Greater Greater Washington

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Development


In White Oak, the region's east-west divide becomes an urban-suburban one

The DC area has long faced an east-west divide, with more of the wealth going to the west side. Increasingly, investment is also heading to urban areas over suburban ones. For struggling suburban areas on the east side, the only answer is to take on more urban features.


All photos by the author unless noted.

One of those places is White Oak in eastern Montgomery County, where the County Council will vote tomorrow on a plan to create a new town center. Local residents are eager to have more jobs and amenities close to home, but civic and environmental groups want to limit the amount of density in White Oak because it's several miles from a Metro station and roads are already congested.

But the kind of compact, dense development proposed for White Oak could allow residents to access jobs, shops, or other amenities by walking, biking, or simply driving a shorter distance than they would otherwise. It would generate less traffic than the alternative: more of the sprawling, car-oriented development that's currently allowed in White Oak, plus additional sprawl farther out.

Residents say it's East County's turn

East County has experienced little of the prosperity that more affluent parts of Montgomery County take for granted. One reason is the county's traffic tests, which prohibit development when roads reach a certain level of congestion until more roads are built. This standard led to a 20-year development moratorium in East County that ended in 2004.

Development simply moved to the western, more affluent side of Montgomery County or farther out to Howard County while East County roads remained congested. Today, White Oak consists largely of aging strip malls, office parks, and industrial brownfields surrounding the Food and Drug Administration's new headquarters near New Hampshire Avenue and Route 29, which will eventually hold 9,000 workers.


LifeSci Village rendering courtesy of Percontee.

The White Oak Science Gateway plan, which councilmembers will vote on tomorrow, would allow them to transform into urban, mixed-use neighborhoods with up to 8,500 new homes and 40,000 new jobs. Much of this development would occur at LifeSci Village, a concrete recycling plant that the county and developer Percontee want to turn into a research and technology center.

Local residents say it's their turn, speaking out in favor of the plan at two public hearings. At a public forum last fall, community members called the White Oak plan their highest priority for economic development.

Traffic tests won't solve traffic

But the Science Gateway plan would still fail the traffic tests. County Executive Ike Leggett and some councilmembers have recommended excluding Route 29 from traffic counts, arguing that it's a regional highway that would be congested no matter what.


An abandoned office building in White Oak.

As a result, some civic associations and environmental groups around the county have criticized the plan, arguing that urban development shouldn't be allowed away from a Metro station. They say Montgomery County should follow its own rules and stick to the traffic tests.

But the traffic tests can't really fix congestion if their required solution is always to build more roads, which is proven to cause more traffic. And East County residents know that they haven't solved congestion, since they have to travel longer distances for work, shopping, or other things they can't find closer to home.

That's not to say that White Oak doesn't need better transportation. Councilmember George Leventhal has asked Leggett to put together a financing plan for Bus Rapid Transit within two years, so the county can figure out how to fund and build it as development moves forward.

East County's future depends on having a town center

More development doesn't have to mean more driving. Montgomery County added 100,000 residents over the past decade, but the rate of driving actually stayed the same. That's because as the county grows around Metro stations, more people can get around without a car. But even in town centers away from Metro, like what's proposed at White Oak, people would have more transportation options than they do otherwise, whether that means walking, biking, taking the bus, or even driving a shorter distance.


It's possible to create urban places away from Metro stations, like Shirlington in Arlington County.

We know that people increasingly want to live in compact, walkable neighborhoods. We've seen businesses gravitate to more urban locations in the region, like Choice Hotels, which moved from an office park near White Oak to Rockville Town Center.

For decades, there's been a growing divide between the east and west sides of Montgomery County. East County increasingly lags the rest of the county when it comes to new town centers like White Flint, Crown in Gaithersburg, and even Germantown. If we're going to close the east-west gap in Montgomery County, White Oak can't stay a land of office parks forever.

Government


Casey Anderson is Montgomery's new Planning Board chair

Montgomery County's new Planning Board chair will be Casey Anderson, a strong advocate for growing the county's urban areas and improving its transit network. The County Council voted 8-1 to appoint him this morning.

An attorney who lives in Silver Spring, Anderson has been a community activist on smart growth, transit, and bicycling issues, previously serving on the board of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association. He stepped down to join the Planning Board in 2011, and can be seen walking or biking to meetings there. The council will have to find a replacement for his old seat.

Councilmembers appeared to rally around Anderson last week over four other applicants for the position. "Anderson comes closest to holding the vision I have for our County's future," wrote Councilmember Roger Berliner in a message to his constituents. "He is a strong proponent of smart and sustainable growth, served by world class transit. These are the key components of a strong future for our county."

The Planning Board chair is responsible for giving the County Council recommendations on land use and transportation issues, meaning they can play a big role in how and where the county grows. As chair, Anderson says he'd like to look at the way Montgomery County uses the amount of car traffic as a test for approving development. The tests often discourage building in the county's urban areas, where people have the most options for getting around without a car.

As a board member, Anderson has advocated for more transportation options and more nightlife as ways to keep the county relevant and attractive to new residents. He was the only vote against approving an extension of Montrose Parkway through White Flint, where the county wants to create a pedestrian- and bicycle-oriented downtown. He also served with me on the Nighttime Economy Task Force, which sought to promote nightlife in the county.

Anderson was a strong influence in favor of the county's Bus Rapid Transit plan, and persuaded some of his fellow commissioners to support repurposing existing lanes for BRT. Anderson also pushed for performance standards for BRT which aim to prevent BRT from being watered down in the future.

Upcounty, he opposed the board's unfortunate vote in support of the M-83 highway last fall. He did support keeping development in a part of Clarksburg near Ten Mile Creek which turned the Montgomery Countryside Alliance against his candidacy.

Councilmember Marc Elrich was the only vote against Anderson. Though he didn't nominate her this morning, Elrich favored former Planning Board member Meredith Wellington, who had support from some civic activists who feel that the county is growing too fast. The field of candidates also included current board member and real estate developer Norman Dreyfuss, current deputy planning director Rose Krasnow, and former County Councilmember Mike Knapp.

Montgomery County offers a wide variety of urban, suburban, and rural communities. Anderson's appointment suggests that the county's ready to embrace its urban areas while preserving the suburban and rural ones, providing a greater variety of community types and transportation choices for an increasingly diverse population.

Zoning


DC planners want to limit row houses from becoming condos

In neighborhoods like Mount Pleasant and Columbia Heights, people have been converting row houses to 3- and 4-unit condo buildings. Should zoning stop this practice? It would under a new proposal from the DC Office of Planning, but not all of DC's zoning commissioners were enthusiastic about the idea.


Photo by Andrew Wiseman on Flickr.

This proposal would apply to the zones now designated R-4, including neighborhoods like Capitol Hill, Trinidad, Bloomingdale, Logan Circle, Columbia Heights, and Park View. Today, it's legal to have two separate units in one of these row houses, but not more unless the lot is particularly large.

OP's proposal would take away the ability to have more than 2 units at all. It would also limit houses to 35 feet instead of 40 (though owners could go to 40 with a zoning hearing) and end the current policy allowing small "mezzanines" to not count as floors.

The Comprehensive Plan defines the R-4 zone as primarily single-family row houses (perhaps with basement apartments), not as apartment buildings. But in booming neighborhoods like Columbia Heights, OP planners say, developers have outbid individual families for houses with the expectation that they could get BZA exceptions to make the building into a multi-unit condo and add on to the top and back.


Color-coded map of residential zones (as of 2008). R-4 zones are in purple.

Zoning commissioners worry this may reduce housing

OP Associate Director Jennifer Steingasser presented this plan to the Zoning Commission, DC's part-federal, part-local board which has the final say on zoning, on June 9. Commissioner Marcie Cohen asked whether this change would reduce the amount of new housing that can get built in the city. She said,

A major concern that I have is the need for housing, and that's usually the need that's brought before us in the BZA cases. It's adding housing. And no one seems to appreciate density, yet we have the infrastructure in certain neighborhoods for density and I guess I'm in favor of taking advantage to provide the needed housing that we have in the city. How do we balance that?
Steingasser laid out the arguments, and said,
It's just a balance. We're trying to encourage housing, by all means, but we would rather it not be in the single family and at the expense of the historic row houses, that it be geared more towards these larger lots or into these higher-density, multifamily, commercial mixed-use areas.
Something of a debate ensued.
Chairman Anthony Hood: I'm glad to hear you say that, Ms. Steingasser ... While I understand the need, there are a lot of folks in this city who bought in their areas for a reason. ... Do we just throw everybody on top of them or do we kind of balance that out? ... While there is a need for housing, we have to be delicate with that because in this city who's been there a long time, they spent a lot of money in purchasing their homes which is their biggest investment, and they didn't buy into that.

Comissioner Rob Miller: That's why there are five members on this commission, because it is a changing city, it is a growing city, and where you tip the balancedoes two to three [units in a building] really change the character of a neighborhood? I don't think so. But maybe others do.

Steingasser: This is coupled with the new RF zones that we're proposing that do allow for more than 2 units. And where those get mapped will accommodate that. So it's not ensuring an amberification of all R-4, but allowing some areas to have more and some to have less.

However, Steingasser just walked back a very important proposal in the zoning update where homeowners in the R-4 zone, who can already have two units in their building, could put one of them in a carriage house without a zoning special exception. This will reduce the amount of housing that gets added in R-4 zones inside existing buildings.

At the moment, not clear if the neighborhoods that will take advantage of the new 3-unit and 4-unit zones will be R-4 (2-unit) zones, adding more potential housing, or R-5 (unlimited unit) zones, which would decrease potential housing.

In a blog post, unnamed OP planners added,

So, in a time when the demand for housing is great in DC, why would OP propose this? In addition to being inconsistent with the intent of the R-4 zone and sometimes the character of the neighborhood, this is having an impact on the diversity and the relative affordability of our family housing stock. ...

Buildings with one and two dwelling units represent approximately 38 percent of the District's housing stock, but only about 4 percent of the units in the housing pipeline over the next 15 years. Conversely, the District has a large supply of multi-family or mixed use zoned land and developments in the housing pipeline for multi-family housing that is appropriate to meet the demand of smaller households.

Few new multifamily buildings are being delivered with three or more bedrooms, unless they are part of housing planned to replace similarly-sized public housing units. Over the past three years, three-bedroom units have risen in price almost three times as fast as one-bedroom unitsa reflection of the limited supply, subsequent demand pressure, and rapidly escalating prices.

Families seeking to purchase relatively affordable homes are competing with developers who can pay more for a larger house than a family because they can profit by splitting up the building and selling smaller units. Ensuring that the R-4 zone remains a single-family rowhouse or flat zone can begin to address this pressure.

Despite appearances, this doesn't deal with pop-ups very well

OP is right that DC does need some family housing. It also needs single and couple housing. Encouraging family housing is a good idea, but like many zoning proposals from OP recently including the past few years of zoning update tweaks (and like DC's parking policy in recent years), it seems to be just layering customized rule on top of customized rule without a broader strategy.

This specific proposal doesn't even address many of the complaints people have. This is mainly being billed in the press as a move to stop pop-ups. The lower height will deter some of the worst pop-ups, but it isn't going to stop people from adding a third story onto a 2-story row house in a place like Trinidad and the biggest objection is usually that the pop-ups are cheaply made and ugly. A design review process may be better than a zoning limit. Nor will this do anything about many of the more infamous pop-ups, like the one on V Street, which is in an ARTS/C-2-B zone.

How about some actual planning?

Rather than slap on a patchwork of new rules that react to each neighborhood request, why can't the Office of Planning actually plan? Work with residents to figure out where the housing DC needs can go, and what's the best place for different size housing. Figure out where and what kind of family housing there could be, and then write rules to encourage that.

There's a good chance that existing row houses are a more ideal place for family-sized housing. A limit might make sense if, at the same time, the city has a strategy for adding the housing it needs in other ways. It doesn't have one now. There was also massive opposition to allow even targeted exceptions to the federal height limit. People are fighting development at McMillan, at Takoma, at the Big K site in Anacostia, and on my block, all saying that whatever is proposed is too big for whatever area it's in. There was a lot of opposition to allowing accessory apartments in single-family zones, even though that wouldn't change any buildings. And so forth.

Since the first zoning update proposals in 2008, Steingasser's division of OP has been largely reactive, responding to complaints and tweaking the zoning (just about always to make it more restrictive). The agency needs to start being proactive and engaging residents in a discussion about the best way to add the housing DC needs. It's got to be somewhere, and really a lot of somewheres.

Soon, DC will revisit its Comprehensive Plan, which is a good opportunity for this conversation. But it will only happen if OP actually plans for growth which DC's sustainability plan already calls for.

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.

Events


Events roundup: Books, bikes, bridges and more

Bikes are in the spotlight this week. Help clean up a bike trail in NE DC, talk bicycle and pedestrian planning in Tenleytown, support bicycle advocacy at BikeFest, and more. It's a busy time of year!


Photo by DDOT DC on Flickr.

WABA BikeFest: Join other bicycling enthusiasts for WABA's annual fundraiser. Enjoy tacos, drinks, dancing, art, and more while supporting our region's bike advocates at Eastern Market's North Hall on June 13 from 8 pm to midnight. Tickets are $45 for WABA members and $55 for the public.

Bike trail cleanup: The Metropolitan Branch Trail needs some spring cleaning. On Sunday, June 15, from 10 am-12:30 pm, WABA's Trail Ranger team and community volunteers will tame vegetation and clean debris from the trail for smooth summer riding. Volunteers will meet at the Met Branch Trail at 4th and S Street NE. You can RSVP here.

After the jump: see plans for the north-south streetcar and 11th Street Bridge Park, and take a walk in Wheaton.

Meet the 11th Street Bridge Park designers: The field has narrowed to four teams competing to design a park on the piers of the old 11th Street Bridge across the Anacostia. Though the designs are not yet complete, each of the four teams will talk about their approaches and early ideas tonight, 6:30-8 pm at THEARC, 1901 Mississippi Avenue SE.

Streetcar planning: DDOT is holding its final round of open house meetings for its study of a future north-south DC streetcar. You can see DDOT's analysis of possible streetcar routes and weigh in. All three meetings last from 3:30-8:30 pm, with overview presentations at 4 and 7 pm. The full schedule is below:

  • South meeting: Tuesday, June 10, at the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, 2nd floor community room, 1100 4th St SW.
  • North meeting: Thursday, June 12, at the Emery Rec Center, 2nd floor community room, 5701 Georgia Ave NW.
Downtown Wheaton walking tour: The Wheaton Urban District Advisory Committee (WUDAC) invites you to join their annual Wheaton walking tour this Saturday, June 14 at 10 am. The tour will be divided into three parts to encourage community feedback and conclude at 1 pm. RSVP by this Wednesday. Details and RSVP info.

Dead End book talk: This Thursday, June 12, join Ward3Vision to hear Greater Greater Washington contributor Ben Ross talk about his book, Dead End: Suburban Sprawl and the Rebirth of American Urbanism, at the Tenley-Friendship Neighborhood Library (4450 Wisconsin Ave NW) at 7 pm. A lively discussion on walking and biking in cities will follow. Please RSVP.

Do you know an event that should be on the Greater Greater Washington calendar? Send an email to events@ggwash.org with the details and a link to a page on the web which has more information.

Transit


MoveDC plan proposes more cycletracks, transit, and tolls. Will it become a reality?

The latest draft of DDOT's citywide transportation plan, moveDC, calls for a massive expansion of transit and cycling facilities throughout the District, plus new tolls on car commuters. If it actually becomes the template for DC's transportation, the plan will be one of America's most progressive.


The moveDC plan summary map. All images from DDOT.

DDOT released the latest version of moveDC last Friday, launching a month long public comment period in anticipation of a DC Council hearing on June 27. Following that, the mayor will determine any changes based on the comment period, and adopt a final plan likely this summer.

What's in the plan

Amid the hundreds of specific recommendations in the plan, a few major proposed initiatives stand out:

  • A vastly improved transit network, with 69 miles of streetcars, transit lanes, and improved buses.
  • A new Metrorail subway downtown.
  • A massive increase in new cycling infrastructure, including the densest network of cycletracks this side of Europe.
  • Congestion pricing for cars entering downtown, and traveling on some of DC's biggest highways.
Transit


Proposed high-capacity transit network (both streetcars and bus). Blue is mixed-traffic, red is dedicated transit lanes.

The plan proposes to finish DC's 22-mile streetcar system, then implement a further 47-mile high-capacity transit network that could use a combination of streetcars or buses. That includes 25 miles of dedicated transit lanes, including the much requested 16th Street bus lane.

Although the proposed high capacity transit corridors closely mirror the 37-mile streetcar network originally charted in 2010, there are several new corridors. In addition to 16th Street, moveDC shows routes on Wisconsin Avenue, both North and South Capitol Streets, H and I Streets downtown, and several tweaks and extensions to other corridors.

The plan endorses WMATA's idea for a new loop subway through downtown DC, but explicitly denies that DC can fund that project alone.

MoveDC also shows a network of new high-frequency local bus routes, including Connecticut Avenue, Military Road, Alabama Avenue, and MacArthur Boulevard.

Bicycles

MoveDC also includes a huge expansion of trails and bike lanes, especially cycletracks.


Proposed bike network. The pink lines are cycletracks.

Under the plan, DC would have a whopping 72 miles of cycletracks crisscrossing all over the city. From South Dakota Avenue to Arizona Avenue to Mississippi Avenue, everybody gets a cycletrack.

Meanwhile, moveDC shows major new off-street trails along Massachusetts Avenue, New York Avenue, and the Anacostia Freeway, among others.

Tolls for cars

Congestion pricing is clearly on DDOT's mind, with multiple proposals for new variable tolls in the plan.


Proposed downtown cordon charge zone.

The most aggressive proposal is to a declare a cordon charge to enter downtown in a car. This idea has worked in London and has been discussed in New York and San Francisco, but so far no American city has tried it.

Meanwhile, some of the major car routes into DC would also be converted to managed lanes. Like Maryland's ICC or Virginia's Beltway HOT lanes, managed lanes have variable tolls that rise or fall based on how busy a road is.

MoveDC proposes managed lanes on I-395, I-295, New York Avenue, and Canal Road.

What will the council think?

DDOT has produced a very strong plan, but is it going anywhere? The DC Council will discuss moveDC on June 27, at which time we'll find out if the same people who pulled the rug out from under streetcar funding are interested in progressive policy-making, at least.

Even if DC does adopt this plan, whether the council will actually provide the funds necessary to build it is anybody's guess.

Correction: An earlier version of this story reported the DC Council will approve or deny this plan. Actually, the mayor has authority to adopt the plan entirely on his own.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Development


Prince George's adopts "Sprawl Plan 2035" over community objections

It was supposed to be different this time. Prince George's County's new general plan was supposed to embrace a bold new vision for a more sustainable and transit-oriented growth strategy. Instead, the county chose to cling to its old, failed approach of mouthing platitudes of support for walkable urban development around transit while actively facilitating suburban sprawl far from transit.


Photo by thisisbossi on Flickr.

County residents and smart growth advocates feared this when planners released a draft of Plan Prince George's 2035, the updated countywide comprehensive plan for long-term growth and development, last fall. The draft placed too much emphasis on sprawl.

It ignored the revitalization needs of most inner-Beltway communities and downplayed neighborhood Metro stations. At the same time, the preliminary plan supported massive greenfield development outside the Beltwayboth at mixed-use "suburban centers" like Konterra and Westphalia, and also in scattered single-family residential subdivisions.

Each subsequent revision of the plan only made matters worse. When the Planning Board adopted its version of the plan in March, it added hundreds of acres to the exiting suburban Bowie Regional Center, which was already too disconnected from transit.

Likewise, when the County Council approved its version of the general plan earlier this month, it removed hundreds of additional acres of woodlands from the rural preservation area and placed them into the "established communities" area, making them eligible for further sprawl development. The council also added language specifically endorsing automobile-oriented suburban "town centers," stating they "help[ed] fulfill countywide goals."

Planners and council members rebuffed calls for TOD fixes to plan

When planners held their first town hall meeting about Plan Prince George's last June, they appeared committed to a strategy of picking 3 Metro station areas as "downtowns" and focusing most of their energies at those stations.

But when the preliminary plan draft finally emerged, it did not seriously put weight behind directing more growth to those downtowns and less to areas far from transit.

When the preliminary draft plan went before the Planning Board for review in March, more than 100 citizens and public officials from across the county signed a petition urging county officials to reconsider the land use priorities in the preliminary plan.

Among the petition's signatories were Maryland State Senator Joanne Benson, Capitol Heights Mayor Kito James, Seat Pleasant Mayor Eugene Grant, Forest Heights Mayor Jacqueline Goodall, and a host of civic leaders representing all 9 council districts. The Planning Board ignored these pleas and forwarded its sprawl-enhanced version of the plan to the County Council for approval on March 6.

Led by council members Ingrid Turner (District 4) and Derrick Leon Davis (District 6), the County Council chose to maintain the build-anywhere-you-want culture that has left the county with the least-developed and least-profitable Metro station areas in the region. The lone dissenter was outgoing District 3 council member Eric Olson.

In the end, Plan Prince George's 2035 embodies the same undisciplined, sprawl-centered approach that planners cautioned against. While the plan says many good things about why the county should focus on developing its transit stations and reinvigorating its older communities, it ultimately allows and encourages uncontrolled growth away from transit and outside the Beltway. As such, it does not improve much upon the previous 2002 general plan.

Fortunately, the county does not have to wait another decade to right this wrong. Any future master plan or small-area sector plan can amend the general plan as it relates to that specific planning area. But to realize that opportunity, the county needs council members who are serious about focusing on smart growth.

A version of this post originally appeared on Prince George's Urbanist.

Events


Events roundup: Forums, freight, and financing

This week, learn about infrastructure and support smart growth advocacy. Next week, weigh in on projects that will make communities better in DC, Arlington, and Alexandria. And enjoy the nice weather, get outdoors, and explore the Washington region with more walking tours.


Photo by Loco Steve on Flickr.

CSG Livable Communities Leadership Award: The Coalition for Smarter Growth's annual awards ceremony is an important way for all of us to support smart growth advocacy and honor people who have made a difference.

This year, CSG will be honoring Arlington County Board Chairman Walter Tejada for his work supporting transit, revitalization, and affordable housing on Columbia Pike, and upper Northwest's Ward 3 Vision which pushes to make Ward 3's neighborhoods more walkable and sustainable.

Tickets are $125 and go toward furthering the goals many of us share on this blog. The reception is Thursday, May 15, 6:30-8:30 at Epic Studio, 1323 Connecticut Avenue, NW. Buy your tickets here.

Infrastructure Week, 2014 is this week, May 12-16. Join the US Council on Competitiveness, US Chamber of Commerce, AFL-CIO, and the Brookings Institution for a week-long discussion of our nation's infrastructure. Topics will include transportation, freight movement, and water management. Below are several highlights of the 20 events happening this week:

  • Funding and financing America's infrastructure, Tuesday, May 13 from 9-11 am.
  • Bridging the financing gap panel discussion, Wednesday, May 14, from 8:30 am to 12:30 pm.
  • Forum on high speed train technology, Wednesday, May 14, from 2:30-4 pm.
  • Economic impact of transit investment, Thursday, May 15, from 12:30-2 pm.
Check out the Infrastructure Week website for the full calendar and for registration infofmration. Plus, Young Professionals in Transportation is having an Infrastructure Week happy hour on Wednesday, May 14, 6-8 pm at the Brixton, 901 U Street NW.

Great spaces: What makes a great space? Listen to experts from the Urban Land Institute, Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, Arlington County Center for Urban Design and Research, and the Coalition for Smarter Growth talk about the benefits of "great spaces" at the 2014 State of Affordable Housing talk. The talk is Wednesday, May 14 from 4:30-7:30 pm at the Walter Reed Community Center (2909 16th St South) in Arlington. Go here to RSVP.

CSG walking tours: The Coalition for Smarter Growth is leading three more Saturday walking tours over the next month. Next up: Twinbrook, on May 17, Pentagon City, on May 31, and H Street NE, on June 7. Come hear about the past and future of these changing neighborhoods while enjoying some spring sunshine.

  • Saturday, May 17: Visit the Twinbrook Metro station and see how a community is taking shape on an area that used to be an expanse of parking lots.
  • Saturday, May 31: Come hear about how recent development projects are transforming Pentagon City into a community that is more than a mall.
  • Saturday, June 7: Explore H Street NE and learn about one of DC's most rapidly changing neighborhoods. Plus, get the scoop on the latest addition to the community: the DC Streetcar.
All of the CSG walking tours run from 10-noon. These events fill up quickly, so RSVP to secure a spot!

MLK library renovation forum: The DC Public Library is exploring renovation options for its central facility, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library, and is looking to the community for input. The architect team of Martinez & Johnson and Mecanoo will host a public forum to present preliminary design ideas on Monday, May 19 from 6-7 pm at the MLK library (901 G Street NW).

Arlington Transit forum: Give Arlington's government your input on transit service at a public meeting from 7-9 pm on Monday, May 19 at the Arlington Mill Community Center, 909 South Dinwiddie Street. If you can't make it, you can take an online survey to give your feedback.

Monroe Avenue, a complete street: Alexandria wants to redesign Monroe Avenue in Del Ray to calm traffic and better accommodate bicyclists. Officials will present options and hear from residents on Tuesday, May 20, 6-8 pm at Commonwealth Academy on Leslie Avenue.

Have an event for the Greater Greater Washington calendar? Email it to events@ggwash.org.

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