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Development


Otherwise-progressive Maryland elected officials choose exclusion at the Takoma Metro

In our region, in 2014, shouldn't building housing on top of Metro stations be an uncontroversial idea? To many people and elected officials in Takoma Park, that's only tolerable as long as you add a very small number of residents and don't build anything larger than surrounding buildings.


Photo by bradleygee on Flickr.

This attitude ensures that housing costs stay high and many communities remain off-limits to many people who would like to live there. Montgomery Council candidate Tom Hucker, gubernatorial candidate Heather Mizeur, congressman Chris Van Hollen, councilmember Marc Elrich, state senator Jamie Raskin, and delegate Sheila Hixson all reinforced much or all of this exclusionary attitude last week.

They were writing about the planned 200-unit apartment building atop the Takoma Metro station. It will cover what's now the Kiss and Ride parking lot and a patch of trees. The site is inside the District of Columbia, but is across the street from some houses in Maryland. The WMATA Board held a hearing last week on the proposal.

A group of people, led by Takoma Park councilmember Seth Grimes, have been fighting against the project. They want the project to preserve some open space, be shorter, have fewer residents, and include fewer parking spaces. And they say that the developer, EYA, has not listened to them enough in the process.


Image from EYA.

Plan has a lot of good, some room to improve

The current proposal isn't perfect. It probably does have more parking than is necessary. Some elements of the current design aren't as attractive as they should be.

On the other hand, it's not an unreasonable size for the area and for the fact that it's atop a Metro station. In fact, EYA has already shrunk it down from the first iterations of this apartment building plan, which had 225 units. WMATA and DC worked out a deal to keep the other half of the site as a park.

This building will be more compact than a 2006 proposal to construct townhouses. Neighbors also fought against that plan, and successfully delayed it into oblivion.

The plan may get even better in the future. WMATA wouldn't be approving the final design for construction. Rather, this project is what's called a Planned Unit Development, where the DC Zoning Commission has extensive input into its design. That part of the process hasn't even begun, and so there will be a lot of opportunities for people to ask for changes.

Maryland residents will be able to testify at Zoning Commission hearings on the project, and especially with two federal representatives on the Zoning Commission, there's every reason to believe that board will listen to any reasonable arguments they make.

However, Raskin, Hucker, Hixson, and Mizeur, who are the sitting state legislative delegation for the area, argue in their letter that Maryland "has limited formal involvement" in the PUD process. They therefore ask the WMATA board to delay approval until there can be yet another process, where a neighborhood working group with members from DC and Maryland get to push for more changes (surely including reducing the amount of housing even further).

"More dialogue" is a smokescreen

That letter also states that neighbors haven't been involved enough. So does at-large councilmember Marc Elrich's letter. Perhaps the developers have listened as much as they could; perhaps not. In countless development disputes, however, opponents say that they are just looking for "dialogue" and haven't been listened to, when in fact they are demanding a substantially smaller project with less housing, and that is not a realistic request.

Years of delays and battles killed the 2006 townhouse effort. Maybe if opponents can just delay this project enough, nothing will get built, or only a very small amount of housing will end up going at this site. That would be an enormous loss to the region. There are limited developable parcels around Metro stations, and those are best places for new housing and jobs. This building may be larger than many around it, but it's not really that big.

Hans Riemer, another at-large member of the Montgomery County Council, confined his letter to making specific recommendations to improve the project. That's a good approach and the developer should heed his suggestions. Opponents, unfortunately, have responded to his more constructive approach by campaigning against him in tomorrow's primary.

When other elected officials like Hucker (who hopes to win a primary contest tomorrow to represent the district on the council), Raskin, Elrich, Van Hollen, and the others ask in letters for delay and more consultation, they aren't standing up for good civic process. They are just strengthening obstruction.

Building apartments at the Takoma Metro means more customers to support Takoma's thriving local businesses, fewer people who need to drive everywhere, and the ability to meet the demand for housing, resulting in lower or at least more stable housing costs. That's the truly progressive thing to do, not trying to keep new people out in favor of those who came here first.

Politics


Montgomery at-large candidates diverge on growth, development issues

The most controversial primary in Montgomery County this year might be for the at-large council seat. More so than any race, this one focuses on how the county should grow and whether it can meet the increasing demand for urban, transit-served communities.


Photo by dan reed! on Flickr.

There are six candidates vying for four at-large seats on the County Council. The incumbents include Nancy Floreen and George Leventhal, both elected on a pro-growth slate in 2002 and finishing their third terms; former teacher Marc Elrich, who won on a slow-growth platform in 2006; and Hans Riemer, a former political campaign director elected in 2010. The challengers are Beth Daly, director of political ad sales for Telemundo, and Vivian Malloy, retired Army nurse and member of the county's Democratic Central Committee.

All six candidates filled out the Action Committee for Transit's questionnaire for the scorecard, which is based on both their responses and public statements. This year, how ACT rated the candidates' responses has become a story of its own.

Riemer, Leventhal, and Floreen want more housing in urban areas; Daly and Elrich say we'll have enough

As with the Purple Line, all six candidates say they support building in the county's downtowns and near transit, where more people are interested in living and where an increasing share of the county's growth is happening. But they disagreed on where exactly to build, and how much new housing was necessary.


Riemer. Image from Maryland Manual On-line.
Most of the candidates focused on ways to meet the growing demand for housing in urban areas. Hans Riemer, George Leventhal, and Nancy Floreen all voted in favor of five master plans that would allow over 15,000 new homes to be built around Metro or future Purple Line stations, especially on the less-affluent eastern side of the county.

Riemer pointed to accessory apartments as one way to increase affordable housing, while Floreen named specific impediments to building more affordable housing, such as the county's parking requirements and developer fees. Both Riemer and Vivian Malloy advocated increased funding for the county's affordable housing programs.

Meanwhile, Elrich and Daly both say the county is growing too fast, though much of the county is pretty stable. Elrich has been especially critical of plans to around future Purple Line stations at Long Branch and Chevy Chase Lake, both of which he voted against.


Daly. Image from her campaign website.
Both candidates have said that there are 46,000 approved but still-unbuilt homes in Montgomery County, suggesting that the county doesn't need more. But Lisa Sturtevant, a researcher at the Center for Housing Policy, says that the county will actually need nearly 84,000 new homes to meet the demand for housing over the next 20 years.

Candidates say they support the Purple Line, though Daly is hesitant


Leventhal. Image from his campaign website.
All four incumbents support the approved Purple Line route between Bethesda and New Carrollton, which the federal government has approved and could break ground next year if Congress approves the final piece of funding. "The Purple Line is my top priority," said Councilmember George Leventhal, who co-founded the group Purple Line Now! Councilmember Elrich has been lukewarm to the project in the past, but replied that he supported it as well.


Malloy. Image from her campaign website.

Both Vivian Malloy and Beth Daly wrote in their questionnaires that they support the Purple Line. Daly has expressed some skepticism about the Purple Line both in the questionnaire and in public appearances, which earned her a minus on the scorecard.

Support for complete streets, but disagreement over how to make them


Floreen. Image from Maryland Manual On-line.
Most of the candidates unequivocably supported pedestrian- and cyclist-friendly streets. Riemer noted that he and District 1 councilmember Roger Berliner are working on a new "urban roads" bill that would create safer streets for pedestrians and cyclists in the county's urban areas.

Elrich and Floreen say they support complete streets, but have also pointed to the road code bill they passed in 2008, which encourage pedestrian- and cyclist-friendly street design but allowed wide roads that encourage drivers to speed. Daly wrote that she supported complete streets "in the more densely populated regions of the county."

Strong support for Bus Rapid Transit, and opposition to new highways


Elrich. Image from Maryland Manual On-line.
Candidates also generally supported the county's Bus Rapid Transit plan, which Marc Elrich first proposed. When asked if they would convert existing traffic lanes to bus lanes, Elrich, Leventhal, Riemer and Malloy all said yes. "Studies show that repurposing a curb lane already being used by buses, the increase in transit riders can offset the drivers displaced from the curb-lane," wrote Elrich.

Daly testified in favor of BRT at public hearings last year, but said she wanted to "look at creative solutions" for creating bus lanes on narrow, congested roads. Floreen, who has been skeptical of the BRT plan, said her support would "depend on the particular location."

Meanwhile, all six candidates say they oppose the M-83 highway, which would go from Montgomery Village to Clarksburg, and would prefer a less costly alternative that involved transit.

Voters face two different paths in this race

The conventional wisdom is that Nancy Floreen, who's raised the most money, and Marc Elrich, who received the most votes four years ago, are safe. That makes the real contest between George Leventhal and Hans Riemer, who have spent their terms encouraging new investment in the county's downtowns and discouraging it in environmentally sensitive areas, and Beth Daly, who's called herself "Marc's second vote" and has mainly talked about slowing things down across the board.

Of all of the races in Montgomery County, this one may offer the starkest differences in candidates' positions when it comes to transportation and development issues. Simply because the voices in the at-large race have been so strong, changing any one of them this year could have a big impact on the county's direction over the next four years.

Full disclosure: Dan Reed worked in George Leventhal's council office from 2009-2010.

Transit


Four big questions for a Georgia Avenue streetcar

As plans crystallize for a north-south streetcar in DC, four big questions will drive what the line ultimately looks like:


Streetcars on the Hopscotch Bridge. Photo from DDOT.
  1. How will the line snake through the center of the city?
  2. Will it reach Silver Spring?
  3. Will there be dedicated lanes, and if so, where?
  4. Is there any money to actually build anything?
Planners from the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) are still months away from settling on final details for the North-South Corridor. But at a series of public meetings last week, these big questions came into focus.

How will the line snake through the center of the city?

DDOT's latest report focuses on four potential alternate routes, but project manager Jamie Henson says DDOT could still mix and match components of multiple alternates to create the final path.

Four route alternatives under study. Dedicated lanes could potentially fit on the purple and blue sections. Image from DDOT.

North of Petworth, DDOT has settled on a Georgia Avenue streetcar alignment going at least as far north as Butternut Street.

The line could run south from Petworth down Sherman Avenue as far as Florida Avenue, or it could stay on Georgia. Georgia is wide enough for dedicated lanes and is lined with shops instead of houses, so it would probably attract more riders, but Sherman would offer a more stark contrast to the route 70 Metrobus.

South of Florida Avenue things get really interesting.

The route could stay on 7th Street through downtown DC, but that duplicates Metrorail's Green Line, and 7th Street isn't wide enough for dedicated lanes. Or it could travel on 14th Street, where population density is most concentrated and where it's a long walk to any Metro stations. But 14th Street is already booming; a streetcar might help more elsewhere.

11th Street and 9th Street are intriguing possibilities. Infill and commercial development have lagged there relative to 14th Street. Would a streetcar bring a 14th Street-like boom? Meanwhile, both 11th and 9th are wide enough for dedicated lanes.

9th Street is already home to one of DC's only existing bus lanes. Though the bus lane is lightly used and poorly enforced, that might make 9th a particularly easy place to add streetcar lanes.


Existing 9th Street bus lane. Photo by the author.

To traverse the National Mall, the line could either turn onto F Street through downtown and then use 7th Street to go south, or it could turn onto Pennsylvania Avenue and then use 4th Street.

The F Street to 7th Street option seems to be a path of less resistance, could fit dedicated lanes, would be more central to the National Mall, and would directly serve The Wharf development at the Southwest waterfront. On the other hand, 4th Street would better serve the existing Southwest neighborhood.

Will it reach Silver Spring?

Silver Spring is a natural end point for this corridor. It's big, dense, and already one of the DC region's largest multimodal transit transfer points.


Silver Spring. Photo by the author.

Around 4,000 DC-bound passengers board WMATA's route 70 Metrobus in Silver Spring every day, with still more boarding the parallel S-series routes. There's tremendous opportunity for the streetcar to reach more people and have a greater impact by ending in Silver Spring instead of DC.

But for that to happen, Maryland and Montgomery County have to step up with plans of their own. DDOT has neither authority to plan nor money to build outside the District's boundaries.

So for now, DDOT is keeping its options open. But eventually they'll need to make a decision. At this point, it's on Maryland to come to the table.

Will there be dedicated lanes, and if so, where?

Whether or not the streetcar will have dedicated lanes depends on two factors: Is there adequate width on the street, and is there enough political support to repurpose lanes from cars?

The first factor is easy. This chart shows potential street cross-sections, color-coded to match street segments along the route alternatives maps.


Potential street cross-sections, color-coded to the map above. Image from DDOT.

Streets color-coded as either purple or blue are wide enough to potentially fit dedicated lanes. Streets coded as green, yellow, or orange are not.

The political factor is harder. Depending on the location, providing dedicated streetcar lanes might mean eliminating or reducing on-street parking, pushing truck loading onto side streets, or any number of other trade-offs.

DDOT's ridership forecasts say shaving 5 minutes off streetcar travel time would boost ridership 11%. If true, that suggests thousands more people would ride a streetcar with dedicated lanes than without.

And of course, the inverse is true too: Without dedicated lanes, many riders who could be on the streetcar might instead opt to drive.

At public meetings last week, representatives from the Georgia Avenue business community voiced strong objections to dedicated lanes, fearing that loss of parking would hurt their stores. But if dedicated lanes add more streetcar riders to a block than they remove parking spaces, the reverse could very well be true.

Is there money to actually build anything?

Thanks to Chairman Mendelson and the DC Council cutting streetcar funding in the latest budget, the DC budget currently doesn't have any funding for this line.

The council could add more money in future budgets, or DDOT could seek alternate funding options like the federal New Starts program. But for now, this line is unfunded and there's not yet a clear plan to change that.

In the meantime, DDOT will continue to plan, with the next step being an environmental study. But all other details pale next to the overarching and unanswered question of how to fund whatever the studies recommend.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Public Spaces


Bethesda's planning survey loads the dice against urbanism

Planners drafting a master plan update for downtown Bethesda are running an online "visual preference" survey to get public input. But the choices they offerand, even more, the questions they choose not to asktilt against the urban style of development that Montgomery County's most successful downtown needs.


The choices in the survey contrast higher-density streets with one-way traffic (top) with lower-density buildings facing two-way streets (bottom).

The survey compares two patterns of development. One is low-density development with two-way streets; the other, mid-rise and high-rise buildings on one-way streets. But these aren't the only options. Two-way streets are much more inviting to pedestrians and bicyclists, and there is no reason a dense area can't have them.

Equally important is what's left out of the images entirely. A low-rise shopping district, like the one in the lower right of the picture, could never survive in Bethesda on customers who come by Metro from DC. It needs either dense housing and jobs nearby, or lots of parking.

The parking cannot be underground because single-story stores can't support the expense of underground garages. A realistic picture of low-density retail must include big parking lots or multistory above-ground garages.

Something else is missing from all of the images. Montgomery County zoning requires empty land (known by the Orwellian name of "public use space," although productive use of the space is banned) next to all mixed-use buildings.


Zoning forced the Lionsgate mixed-use high-rise to include this little-used plaza where busy sidewalk-facing storefronts once stood. Photo by the author.

This rule, fiercely defended by homeowner groups protective of the county's suburban image, gives us the empty plazas which blight Wisconsin Avenue and are spreading into the Woodmont Triangle. To be accurate, the survey should offer a choice between the attractive streetfront stores in its images and the bleak streetscapes that may emerge if the master plan preserves the status quo in this realm.

Missing entirely from the survey is the relationship between downtown and surrounding neighborhoods. Although most nearby single-family homeowners enjoy their proximity to downtown, neighbors opposed to urbanism often seek to wall themselves off. The connections that emerge from contentious development debates are of widely varying quality.



Three ways Bethesda connects (or doesn't) to adjoining neighborhoods: the Giant parking lot, the Whitney, and the Chevy Chase Bank building. Photos by the author.

The public should get to choose whether to border downtown with attractive buildings, walkways, and streets, or "buffers" made of walls and parking lots. This choice should not stay hidden, only to emerge later out of closed negotiations between individual builders and the opponents of their projects.

The last page of the survey reveals its authors' bias once again. There, it asks voters which category they belong to: resident, property owner, development professional, student, or special interest/activist. There are no categories for a regular shopper/diner or office worker.

Nearby homeowners are stakeholders, even if they hate the downtown and never go there. But if you work or shop in Bethesda, you're off the planners' radar screen. And never mind the rest of the region, all of which suffers from car traffic that's made worse by Bethesda's overly auto-oriented design.

Development


It's not about how fast we should grow, but where

Pointing to busy roads and crowded schools, some candidates in this year's Montgomery County primary election say the county is growing too fast. But people are going to come anyway, making the real issue where that growth should happen.


Montgomery County's urban and newer suburban communities are growing, while older suburbs are slowing down. Image by the author.

The county's actually not growing that fast

In 2006, voters weary of the housing boom brought in a county executive and several councilmembers who promised to slow things down. The recession made people hungry for investment again, especially on the poorer eastern side of the county, but some residents and candidates this year are arguing that the county's still growing too fast and that developers need to "pay their share."

Today, Montgomery has just over one million residents, adding about 100,000 residents between 2000 and 2010, a rate of 11%. That might seem like a lot, but it pales in comparison to most of the 20th century, when the county added as many as 180,000 residents each decade and doubled in population during the 1950s. In recent years, the county's grown slower than many other parts of the region, including the District and Arlington.

Growth is going to the county's downtowns and walkable neighborhoods

According to the 2000 Census and 2008-2012 American Community Survey, most parts of the county aren't changing that much. Many of the county's older suburban and rural communities, from Chevy Chase to Poolesville, saw little increase in population over the past decade, and in some cases even lost people.

Instead, much of the county's growth is going to its downtowns, like Bethesda, Wheaton, and Silver Spring, which doubled in population between 2000 and 2010. Dense, walkable neighborhoods like Kentlands in Gaithersburg and King Farm in Rockville also had substantial growth. These places already have infrastructure like schools and transit in place, as well as nearby shopping and jobs so new residents don't have to drive or drive as far.


Montgomery County's population has grown, but the amount of driving miles hasn't.
Graph from the Planning Department.

That's how the county could grow while driving rates have stayed at 2002 levels. Fortunately, the county's urban, walkable places will receive most of its growth in the future.


Clarksburg's exploding, but the services haven't caught up yet. Photo by the author.

But growth is still happening in areas far from amenities and transit. Clarksburg quadrupled in population between 2000 and 2010, making it the county's fastest-growing community. Though it added 9,500 residents in 10 years, Clarksburg didn't even have a grocery store until last year, has overcrowded schools, and few transit connections to the rest of the county.

New development isn't why school enrollment is rising

Some candidates this year blame new development on rising enrollment in Montgomery County Public Schools, which is adding 2,000 kids each year. In a campaign video, at-large challenger Beth Daly describes driving past a school with portable classrooms. She and her kids shake their heads. "Doesn't the county know that additional growth requires additional infrastructure?" she asks.

But many of the county's most crowded schools are in neighborhoods where the population isn't growing. Researchers for MCPS say this happens due to other factors, like older families moving out and younger families taking their place, new all-day kindergarten programs that mean classrooms can't "double up" to hold two half-day classes, or families returning from private school (though in many parts of the county, the reverse is happening.)

Slowing or even stopping new development won't change this. Developers have to pay "impact fees" to cover the cost of schools and roads near new construction, but the county doesn't collect anything in places where nothing's being built.

We can't afford to not grow

In many ways, Montgomery County has moved past the "growth vs. no growth" debate, which at-large councilmember Hans Riemer calls "outdated." Riemer and fellow at-large councilmember George Leventhal have talked about the benefits of new investment, whether it's paying for the things people want and need, like schools and transit, or the ability to attract younger residents.

It's also easy to see the consequences of restricting growth in places like East County, which was in a development moratorium for many years due to traffic concerns. There aren't any portable classrooms at Springbrook High School in White Oak, which has over 400 empty seats. Burtonsville's village center has been hemorraging businesses since a highway bypass opened, and abandoned or unkempt houses aren't an uncommon sight in neighborhoods still wracked by the recession. It's no surprise that residents support plans to create a town center in White Oak.


Building in the right places is the way to manage growth, not simply slowing it down. Photo by the author.

Directing growth to our town centers and areas near transit can meet the demand for new housing and give people what they want. But it also reduces the pressure to develop other parts of the county, whether it's suburban neighborhoods, the Agricultural Reserve, or parks.

That's the real solution to growth: making it easier to build in the right places, so we can provide the infrastructure and be able to pay for it. It may be more complicated that saying "slow down," but it's ultimately the best path for the county's future.

Politics


For Montgomery's District 3, it's about new transit vs. more highways

Montgomery County's District 3 will be at the heart of several key new transit projects in the coming years. Will its new councilmember push to surround them with new, walkable neighborhoods, or move forward with a 1960s-era road plan?


District 3 is the purple area in the center.

Located in the heart of the county, District 3 contains the cities of Rockville and Gaithersburg, along with Leisure World and Derwood. It's a fast-growing area, but most new development is designed around the approved Corridor Cities Transitway and a proposed Bus Rapid Transit line on Route 355. It also contains part of the proposed M-83 highway between Gaithersburg and Clarksburg.

After 16 years representing the area, current councilmember Phil Andrews is leaving to run for County Executive. Running to replace him are Gaithersburg mayor Sidney Katz and city councilmember Ryan Spiegel, Rockville councilmember Tom Moore, and local activist Guled Kassim. Only Spiegel and Moore returned their ACT questionnaires.

Candidates agree on complete streets, building near transit


Ryan Spiegel. Photo from his campaign.
Both candidates unequivocally support the Purple Line and improving safety for pedestrians and cyclists even when that might slow vehicles down. Moore says we must "focus on overall mobility, not cars," while Spiegel cited his advocacy for Capital Bikeshare and implementation of Gaithersburg's bike master plan.

District 3 has grown significantly in recent years, adding 25,000 people between 2000 and 2010. Much of that growth is happening in Rockville and Gaithersburg's existing town centers, or in new, urban neighborhoods like Crown in Gaithersburg, which will be on the Corridor Cities Transitway. And both candidates agree that this is the right way to go.

Moore, who grew up in Montgomery County, cited his support for Rockville Town Center as evidence of his record on building near transit. If elected, he says he'll "push to concentrate Montgomery County's housing growth along our existing transit corridors" and along future transit corridors as well.

Spiegel said he supports density in the right places, and has worked to create incentives to focus development at transit. He sees transit as a draw for developers to build nearby, allow building height increases near transit, and would work to steer development away for areas "not appropriate for growth."

Bigger differences on Bus Rapid Transit and new highways


Tom Moore. Photo from his campaign.
However, Rockville and Gaithersburg control their own planning and zoning, instead of the county. As a result, the new county councilmember can only ensure that the transportation infrastructure is there to serve future development.

On BRT, Moore was unequivocal in his support for dedicating lanes to buses, saying "person-throughput, and not vehicle-throughput, is the key metric here; a lane converted to bus use is more efficient." Spiegel said he supports repurposing lanes for transit, but qualifies his answer that he supports it "in targeted locations where it makes sense."

At the recent Transportation Forum in Silver Spring, both Katz and Spiegel both said they oppose M-83, which has been on the books since the 1960s. But Moore received a "minus" on ACT's scorecard on M-83; he says opposes it, but is open to learning more. I "would first want to gather all the information and public input I can with the advantages of being a sitting Councilmember," he wrote.

Other candidates


Sidney Katz. Photo from MyMCMedia.
Katz, a former business owner, has been mayor of Gaithersburg for 16 years, and was a city councilmember for 20 years before that. But his campaign website doesn't say much about land use and transportation, other than that he supports the Purple Line, Corridor Cities Transitway, and "Bus Rapid Transit and dedicated lanes." He's endorsed Councilmember Marc Elrich, who first proposed BRT but is often skeptical of building around transit.

Guled Kassim, a former Marine, immigrated here from Somalia as a child and grew up in Silver Spring before moving to Derwood. While running for District 19 delegate in 2006, he worried that the county's "rate of growth was too fast," but expressed support for the Purple Line.


Guled Kassim. Photo from his campaign.
On his campaign website, Kassim says his main priorities for "congestion relief are building the Corridor Cities Transitway and a new interchange at I-270 and Watkins Mill Road, which would serve a transit-oriented development being built at the Metropolitan Grove MARC station. He also supports "big improvements in existing intersections for a freer flow of traffic" during rush hour, though that may make the area's roads even more impassable for pedestrians and cyclists.

Most people might know District 3 as the home of Rockville Pike and the Montgomery County Agricultural Fairgrounds. But in recent years, Rockville and Gaithersburg are leading the county's larger shift to becoming a more urban, diverse place. As a result, whoever becomes the area's next county councilmember will have a big role to play in its future.

Politics


In Montgomery's District 1, more differences in leadership than policy

Both of the Democratic candidates running in Montgomery County's District 1, stretching from Chevy Chase to Poolesville, agree on most smart growth issues. Both of them have past experience on the County Council. But one candidate has a stronger record of leadership on transit and complete streets.


District 1 is the green area on the left.

District 1 is geographically diverse, containing urban, suburban, and rural communities. The wealthiest of the five council districts, it's home to some of the county's most engaged residents, generating twice as many constituent requests as other districts.

This year, incumbent Roger Berliner is running for a third term against former at-large councilmember Duchy Trachtenberg, who lost her seat in 2010. Both candidates scored identically on ACT's questionnaire, each professing strong support for the Purple Line, bicycle and pedestrian-friendly road designs, dedicating existing traffic lanes for BRT, opposing the M-83 highway, and increasing housing in urban centers.

Candidates agree on most things, but Berliner pushes to make them happen

As District 1 is the most expensive part of Montgomery County, both candidates focused on ways the county can preserve and increase the supply of affordable housing, especially near transit. Berliner has sponsored legislation that requires the co-location of affordable housing with any new capital projects in the county, such as police or fire stations. In her answers, Trachtenberg supports amending the zoning code to favor denser development near transit.


Roger Berliner.

Notably, Councilmember Berliner, a former legislative director on Capitol Hill and well-known environmental lawyer, has made sustainability and utility reform some of his top priorities. He has demonstrated a significant willingness and capability to champion transit, cycling, and pedestrian issues in the county.

As the current chair of the County Council's Transportation and Environment committee, he effectively shepherded the county's Bus Rapid Transit plan to a unanimous vote last November for an ambitious plan that preserves dedicated lanes on most of the system. He has also authored an update to the county's Urban Road Code designed to create more complete streets in urban areas like Bethesda, and been a strong supporter of the major suburban redevelopment efforts in White Flint.

Surprisingly, Berliner has done all of this while retaining support in some unlikely places; Pat Burda, mayor of the Town of Chevy Chase and a Purple Line opponent, is publicly supporting him in this election.

Trachtenberg's views on development evolved over election cycles

Trachtenberg, a dedicated local and national advocate for women's equality and mental health issues, joined the council in 2006 on a slow-growth platform with Councilmember Marc Elrich and County Executive Ike Leggett. But she may be best known for two bills she successfully passed in 2007, one prohibiting transgender discrimination and the nation's first countywide ban on trans fats in restaurants.


Duchy Trachtenberg.

Campaigning to slow development appealed to voters in 2006, during the midst of the housing boom, but Trachtenberg changed her tune as the recession took hold and people were eager for economic growth. During her 2010 reelection campaign, she expressed support for the redevelopment of White Flint and the Great Seneca Science Corridor, citing them both as examples of how to build near public transit.

This year, meanwhile, Trachtenberg accepted support from developers who were upset by the council's vote to significantly limit development in the sensitive Ten Mile Creek watershed near Clarksburg. Councilmember Berliner helped make that happen, but Trachtenberg's campaign tried to make it sound like he did the opposite while claiming she opposed the development.

Both candidates have said all of the right things when it comes to sustainable transportation and smart growth. But for voters, it's less clear whether both candidates are able to take a leadership role on those issues, shepherding in a more urban, sustainable equitable future along District 1's transit corridors while protecting the farms and parkland elsewhere.

Politics


Candidate who's "concerned" about Purple Line gets angry when pro-Purple Line organization gives her a low score

If you're running for office, you'd like to get votes from everyone, and avoid angering people. A lot of candidates try to do this by expressing "support" for big projects which have a lot of proponents, while also voicing "concerns" to those against the project.


Photo by dan reed! on Flickr.

Muriel Bowser was an avid practitioner of this strategy during the DC mayoral primary, favoring things like development at Takoma Metro or DC's zoning update while simultaneously sharing opponents' views. In Montogmery County, at-large council candidate Beth Daly is trying it with the Purple Line, and crying foul when the Action Committee for Transit didn't fall for it.

Bill Turque talked about the controversy in the Washington Post. Daly wrote on the ACT questionnaire that she supports "the east-west connectivity of the Purple Line," but with a long litany of caveats.

She is "still not certain" of what the county will pay, because she "suspect[s]" that the money the state has promised won't go far enough. She wants more effort to "reduce environmental and economic impacts" on the surrounding communities, like noise, trees, and effect on businesses.

The Purple Line has endured decades of debate and political battles. County and state leaders have made a decision about what route to build, and made tradeoffs about all of these issues. The federal government is on board. But it's pretty clear from reading Daly's answer that she doesn't agree with that decision and isn't willing to endorse the specific project that's on the table.

Why is Daly surprised ACT rated her as a Purple Line skeptic?

It's her right to take this view, but she shouldn't be surprised when ACT, an organization for which the Purple Line (as currently proposed, specifically) is perhaps its top issue, doesn't rate her highly.

What's odd about the controversy Turque describes is not that ACT likes the specific Purple Line proposal or Daly doesn't; it's that Daly is angry with ACT when her answer was pretty clear. According to Turque, Daly's husband said he wanted to "grab [ACT President Nick Brand] by the neck" for the scorecard.

Daly tells Turque that the rating was unfair because other people who expressed "concerns" in the past got plus marks. That particularly refers to Marc Elrich, who also holds an at large seat and is ideologically aligned with Daly. He's been a Purple Line skeptic in the past, but when ACT specifically asked on its questionnaire whether candidates would endorse the current Purple Line project "without qualification," Elrich simply wrote "YES."

That means either Elrich has moved past any former concerns and now supports the project as it's being proposed, or he was not being truthful on the questionnaire. He argued to Turque that Daly's answers were not negative. Sorry, that doesn't fly. The question was pretty clear.

Turque also talks about a lot of inside baseball controversy about whether ACT leaders were trying to help incumbent at-large member George Leventhal. An ACT board member who's close to Leventhal apparently wanted questions about the Purple Line at a recent candidate forum to not focus on affordable housing around Purple Line stations. The Coalition for Smarter Growth's Kelly Blynn, who in her professional role for a nonprofit is not trying to help a particular candidate or another, refused and left the question in.

More information can help voters decide

The Purple Line is very much worth building as proposed, but that doesn't mean candidates don't deserve credit or scorn for their stances on other matters. Affordable housing along the Purple Line is important, and hopefully Montgomery County will take many steps to ensure that the communities around its stations remain mixed-income.

Daly pushed to reduce the amount of development in Clarksburg, which is far from transit, at the edge of the region's core, and not the best place for a lot of new housing. (Leventhal also voted to reduce development in Clarksburg.) The ACT scorecard doesn't cover every single factor voters might use to weigh the candidates.

However, politicians have a lot of incentive to dodge questions and blur their positions. Good reporting (often absent in political campaigns) cuts through the fog and helps voters know who actually shares their values. So do advocacy scorecards.

Muriel Bowser successfully kept the focus off her actual views in the DC campaign. ACT is trying not to make the Montgomery races work this way. Other organizations can do the same for other issues besides the ones ACT focuses on. Any candidate who wants to play both sides of an issue shouldn't be surprised if he or she gets called out for it.

Politics


Montgomery District 5 candidates want growth and transit, but in different places

All of the candidates running for Montgomery County's District 5 council seat say they want to bring jobs, shopping, and transit to an area that's long awaited them. But they seem to disagree on whether that investment should go where it's most needed, or where there's the least resistance.


District 5 is in light blue on the east side of the county.

Councilmember Valerie Ervin's resignation last fall left an open seat in Montgomery County's District 5, newly redrawn in 2010 to cover a narrow strip from Silver Spring to Burtonsville. Several candidates jumped in to succeed her.

Joining former journalist Evan Glass, who'd already announced before Ervin resigned, are state delegate Tom Hucker, Board of Education member Chris Barclay, community organizer Terrill North, and preacher Jeffrey Thames.

The majority-minority district struggles with poverty and disinvestment, and has some of the county's highest rates of transit use and lowest rates of car ownership. In ACT's questionnaire and in public forums, candidates said those issues are why the area needs
more transit and economic development.

Candidates want to build near transit, but some aren't sure about actual plans


Evan Glass. Photo from the candidate website.

Most candidates say they support building near transit, notably in downtown Silver Spring, home to the one of the region's largest transit hubs. Glass, who lived in downtown Silver Spring until 2012 and helped start the South Silver Spring Neighborhood Association, supports more development there as a way to preserve other areas and provide more affordable housing.

He's also called for reforms that could help local businesses and draw younger residents. Last month, he wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post with restaurant owner Jackie Greenbaum about the need to reform the county's liquor laws.


Tom Hucker. Photo from the Maryland Assembly.

Other candidates have been reluctant to embrace specific projects that have faced resistance. At a Conservation Montgomery forum last month, Tom Hucker said the council should have never approved the Chelsea Heights development 5 blocks from the Metro station because it required cutting down old-growth trees.

Meanwhile, candidates have endorsed bringing more investment to Burtonsville's dying village center, 10 miles north. Residents generally support that idea, and State Delegate Eric Luedtke, who lives in Burtonsville, has called on District 5 candidates to start talking about it more.

Candidates have also touted the county's White Oak Science Gateway plan, which envisions a new research and technology hub surrounding the Food and Drug Administration headquarters alongside a town center containing shops and restaurants. The White Oak plan has considerable community support, but is tied up due to concerns about car traffic.

"If we don't build it in White Oak," said Hucker at a candidates forum in Briggs Chaney last week, "those jobs are going to go to Konterra [in Prince George's County], they're going to go to Howard County, they're going to go to DC."

Backtracking on transit

At the core of the White Oak plan are three planned Bus Rapid Transit corridors, on Randolph Road, New Hampshire Avenue, and Route 29, which the county will start studying in detail soon. All of the candidates say they support BRT, and Glass has been vocal about giving buses their own lanes, even if it means repurposing general traffic lanes. "Efficient and timely travel can only be achieved through dedicated lanes," he wrote in his questionnaire.

But others have offered reservations, especially in Four Corners, where a small group of neighbors have fought it for years. Hucker says he supports BRT "in certain places where it makes sense," and wants to focus in fixing Ride On first. "I don't support building BRT on the backs of our current Ride On or Metrobus," he said at a recent forum in Four Corners.


Terrill North. Photo from the candidate website.

Terrill North wants BRT on New Hampshire Avenue and on Route 29 north of White Oak, but not on Route 29 in Four Corners, which would be the most direct route to Silver Spring. "I don't think we need to take away curbs or take away business from this community, take away business from this community, take away lanes, because I think that could make things worse," he said at the same forum.

Likewise, all five candidates have endorsed the Purple Line, which could break ground next year. Hucker has long supported the light-rail line between Montgomery and Prince George's counties, and represents the General Assembly on Purple Line Now!'s board.


Chris Barclay. Photo from the candidate website.

Meanwhile, North and Chris Barclay have expressed reluctance about developing around future Purple Line stations, like in Long Branch, citing concerns about higher density and the potential impacts to affordable housing and small businesses.

Strong support for complete streets

With a state highway as its spine, District 5 can be a dangerous place for a pedestrian, with lots of busy road crossings and fast-moving traffic. All candidates have said they support making our streets safer for pedestrians, cyclists, and transit riders.


Jeffrey Thames. Photo from the candidate website.

At the Four Corners forum and other events, Jeffrey Thames said he'd like to see more Barnes Dance intersections, like the one at 7th and H streets NW in the District, where pedestrians can cross in all directions. When asked if they'd support pedestrian- and bicyclist-friendly streets even if it slowed drivers down, Glass, Hucker, and North all said yes.

After years of watching the rest of Montgomery County draw jobs and investment, it seems like it might finally be East County's turn. Whoever represents the area next will get the chance to determine whether the area can give its residents, especially those of limited means, the investment they want, or if it continues to be a pass-through on the way to other destinations.

Full disclosure: Dan Reed is a member of One Montgomery, an organization that has endorsed Evan Glass, and has contributed to Glass's campaign.

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