Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Letter to planners regarding North Bethesda development plans

Below are some of my suggestions to the county planners and councilmembers as they consider White Flint Sector Plan. Currently, planning staff is recommending phasing the development by geographic area, which ignores the readiness of owners of various sites and will throw the area into chaos. Also at stake is the redevelopment of Rockville Pike into a Bethesda-style boulevard (see Wisconsin Avenue), with smaller blocks to facilitate pedestrian crossing and use. We can't create a "town center" if people can't walk around, and the shops created won't be successful without pedestrians. They are now talking about needing a new elementary school to accommodate the new local population. Placement of the school is being discussed... 1. Rockville Pike improvements phasing - Rockville Pike is the backbone of the sector. All planning is directed toward its success as a circulation corridor. It is critical that the conversion in the Rockville Boulevard concept is begun in Phase 1 so that any commercial development in the corridor can proceed with the Pike infrastructure in place. It cannot be left till the last phase. 2. Geographic project phasing - I heard about this concept first at the last advisory board briefing by staff. This concept was dismissed by all of the private citizens and developers in attendance as an artificial barrier to the development process. Phasing should proceed using the criteria currently in place in the Bethesda CBD, with individual projects staged based on the sector development and needs, not cutting the sector into smaller geographic pieces. This coordinates with the concept that the Pike must be constructed in its "boulevard" design at the earliest opportunity. 3. Revenue distribution - Any tax revenues generated by developers in the White Flint sector must remain in the sector for infrastructure and transit use. These monies cannot be diluted into the general Montgomery County "pot." Infrastructure needs in this sector are and will remain extremely high, and the money the developers contribute is critical to the success of the overall plan. 4. MCPS elementary school site - I understand that MCPS wants a future school site to be located within the sector plan. However, the two sites that have been identified to date, Wall Park and White Flint are each totally unacceptable. Wall Park is right on major roadways and will be an unsafe site, as well as removing an important park asset for the surrounding residential communities. White Flint is too close to Garrett Park Elementary School, is on the fringe of the sector (not near much of the new housing to be built) and will also remove a valuable asset from the White Flint and Garrett Park Estates communities. The optimal site for a new elementary school is the current WMATA bus depot, which is of sufficient size and is located near The Sterling, The Gallery, and the new LCOR residential units. As a bus depot, it is a supreme waste of acreage as the sector density increases. The depot must be relocated and the land used as a positive community resource.

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