Saturday, November 14, 2009

Council Explains Growth Policy Changes

This press release is a good explanation of the relatively minor changes the County Council made to the existing growth policy. Our compliments to council press officer Neil Greenberger, who did a good job of explaining some complicated issues.

Contact: Neil H. Greenberger 240-777-7939 / Jean Arthur 240-777-7934 / Delphine Harriston 240-777-7931

Montgomery Council Approves 2009-11 Growth Policy; Rejects Major Changes

County’s Planning Board Had Proposed Changes to Relax School Overcrowding and Traffic Congestion Tests

ROCKVILLE, Md., November 12, 2009—The Montgomery County Council on Nov. 10 gave final approval to the 2009-11 County Growth Policy, the purpose of which is to attempt to ensure that public infrastructure is adequate to handle the impact of new development. In approving the policy, the Council rejected major recommendations suggested by the Montgomery County Planning Board to relax or weaken a number of school overcrowding and traffic congestion standards.

Density and the type of development in particular areas such as White Flint and Gaithersburg West are established in master plans and zoning laws, not in the Growth Policy, which deals almost exclusively with the timing of development in relation to needed infrastructure. The Council is currently considering the proposed White Flint Sector Plan and the Gaithersburg West Mast Plan, but has not taken any action on either.

Regarding school capacity, the Council rejected the Planning Board’s proposal to raise the threshold to require school facilities payments by developers from 105 percent of capacity in a high school cluster to 110 percent. Had the Council approved the change, which was opposed by the Montgomery County Council of PTAs, it would have been possible for a majority of the elementary schools in a cluster to be substantially overcrowded, but for the average for the elementary school cluster overall to fall below the 110 percent threshold. [For example, three elementary schools at 115 percent and two at 98 percent would produce an average of 108 percent.]

Under the test maintained by the Council, a school facilities payment of approximately $20,000 per additional student would be triggered because the average school capacity would exceed 105 percent. Under the Planning Board proposal that was rejected, a school facilities payment would not have been triggered.

The Council also rejected a proposal by the Planning Board to allow capacity to be transferred from an approved project to a proposed project within a cluster. That proposed change would have enabled a developer to go forward with a project that otherwise could not be built—or not be built without paying a schools facilities payment.

Regarding transportation capacity, the Council rejected the Planning Board’s recommendation to substantially weaken traffic mitigation requirements by changing Policy Area Mobility Review (PAMR) standards. The Council deferred any major changes to the PAMR standards until the Council has the opportunity to review recommendations by the County Executive that are expected by March 31, 2010.

The Council also sharply scaled back a Planning Board recommendation to establish an alternative review procedure to PAMR standards that would have lowered traffic mitigation requirements for mixed-use and energy-efficient buildings. The Planning Board recommended allowing such an alternative approach in Metro Station Policy Areas and in areas within one-half mile of where transit service runs at least every 15 minutes during peak periods. The Council was concerned that too much of the downcounty, and many other parts of the County, would have qualified under this definition for the alternative review procedure. Councilmembers restricted the use of the new test to Metro Station areas and a few other discrete areas, including Germantown Town Center and Kensington.

“Essentially, the Council maintained tougher tests for school overcrowding and traffic congestion mitigation than proposed by the Planning Board,” said Council President Phil Andrews. “The changes that the Council did approve to the Growth Policy were modest expansions of the current policy of encouraging development at Metro Stations and in other areas well-served by transit. In a primarily suburban County, the Council recognizes that most residents are going to continue to get around by car and is striving to maintain acceptable average travel times on our roads. The Council also is committed to providing more transit service, which benefits transit users directly, and drivers indirectly, by freeing up capacity on existing roads.”

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