Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Growth Policy Follies II

Planning Board Chairman Royce Hanson won the Oscar for best performance in a residential forum when he said that he we needed higher density in Bethesda so that there would be housing for "working families." I guess Lionsgate in Bethesda decided not to target the working family market and build condos starting at $800,000 with a view of the inside of a parking garage (yes, really) because they couldn't get higher density. You can't make this stuff up.

Royce also mentioned an oft-repeated (and, I assume, true) statistic on how only 4 percent of the land zoned for developed in Montgomery County has not yet been developed. Royce then quickly moved to the conclusion that we had to allow higher density in order to have further growth in Montgomery, and we wouldn't want to take the Agricultural Reserve.

I am certain that Royce cares genuinely about the Ag Reserve. After all, he played a critical role in its creation and has consistently worked to protect it. However, implying that the Ag Reserve was threatened was just a local version of the Park Service's old Washington Monument gambit. They'd propose reducing visiting hours for the Monument every time someone wanted to cut their budget in an effort to wring more money out of the feds.

Leaving aside the acerbic comment whispered to your gentle corespondent that "Frederick County is our real Ag Reserve" (folks, I don't make the news, I just type it), no one has proposed touching the Ag Reserve. I'd say at least Royce didn't say "Won't somebody please think of the children!" but he did get a bit passionate about kids and locally grown apples.

The whole "Approve the growth policy or the economy and the Ag Reserve get it" approach seems a tad neglectful of the fact that plenty of development can occur under the existing zoning laws and master plans through redevelopment of already developed properties. Anyone else remember the scads of white planning board signs in downtown Bethesda before the bubble burst?

Moreover, certain areas of the County retain a lot of room for transit-oriented development. Not far away from Bethesda, the area around the Wheaton metro still has a lot of room under existing plans and laws for much denser development. None of the metro stations in Prince George's have replicated the growth around Bethesda or Ballston. Allowing more density in existing boom areas like Bethesda may merely serve to further concentrate economic growth in areas that already have it.

Part III looks at the discussion about schools.