Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Phil Andrews Comments on Gaithersburg West

County Council Member Phil Andrews, who opposed the original Gaithersburg West Master Plan but voted for the compromise that passed the council, released the following statement on the issue today.

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Thanks to effective, sustained advocacy by many individuals and community organizations—including the Gaithersburg-North Potomac-Rockville Coalition, the North Potomac Citizens Association, Residents for Reasonable Development, the Sierra Club, the Action Committee for Transit, and, crucially, by the Mayors and Councilmembers of Gaithersburg and Rockville—the County Council made several vital improvements to the Draft Gaithersburg West Master Plan proposed by the County Planning Board. As a result, the Great Seneca Science Corridor Master Plan approved (on a preliminary vote) by the County Council yesterday should achieve the equally important goals of enabling substantial expansion of life sciences and health care services while protecting surrounding communities from unacceptable levels of traffic congestion.

Important changes made by the Council to the Planning Board’s proposal include:

• Scaling back the potential commercial development from 20 million square feet to 17.5 million. Given that the existing Gaithersburg West Master Plan allows 13 million square feet of commercial development, the reduction from an additional 7 million square feet to 4.5 million additional is 35 percent.

• Providing protection against unacceptable levels of traffic congestion. This was done by eliminating the recommendation that the acceptable critical lane volume (CLV) of cars per lane per hour be increased to 1,600. The Council kept the standard at a much more acceptable 1,450 cars per lane per hour. The Planning Board’s own traffic speed projections showed that rush-hour traffic in Gaithersburg West at the proposed level of 20 million square feet of commercial development would be in the 9 miles per hour range by 2030, but that Germantown (where even more jobs are planned and a 1,600 CLV is part of the Master Plan) would have average rush-hour speeds in the 18 to 21 mph range. Keeping the CLV at 1,450 means that traffic mitigation improvements for intersections will be triggered at a much earlier stage than if the acceptable congestion standard were 1,600 cars per lane per hour.

• Requiring that 5,700 new housing units be part of the transportation staging plan (like the commercial development). The Planning Board did not include the new residential units in its proposed staging plan.

• Requiring that the Corridor Cities Transitway not only be fully funded for construction from the Shady Grove Metro to Metropolitan Grove (the Planning Board proposal), but that it be at least halfway constructed before Stage 3 can begin—which is when commercial development could be built that exceeds what is already allowed under the existing master plan.

• Establishing requirements for the non-auto driver mode share (NADMS) that are fixed rather than increasing from a highly questionable assumption that the current NADMS share is 16 percent. The percentage of workers who would need to arrive at work other than by driving alone is required to be 18 percent by the beginning of Stage 2, 23 percent by the beginning of Stage 3 and 28 percent by the beginning of Stage 4.

• Requiring stronger language in the Master Plan regarding protection of the view of the historic Belward Farm, and allowing a transfer of density from Belward to the Life Sciences Center (LSC) Central, the area of the plan appropriate for highest density.

• Including much more detailed descriptions of how the Master Plan will achieve environmental sustainability (e.g., a specific target for tree canopy), use open space and provide connectivity to surrounding neighborhoods.

• Enhancing the Master Plan recommendations for parks in general, and on Belward in particular, where the proposed 300-foot buffer with two soccer fields has been changed to the Muddy Branch Park and the Park is included in the staging.

• Requiring an implementation monitoring committee be established by the Planning Board that would produce a biennial report to the Council and Executive.

• Requiring that an advisory committee be established consisting of stakeholders, including the cities of Gaithersburg and Rockville, and surrounding unincorporated communities, to make recommendations regarding the plan as it develops.

• Requiring additional affordable housing (30 percent on housing planned for the current site of the Public Safety Training Academy) and the purchase of building lot termination easements to protect farmland in the Agricultural Reserve.

The Council will soon take up the Life Sciences Zoning Text Amendment. I will work to ensure that a substantially higher percentage of jobs in the areas zoned as a Life Sciences Zone (Belward and Life Sciences Central in the Great Seneca Science Corridor Master Plan) are required to be life sciences jobs than the present proposed percentage of 30 percent.

During the past week, Planning, Housing and Economic Development Committee Chair Mike Knapp and I worked closely together, and with our colleagues, amended the plan in a way that enables substantial growth in the Life Sciences Center while also providing the needed protections against unacceptable traffic impacts. I thank Councilmember Knapp and our colleagues on the Council, and salute the many municipal and community leaders whose ideas and hard work helped shape this important master plan.

I will continue to work closely with all stakeholders to help ensure that the master plan is well-implemented and that communities are protected.

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