care.
  3. When they drive through the intersection, it will become unacceptably congested.
  4. Therefore, if the day care wants to operate at capacity, it needs to "improve" (i.e., widen) the intersection to account for one and a half times the number of car trips the day care will generate. The widening is to consist of three turn lanes: a southbound right-turn lane on MD 355, a northbound left-turn lane on MD 355, and an eastbound right-turn lane on West Old Baltimore Road. And it may cost $360,000.
Ross Flax, the owner of the day care, points out that day care providers are not experts in road construction and that the day care will account for only 20% of the total additional trips the day care, plus the approved but unbuilt developments, will generate. He has therefore offered to put 20% of the costs ($72,000) in escrow to fund later construction.

But the LATR guidelines say that "improvements" must be "permitted and bonded, under construction, or under contract for construction" before building permits can be issued. Therefore, the day care must pay the whole cost, now. Miller & Smith and Winchester Homes will pay their shares back to the day care later, when they begin building.

However, the day care cannot afford the whole $360,000, Flax has told the Gazette. And operating at half capacity, as would be allowed without the turn lanes, may not be economical. As a result, it is "likely" that he won't open the day care at all unless the Planning Board reconsiders the decision.

In short, the Planning Board first approved large housing developments, whose residents must drive everywhere. Then, they approved more large housing developments, whose future residents will also have to drive everywhere. And now they're requiring a day care, which is intended to serve the current residents, to pay for the wider roads all those extra cars will need.

Memo to the Planning Board: There must be a better plan.

Miriam Schoenbaum lives in upcounty Montgomery County. She is a member of the Boyds Civic Association, the Boyds Historical Society, and the Action Committee for Transit


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Oh the puns.

And, that's ridiculous. Is it standard procedure to force a small business to pay for road improvements based on projected traffic?

by OctaviusIII on Mar 29, 2011 10:19 am • linkreport

The fact that the day care is willing to commit to 20% of the cost is very impressive I think. If the county was smart the would approve construction now and put the intersection improvements on the county plan ASAP.

Realisticly however the housing development builder should have been the one paying for these improvements, along with the county since they get the added benifit of more properity tax revenue.

by Matt R on Mar 29, 2011 10:25 am • linkreport

Unfortunately, it might not get built, due to the recent Planning Board decision which effectively prioritizes the needs of future Clarksburg residents for wider roads over the needs of current Clarksburg residents for nearby day care.

While reserving comment on the substantive criticisms in this post, I would like to say that prioritizing the needs of "future residents" over "current residents" is often a good thing.

Much up-zoning relies on precisely that argument--that zoning regulators should consider the needs of future residents (living in tall, efficient apartment buildings) in addition to the needs of current residents (living in single-family homes).

by WRD on Mar 29, 2011 11:18 am • linkreport

Permitting development to occur without guarantees in infrastructure tends to result in lacking infrastructure later on, regardless of mode.

I read the claim that this is a TOD with transit only a dim prospect, and in many other articles there are complaints about developing with only the hope of transit in the future; then without it never materialising.

I see this as the same issue: building a new property with only the hope of eventually adding the transportation infrastructure to support it. While it's a different mode, to me this reads the same issue.

I appreciate the intent behind this article and the concerns faced by both parents & the would-be daycare provider, but I don't feel we should be encouraging development without the infrastructure (whatever the mode) to support it.

One item which was not noted: would the daycare's trips, in the absence of background development, fit within the congestion threshold such that the daycare might not necessarily prompt the widening?

by Bossi on Mar 29, 2011 11:43 am • linkreport

So this is the embodiment of this video of a "conversation with a traffic engineer," right?

by Geoffrey Hatchard on Mar 29, 2011 11:57 am • linkreport

Most daycares are non-profit cooperatives, run by the parents, and obviously cannot afford and know nothing about traffic and road improvements, etc.

However, "Goddard this outfit is a franchise -- this gives me pause. Clearly they have better resources than your average mom opening a daycare. Maybe the Planning Board is right.

by goldfish on Mar 29, 2011 12:07 pm • linkreport

Has the county made huge missteps in Clarksburg? Do they continue to not hold developers responsible for things in the same way it seems developers elsewhere in Montgomery are held responsible? Does this seem like a strange decision, that "future" residents are being prioritized over current?

Yes, but...

The property that the day care is to be located on is also a portion of a larger residential development. The developer, who has developed elsewhere in Clarksburg, previously shifted some of their infrastructure requirements for other parts of Clarksburg to this particular residential development and had already agreed to improve the intersection as part of current and past approvals, including approvals for communities already built.

And then they sold a piece of the empty, undeveloped-but approved-parcel to Goddard. The infrastructure requirements don't change much just because a piece of a smallish development -- owned by a developer who is developing down the road, up the road, and who did develop around the bend -- was sold off. That particular development (where Goddard is) is only one of several developments responsible for improvements to that intersection. And the intersection is already a top priority for Clarksburg -- it's dangerous, it backs up every day morning and night, and accidents are an almost constant worry and happening.

Goddard can go ahead without improving the intersection, they just can't build ALL of their capacity. In fairness, this intersection and the traffic the day care would bring have been a concern of constant mention in town. They weren't unaware. The developer who sold them the land is also responsible for improving the intersection -- as are others who have already profited from the ability to develop at much higher density.

We've had a bit of an issue with developers not finishing projects both residential and infrastructure in Clarksburg, so there is understandable reticence about letting Goddard simply contribute a portion and then add to the congestion at that particular intersection.

The bottom line is this: they can go ahead at smaller enrollment, they can wait, or if they simply must have 100% enrollment, right now, then they need to figure out how to make the intersection safe. It's not an unreasonable requirement at all.

by Clarksburgian on Mar 29, 2011 9:49 pm • linkreport

I notice that you took the photo that's attached to this piece. If you were at the church across the street from where Goddard wants to locate, you might have seen the sign for their day care center, located near their (very large) parking lot? It's not quite correct to say that Clarksburg doesn't have day care centers -- there are about 5 within a 2-mile radius of this location.

by Clarksburgian on Mar 29, 2011 9:53 pm • linkreport

@Clarksburgian: I know of two institutional daycares of meaningful size in Clarksburg: Greenridge Baptist Church, across the street, and Watch Me Grow, on Gateway Center Drive. I agree that 355 backs up north of Milestone; I'm curious about accidents at the intersection of 355 and West Old Baltimore, though. Do you have accident statistics?

by Miriam on Mar 30, 2011 7:41 am • linkreport

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