Chevy Chase Lake, Middle School #2 – Updates from Councilmember Berliner
Today, Councilmember Berliner sent the below update on numerous important issues affecting our community, including final approval of the Chevy Chase Lake Sector Plan and an update on BCC Middle School #2.
Chevy Chase Lake Sector Plan Approved By Council
Yesterday, the Council approved a Sector Plan for the Chevy Chase Lake area by an 8-1 vote. If you live in or around the Chevy Chase Lake Sector Plan area, you have probably been watching this plan closely and at some point written to me. I want you to know that I heard you loud and clear and took your concerns seriously.
In most — if not all, master plans — there are differing views on density of development and heights of buildings and concerns about things like traffic, school capacity, and public amenities. And this plan was no different. From the very beginning, it was clear to me that the residents in the area were very concerned about the scope and scale of the plan. While some asserted there should be no additional development in the area, others cautiously accepted the idea of new growth as long as it would be done at an appropriate scale and in keeping with the character of the existing neighborhoods. And there were a few that welcomed the idea of new development with open arms.
I want you to know that I thought long and hard about what kind of development was appropriate for Chevy Chase Lake. But like many things in life, the definition of appropriate is quite subjective so when one discusses the appropriate scope and scale or the appropriate height of buildings, one can get as many opinions as there are people opining. Further complicating my deliberation was the fact that the Chevy Chase Land Company already held a pre-existing approval for redevelopment on the site of their current shopping center, the County’s need for increased affordable housing, the expected construction of the Purple Line, and the need to properly plan for the County’s future. I asked myself: Is the master planning process intended to serve our existing communities and reflect their desires or is the purpose to plan for the future needs of the County? In the end, I determined it was both. One of our fundamental roles at the Council is to plan for future growth in the County, but in my opinion, it is not necessary to do this to the detriment of our existing neighborhoods. I have said this before and I will say it again: We can continue to grow and remain competitive as a jurisdiction, and we can do it while maintaining the integrity of our existing neighborhoods.
While I am a firm believer in smart growth, transit-oriented development and a supporter of the Purple Line, I ultimately could not concur with the Planning Board on a number of items in their recommended plan. I voted for a lower height limit of 90 feet (vs. the Planning Board’s 150 foot recommendation) on the Chevy Chase Land Company’s property, a lower height of 45 feet at Newdale Mews, lower height on the gas station property at 8500 Connecticut Avenue, and greater setbacks and stronger buffering language to protect neighboring communities. I also voted for a scaled-back development on the HOC property and staging that will require most properties to wait until Phase 2 before they can redevelop. And in the end, I believe we approved a sound staging trigger which will tie redevelopment to the construction of the Purple Line – not simply a funding agreement. I worked hard to try to find the right balance on these issues and whether or not we agree or disagree on some of them, please know I gave all my votes great thought.
One of the personal benefits of working on a sector plan is that I get an opportunity to work closely with a handful of neighborhoods. I have enjoyed meeting and getting to know many residents in the Chevy Chase area and am grateful to those of you who took the time to meet with me and discuss issues important to your neighborhoods. Please stay in touch with me and my office – we are always here to help if you need us.
|Tree Bills: Passed|
Many of us love our County’s beautiful trees. In recognition of the environmental, economic, and aesthetic value that trees add to our quality of life, my colleague Marc Elrich and I have been hard at work for some time on legislation that will protect trees in our County rights of way, which typically is the area between the sidewalk and the curb. The County Executive also developed a bill — five years in the making — that would help preserve our tree canopy in the downcounty from the effects of infill development. I am very pleased that, following months of hard work to get these bills just right, the Council passed both of them.
In the days following passage, and some erroneous media coverage, my office received a number of communications expressing concerns that homeowners would be required to pay the county if they wanted to take down a tree or trees on their own property. No. That is not the case. The trigger for the tree canopy legislation is a Sediment Control Permit, which means the homeowner plans to disturb more than 5,000 square feet of earth. In almost all cases, this permit is used for the construction of a new home or construction of a similar scale. So, removing trees on your own property is still completely the choice of homeowners as long as they are not required to obtain a Sediment Control Permit.
What the legislation does do is say to a builder that if they are taking down trees on a particular lot to build a new home, they must plant or pay into a fund what is required to create 50% tree canopy coverage on that lot. We did so because many neighborhoods have experienced a loss of trees during infill development, particularly on small lots. And our Council unanimously agreed that trees have value to our larger community, and that value needs to be reflected. We did not “regulate” whether the trees can be taken down, an approach some communities across the country and in our county
have adopted. But we did decide that we want trees replanted to compensate for their loss, and the fund will be used in areas where our tree canopy is less than it should be. The first priority, however, will be to replant onsite if it is possible.
Bill 41-12, or the “road-side tree bill,” applies to trees in the County’s rights of way. I have always believed that these trees are our County’s assets which we have an inherent interest in protecting. As such, the bill clarifies responsibility for roadside trees and establishes a process for a builder or property owner that wants to remove one. It will still be possible to remove trees in County rights of way — but one of the key provisions of this bill is that once the tree is removed, a new tree must be planted as close as possible to the original and the equivalent cost of two additional trees must be paid into a fund that will be used to plant trees in parts of the County that are “under-treed”. Importantly, any tree recognized by the Department of Permitting Services as a danger to persons or property will not trigger the three to one replacement requirement.
As I said, these bills reflect the importance of trees to our County’s residents. But they also reflect the tremendous hard work of all of the stakeholders involved, including both environmentalists and the building community, and I thank them for their critical input over the bills’ development. I am very pleased that these bills were passed and that our trees will be better protected and preserved.
|PSC Decision on Rate Increase and Embracing Utility 2.0|
Earlier this month, the Maryland Public Service Commission approved a partial rate increase for Pepco. The County and I fought hard against this rate increase, arguing that Pepco should, at best, only receive 1/10th of what it asked for. I am disappointed that the Commission, instead, granted them slightly less than half.
With the rate increase granted by the Public Service Commission, average residential customers can expect an additional $2.19 on their monthly bills.
In its latest request, Pepco sought from the Commission “automatic trackers”, which allow Pepco to collect an immediate return for reliability investments. The Commission had never awarded an automatic tracker before and I did not believe they should start now. Unfortunately, the PSC allowed for some automatic trackers, but thankfully limited them to just a few feeders — or 20% of what Pepco had requested. I urged our County to appeal this decision, and I am pleased to report that we will be doing so.
Despite the PSC’s ruling, my goal in the short term remains the same: require Pepco to make significant reliability improvements as soon as possible, and base their financial returns on their performance and reliability — not on the dollars they spend.
But my goal in the long term continues to be to urge the PSC to embrace a utility concept known as “Utility 2.0.” I recently spent time at a national energy conference and the prevailing consensus among energy experts, utility executives, and think tanks is that a revolution along the lines of Utility 2.0 is coming — and coming soon. I want Montgomery County to lead on this front, and I have urged our regulators at the PSC to formally consider the good work of the Energy Future Coalition, which maps out what a Utility 2.0 pilot program would look like.
Imagine a utility where you control your appliances remotely using a smart phone app; a system that allows you to be part of your own clean energy micro-grid; a system where you can easily sell solar energy from your roof top, battery stored power from your electric vehicle, and energy that you saved back into the system; a distribution system that is self-healing after a storm. That is not mere fantasy — THAT is the future that Montgomery County can have. I expect the Public Service Commission to weigh in on the Utility 2.0 pilot program proposal later this year. The Baltimore Sun ran an op ed yesterday that I authored on this subject, which you can see here.
|PHED Committee Busy Reviewing Zoning Ordinance Rewrite|
The Council’s Planning, Housing, and Economic Development (PHED) Committee has been busy reviewing the proposed revision to our zoning ordinance. Three members of the Council sit on this committee: Councilmembers Nancy Floreen (Chair), Marc Elrich, and George Leventhal. If this is a subject that interests you, you are always welcome to attend the Committee’s worksessions at the Council Office Building.
Alternatively, you may watch them live on the Council website or at a later time convenient for you. The PHED Committee will discuss the zoning ordinance again on September 13, September 20, and September 27. If you have specific questions or concerns that you would like the Committee to take up at these worksessions, I encourage you to contact their offices directly.
Once the PHED Committee finishes its deliberations and makes their recommendations, the full Council will then hold its worksessions this fall before voting on the revised ordinance. We will take all the time we need to understand and evaluate all the issues raised by residents as well as those who do business in the county.
In the meantime, my staff and I will be following the Committee’s work closely. Feel free to call my office should you have further questions or comments. Given the importance of this issue, I have tasked my Chief of Staff, Cindy Gibson, to staff this issue for me, and she is available should you wish to discuss your concerns further.
|BCC MS #2|
Earlier this month, the Planning Boardapproved the transfer of the necessary property to keep the second middle school in the overcrowded Bethesda-Chevy Chase Cluster moving forward.
In my May newsletter, I reported that the lawsuit filed by neighbors of the existing Rock Creek Hills Park was dismissed in Circuit Court. That paved the way for legal staffs from the respective County agencies to continue work on actually transferring the property.
I am pleased that the Park and Planning Commission has reluctantly recognized its obligation to approve the transfer, per the terms of the original agreement that conveyed the former Kensington Junior High School property to the Commission.
The much-needed middle school is currently expected to open in time for the 2017-2018 school year. The Council will receive the Superintendent’s FY15-20 CIP recommendations this fall.
|Reshaping Our Roads in White Flint|
For those of you who live in and around White Flint, you can see that a lot is happening there. Federal Realty’s Pike and Rose is taking shape at the former Mid-Pike Plaza, LCOR’s second residential building is nearing completion over by Harris Teeter, BF Saul is working on its design for their mixed-use development that will take the place of the Metro Pike Center shopping center and Staples at the intersection of Rockville Pike and Nicholson Lane, a new exciting restaurant is opening in JBG’s North Bethesda Market, Foulger Pratt & Promark Enterprises has submitted a sketch plan for their project at Nebel and Marinelli, and Lerner Enterprises continues to refine their plans for the redevelopment of White Flint Mall.
No one really expected that all this would happen so quickly but it is, and I, for one, find it exciting. Every plan that gets submitted to the Planning Department for review and approval gets us closer to achieving the vision for the new White Flint that many of you helped develop.
Transforming White Flint into a truly walkable, bikeable, vibrant area cannot be done by the private sector alone however. Our county government must also keep our promises to the community by building out the road network as envisioned in the plan. The approved sector plan calls for an extensive new network of streets which will greatly increase mobility within the region by providing alternatives to the main thoroughfares we all currently depend upon. Some of these new streets will be paid for directly by the new developments, but some will be built by the County.
While I am grateful for all the work our Department of Transportation has done in developing the designs for some of the new roads, I remain concerned that preliminary plans for these new roads may not provide the necessary pedestrian and bicycle network necessary to make the area the great urban, multi-modal place many are anticipating. The truth is that as long as we continue to prioritize moving traffic through the area as fast as possible, we will never create an area where people feel safe walking from place to place or riding their bikes to the store or one of the new parks planned for the area. Streets need to be designed for all users, not just cars. Especially in places like White Flint. That is why I wrote to DOT Director Art Holmes last month encouraging his department to design all new roads in concert with the sector plan and to include key connections like Hoya Street in the upcoming capital budget.
If you feel strongly about this issue as I do, please let the County Executive know. You can share your priorities with him by letter oremail. Let’s get these projects funded — the sooner we do, the better mobility will be for all walkers, bikers, and drivers in the sector plan.
|Increasing the Historic Preservation Tax Credit|
I am pleased to report that the Council passed Expedited Bill 14-13 earlier this month, which will allow owners of historic properties to receive a more robust tax credit toward improvements.
The bill, which was put forward by Council Vice President Craig Rice and which I co-sponsored, increases the percentage of improvements eligible for a tax credit from 10% to 25%, which is the maximum allowed by state law.
I have heard in the past that the imposition of historic designation can at times present a challenge for affected property owners. This measure rebalances that equation just a bit. I hope that my constituents in Somerset, Chevy Chase, Greenwich Forest, and Kensington will consider taking advantage of this tax credit as they make repairs and improvements to their homes.
|Two New Post Offices in District 1: Update|
|The United States Postal Service is currently looking into new locations for both Bethesda and White Flint. The search, headed by USPS Real Estate Specialist Richard Hancock, is exploring both areas for all possible locations to house the new post offices.
USPS new location projects work under a four stage process: 1) A 30 day opening period of feedback is started; 2) Sites found during the opening period are presented to the public, and another month of commentary is solicited; 3) A site is picked, and commentary opens on the location; and 4) When the site is finalized, a 3-6 month build-out time frame is established. While the search for suitable options for the Bethesda location has been extended beyond the thirty day period, the opening comment period for the White Flint project opened about two weeks ago. The goals at both locations include parking, and a full array of USPS services. The post office currently located in White Flint Mall is looking to remain in its current location until the new location is found, and ready to open.
If you have any questions about these projects, please contact Mr. Hancock by e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 336-665-2848.
|Proposed Early Voting Centers|
The Montgomery County Board of Elections is currently seeking input from the public on a list of proposed Early Voting Centers for the 2014 elections.
Locations proposed in District 1 are: Bethesda-Chevy Chase Regional Services Center, Jane E. Lawton Community Recreation Center, and Potomac Community Recreation Center. (The full list can be foundhere.) These proposal locations are a much better plan for the residents of our district, and I encourage you to weigh in supporting this list.
Public comments will be received by the Montgomery County Board of Elections through 5 p.m. on September 17, 2013. A public hearing to discuss the Early Voting Sites is scheduled for July 27 at 10:00 a.m. at the Board of Elections. Comments should be submitted in writing email@example.com.
Montgomery County now has a brand new tool for sharing your ideas to improve our community.EngageMontgomery is an open forum where you can post your ideas and comment on some others have submitted, all in the spirit of improving our county.
While you interact on EngageMontgomery, you gain valuable credits that can be used for rewards within the County – free rounds of golf, pool memberships and more. There are also links to the MC311 system, the new open government site DataMontgomery, and the County’s social media pages. So join in with your fellow county residents and share your ideas!