Friday, December 25, 2009

Growth Policy Follies IV

The debate in Chevy Chase provided a great airing of the issues surrounding the proposed changes to the growth policy. The Montgomery County Council ultimately did not adopt most of the controversial ideas regarding changes to the traffic formula, or school capacity. However, it has yet to debate the CR zone, probably the key issue.

Many have told me that the CR zone idea has been rushed forward as part of the effort to incorporate it into the revision of the White Flint Master Plan. The CR zone would allow much denser development in areas that combine commercial and residential development in proportions approved by the Planning Board.

The idea is naturally controversial because it would have the effect of blowing away existing capacity controls built into the existing Master Plans that have shaped Montgomery County development for decades. Opponents fear that instead of transit-oriented development that we'll just get more traffic and no transit. They point out that the zone could also be applied to shopping centers like the one at Cabin John or Westbard located far away from any Metro stop.

Holland and Knight Attorney Pat Harris argued that we need the CR zone so we get more development like Bethesda Lane and the Kentlands. Unquestionably, her clients have buily popular developments in both cases. Bethesda Lane is a positive addition to the Bethesda area that integrates rental apartments above retail and a parking garage.

However, both developments occurred within the existing development process, and--as Pat Harris has often said about similar development projects in which she and I have both been interested--the final outcome was improved greatly through the public input mandated by the process.

Like many, I very much like the idea of mixing more residential and commercial development but would like to hear more about why exactly this zone is needed and its implications for traffic and infrastructure needs and costs before the County makes such an important change.