Saturday, October 31, 2009

WF Sector Plan testimony

Continuing from last post...

Diverse groups testified in support of the plan, with modifications:
  • Sierra Club - the plan "has the basics right" but there need to be tightened environmental standards.
  • Coalition for Smarter Growth - plan needs jobs-housing balance with more housing, more aggressive TDM (transportation demand management) techniques to encourage people not to use cars, east-west BRT (bus rapid transit) service, and transit service on Rockville Pike
  • Action Committee for Transi- reduce lane width to 10-11' to promote proper driving patterns on a 25 mph design for Rockville Pike using Glatting Jackson design, and build smaller city blocks
  • Washington Area Bicyclists Association (WABA)
  • AARP - interested in walkable communities convenient for seniors

With regard to environmental issues, the sector plan calls for very strict storm water management, all new building will be green certified (no definition of this, that is why the Sierra Club wants some clarification of standards). The presenters stated that the final buildout could even have more impervious surface than the current condition, due to the replacement of vast paved parking lots with smaller blocks that include park and landscaped areas, some buildings with green roofs, and the upgraded storm water management.

Community groups that testified on Tuesday (I was unable to get to the Thursday hearing) were:
  • Timberlawn HOA - wanted buildings no higher than the NRC, at 275 feet, larger civic greens, a dedicated library site for full-service, a community center, and the creation of the sector as a destination space with dedicated theater and arts spaces
  • Randolph Civic Assoc. - in favor of Glatting Jackson "complete street" design for the Pike, and lobbying for 2 school sites, reopening Rocking Horse ES and a new site within the sector plan. See the discussion on schools in the previous post about cluster districting issues, etc.
  • Garrett Park Estates/White Flint Park - want a school site in the sector, are working with Lerner & Tower Companies (owners of White Flint Mall) to design proper buffer areas between White Flint Mall buildout and their detached home neighborhoods, want the plan "to be better" and concerned about how the proposals will be financed
  • Luxmanor Citizens Association - want building heights limited, designate the area as an arts center, including a senior center with dining area, auditorium and classorrms, publicly owned series of pocket parks with resident-tended gardens, and a full-service library site
  • Forum Condominium - wants rezoning of NE 2 acres of their property, adjacent to the new Maple/Chapman Rd corridor, to be able to add a companion building with new "street edge" with 304 FAR (floor area ratio), with maximum 150-250 foot building heights
  • Fallstone HOA - support Glatting Jackson design for Rockville Pike and support the White Flint Partnership tax plan for infrastructure financing. Strong message to phase in the infrastructure improvements first
  • Crest of Wickford Condominium - concerns about permitted height of buildings south of Edson Lane, within yards of condominium property. Sector plan, at this time, allows 150', they want no more than 50'. Also concerned about difficulty of getting in and out of their community on Rockville Pike, which is already problematic.
  • Mayor of Garrett Park - want attention given to impacts of community at edges of the development, adverse traffic effects, and ecological sustainability
  • White Flint Community Coalition - want to reduce the density from sector plan proposal, expressing concerns about creating an "urban canyon" effect from taller buildings and pushing for a residential cap of 9800 residential units, the opposite of the testimony from the Coalition for Smarter Growth. The WFCC speaker mentioned "dense urban sprawl," which is an oxymoron. A major concern is about the possibility of future overcrowding at Walter Johnson HS and other cluster schools. The coalition wants the plan to require centers for the arts, seniors, and a full library, with a reserved site for a future elementary school.
  • Other community representatives speaking from were Coalition of Kensington Communities, WJ cluster PTAs, Montgomery County Civic Federation, Wisconsin Condominium, and numerous individual speakers from North Bethesda and surrounding neighborhoods
  • The final testimony from a community organization was from the Gaithersburg/North Potomac/Rockville Coalition, which recently had hearings for the West Gaithersburg Plan - this was the only group to try to deep-six the sector plan, comprised of members who are not stakeholders in North Bethesda. They have a website,, and are interested in stopping development.
Business organizations that testified are:
  • Bethesda/Chevy Chase and Montgomery County Chambers of Commerce
  • Developers & landowners in the sector: Combine Properties, Vika, LCOR, Gables, Lerner, Tower, Mayhood, 11610-11620 Rockville Pike Partnership, Federal Realty Investment Trust, JBG
  • Fitzgerald - wants to remain in the sector, but will not maintain a dealership on Rockville Pike; can move it to one of the other two properties owned by Fitzgerald
  • White Flint Partnership, a coalition of 55% of the developer/landowners in the sector
Overall, there was concensus in nearly all of the testimony that Rockville Pike and surrounding road infrastructure should be among the first projects undertaken, with the Glatting Jackson design for Rockville Pike nearly unanimously hailed as superior to the sector plan design and desired by practically everyone. A public-private venture to finance the infrastructure improvements, instituting a special tax district with dedicated funding for this sector is desired. Rockville Pike should have a design speed of 25 mph. A school site, library, and multi-generational community center is critical, with arts as a focus for the sector. The council should set environmental guidelines that are more specific to make all new construction conform with quantifiable "green" standards, making sure that connectivity of bikeways is enhanced, with parks as large as practicable. Wall Park and the Gables VOB property to be a main recreational site, with community consultation at all stages and maintaining a forested buffer to Old Georgetown Road.

I would like to add that, just outside the sector plan boundaries to the north, DOT has insisted on building a Park-and-Ride lot at the corner of Montrose and Rockville Pike, a site so unsuited as a vehicle gathering-place (imagine having people drive to the park-and-ride lot in the middle of a new urban center to pick up transit to another urban center- madness!) that there was a 20-minute tirade from the planning board directed at DOT, with the demand that the lot be moved "as soon as possible." DOT has no such plans. This area, proposed as a pedestrian promenade to link the sector to Montrose Crossing, Mid-Pike Plaza, and the nearby apartment at The Monterey, may become a new fire/police center. Either way, the park-and-ride lot has to go, and this message needs to go directly to County Executive Ike Leggett, who has some influence on DOT (we hope).

Thursday, October 22, 2009

County Council conducts public hearings on White Flint future

The White Flint Sector Plan, developed over a period of three years with the cooperation of community leaders, property owners, developers & their land use attorneys, planning staff, etc. has come to the county council after being passed by the planning commission. This plan will establish the guidelines and aspirations for the White Flint/ North Bethesda central business area for the next 20-30 years. The county council has the power to modify and pass the plan.

On Tuesday evening, the full council heard public testimony from 46 speakers. Tonight at 7:30 pm, the hearings will continue with another round of testimony. Written testimony from anyone in the public arena will be accepted until October 30. You can write to Council President Phil Andrews, County Office Building, 100 Maryland Avenue, Rockville, MD 20850, or email your testimony to and

The overwhelming testimony on Tuesday evening was positive and in favor of passage of the plan, which will transform the strip mall/surface parking character of North Bethesda to an urban center with structured parking, mixed use buildings with a greater emphasis on housing units (than previous plans), street-level retail and public spaces, and millions of square feet of office space. Each speaker had suggestions for improvement of the plan.

Several coalitions have formed with specific needs and "takes" on the designs. The White Flint Parnership is composed of about 55% of the property owners in the sector. The WF Partnership commissioned a study by Glatting Jackson to guide urban design concepts and develop a plan for Rockville Pike that would turn it into a "complete street," meaning that it would separately accommodate public transit, cars and trucks, pedestrians, and bicyclists along an urban boulevard. In the Glatting Jackson plan, the 3 travel lanes in each direction would be separated by a median with mass transit, either light rail, trolley, or bus rapid transit (BRT). Parking lanes would flank the travel lanes, and a dedicated bike path would be protected from the travel lanes by the parking lanes. Sidewalks would be wide and, in places, have room for seating and public gathering. Landscaping is emphasized. Another coalition is the Friends of White Flint, of which the White Flint Partnership is a member. Other members include community leaders and residents of surrounding neighborhoods, business owners, and county planners. The White Flint Community Coalition is comprised entirely of several civic organizations and homeowner associations of surrounding communities.

Issues at stake are the amount of density allowable, phasing of the street infrastructure, amount of public space within the sector plan, and whether or not the county council will designate a dedicated site for a full library, elementary school (there is a major debate over the location of a school site in the sector), community and senior centers, and how the surrounding communities may be protected from cut-through traffic generated by the higher density urban core.

Library: currently, the plan calls for an "express" library, which will not have areas for congregating, book stacks of any size, and will only serve as a place to drop off & check out books, with some public computer access. Community groups want a full library site.

School: there is some conflict over the interpretation of the projected numbers of students that this plan will generate. Typically, a highly urban housing core has very few school-age children, since the housing stock is primarily 1-2 bedroom apartments and condominiums. However, an elementary school site should be identified and set aside within the sector boundaries. The current proposal promotes opening Rocking Horse Elementary School, in the Randolph Hills subdivision. This site will alleviate crowding in Veirs Mill ES, but is not within the planning sector and is outside of the Walter Johnson cluster. If this plan is followed, the cluster will have to be redistricted, which is not acceptable to the community. A school site behind White Flint Mall, currently an employee parking lot, is a poor choice for its size, topography, and difficulty of access. The ideal site, in my opinion (and others) is the WMATA bus depot between Nicholson Lane and Old Georgetown Rd. This site is opposite many of the high-rise residential buildings, accessible for children and parents, and is large enough for a full-featured school. Maintaining a bus depot in the center of this new urban center is inappropriate.

Cut-through traffic in local communities: the council should approve the use of restrictive turns that are approved by the surrounding neighborhoods to prevent over-use of local residential streets.

Infrastructure phasing: the current plan calls for development in four phases, phased by geographic area and not by the readiness of a particular property owner and its economic viability. The planning staff wanted to be sure that a certain density would be reached in a given area to make it "work." However, leaving the street grid and Rockville Pike boulevard improvements to Phase 3 is universally abhorred by all but the planning staff. The White Flint Partnership and Friends of White Flint are actively working to propose private-public funding mechanisms that will put the infrastructure improvements into Phase 1, around which the developers can place their new buildings.

Building heights: currently, the highest building in the sector is NRC, at 275 feet. The new residential tower at North Bethesda Market will be 289 feet. The plan calls for higher buildings (not monolithic- the upper floors must have a very small floor area per level) in the center of the sector (within 1/4 mile of White Flint Metro and along Rockville Pike), with building heights stepping down to existing communities. This is a problem for the Crest of Wickford Condominiums, which are townhouse-sized buildings right on Rockville Pike and will be impacted by the height of buildings nearby at Edson Lane. Timberlawn HOA also testified in favor of building heights no higher than the NRC.

The next post will go into some more detail on the testimony given pro and con aspects of the plan.

Almost anything can be recycled - NEW CATEGORIES ALLOWED

Montgomery County has recently added new capability to its recycling program. Check the link for full details, but the highlights are that, in the paper category, waxed cartons and food packaging is now recylable, along with the newspapers, household paper, and cardboard that we have been recycling for years. All of these items can go into the large blue rolling bin that has the lid. As a matter of procedure, I keep a paper grocery bag near the kitchen, into which goes paper egg cartons, toilet paper and paper towel rolls, newspapers, magazines, junk mail & envelopes, and now, milk cartons and the boxes from frozen foods. When full, this goes out to the blue bin. In my home office, I keep a yard waste bag (the paper kind that people use to put out leaves in the fall) in the closet and fill it with the shreddings from my shredder. All mail that has our name or any other personal information, confidential work papers, financial papers that are no longer needed get shredded, then the shreddings fill a yard waste bag, which goes into the blue bin when the bag is full. That way, no paper leaves our house in the garbage.

Also noteworthy is that practically anything that is plastic (short of plastic bags, which can be recycled at the collection bins at our grocery stores) can be recycled in the smaller open blue bin. The new guidelines now include containers like Tupperware and other semi-permanent food storage containers. Empty aerosol cans and their lids are allowed. I also recycle the packaging from newly purchased products.

If you haven't made a pilgrimage to the Solid Waste Transfer Station (on Rockville Pike, just south of Shady Grove Road), you have missed a treat (really!). This is a great field-trip for kids old enough to appreciate the industrial process of multiple recycling streams. There are collection stations for fabric (don't throw fabric into the trash- recycle it!), cardboard, books, computers, TVs, building materials, scrap metal, yard waste (finished lumber is not recyclable), hazardous materials, and practically anything else you can think of. The county has found vendors to process and reuse most of what we throw away these days.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Lessons from the Solar Decathlon

This year's Solar Decathlon ended on Sunday, Oct. 18, and was a leap forward from other years in several respects. For those who are not familiar with this contest, it is sponsored by the Department of Energy, occurs every 2 years, and involves 20 universities from around the world. The goal is to create an energy efficient residence that is judged in numerous categories. The Solar Decathlon houses are constructed on the Mall and are open to the public for about 10 days, with some house closures scheduled for judging.
The DOE conducts this contest partly to educate the public in energy conservation and efficiency techniques, showing the values of different construction types, insulation value, window design and construction, thermal solar uses, and the latest in photovoltaics. There is always an exhibit at the center of the "street" of houses with interactive displays, docents give tours, and each university team has its members & volunteers available to describe the specific advantages and design features of its house.
The rules for the decathlon change from event to event, and, this year, the DOE decided that the teams could not set up battery storage systems for their solar arrays. All of the houses were connected to the grid with net metering, under the DOE assumption that the standard homeowner who installs a solar photovoltaic system would utilitze net metering (if the solar system doesn't provide enough power for the house, the power company will supply the shortage; if the solar system generates more power than needed at that time, the excess power is "sold" back to the power company and the electric meter runs backwards). With this system, there is virtually no power generated for use at night, and the house must draw from the electric grid. Adding storage battery capacity to a new solar installation adds significant cost, but allows the homeowner to store generated energy for use when the photovoltaics aren't sufficient for the need.
The houses were judged on their energy generation (net metering), architecture, market viability, engineering, comfort zone, hot water, appliances, home entertainment, lighting design, and communications. Although the University of Alberta's SolAbode ranked 10th in the architecture (and 6th overall), I found this house to be gorgeous, made from natural materials blended in a warm and stylish design. Team Germany came in 1st overall, with a really innovative house "skin" made of super-thin solar panels. This house combined many advanced technological concepts in a modern package, achieving great results with a larger square footage of living space than other teams attempted. To my taste, the ultra-modern styling left me a bit cold, but it was a worthy winner. Team California was third, with a nice twist to the solar model in that they turned their modules at angles to create a small courtyard effect, quite different from the standard box.
The entertainment category was also interesting. Each of the teams that we visited used LED TVs, which use approximately 42% less energy to run than LCDs and dramatically less than a plasma TV, which is a noted energy hog. The two companies chosen for the TVs were Sharp and  Samsung. I don't know if any other manufacturers are in the LED TV market, but these two were prominent.
As for sustainabililty and environmental friendliness, this aspect is not emphasized in the Solar Decathlon, the DOE's main thrust being energy efficiency. Although the teams made efforts (some more than others) to use recycled materials, there was no concerted drive to find materials whose manufacture doesn't pollute or generate undue amounts of greenhouse gasses, etc. Using local materials was clearly secondary to the stated goal of conserving and generating energy. Not a crime, just an observation.
Take a look at the houses and their special features on the official website. It was a real education, and I look forward to the next Solar Decathlon. 

Monday, October 19, 2009

White Flint Sector Plan Before County Council

The county council will hear testimony on the plans for the North Bethesda urban area on Tuesday 10/20 and on Thursday 10/22 starting at 7:30 pm. The council is accepting written testimony and comments from the public, either submitted at the hearings or emailed to the council. The council president is Phil Andrews,, and our district member is Roger Berliner, You can also write our progressive at-large council members, and The hearings are in the County Council Office Building, 100 Maryland Avenue, Rockville, MD 20850. Some concepts that are important in this conversation are: 1. It is vital that increased density come to this area with enhanced transit opportunities. That could include subsidies for transit use, restrictions on parking in the urban area (particularly for the new residents and workers who will occupy the urban center), a shuttle on a frequent schedule that will circulate in the district, covered "smart" bus shelters, new MARC stations and more frequent Red Line service 2. The Park-and-Ride lot that is being built at the intersection of Montrose Road and Rockville Pike is IN THE WRONG LOCATION! We should not be encouraging car trips into our urban center to pick up shuttles to take the riders to another urban center. The planning board was unanimously opposed to the location of this parking lot at this site, but the county and state are building it anyway. It should be moved to a location next to I-270, which is where the traffic is coming from. 3. There are currently no plans for an elementary school or a library in the White Flint Sector Plan area. This is absurd, considering the numbers of new residents projected for this area. Currently, a school site is being considered nearby, but it is in a location that will take park space from a local neighborhood and is out of the planning area. An ideal location is where the current county bus depot is located off Nicholson Lane. 4. Wall Park, next to the Aquatic Center, must be protected, and the local citizens must be consulted if any changes are proposed. Please contact the council to let the members know what your critical issues are.