Residents call for large-scale development supervisor
White Flint Sector Plan would be in crosshairs
Residents of the White Flint area are praising a proposal to create an overseer for the county's long-term development projects as a needed step toward accountability.
The bill, sponsored Jan. 19 by County Councilwoman Duchy Trachtenberg (D-At Large) of North Bethesda, would allow the county executive to designate a person in the executive's office to keep tabs on progress when sector plans like the White Flint Sector Plan and the Gaithersburg-West Master Plan currently before the council call for large-scale development. The overseer would monitor financing and infrastructure development in such areas.
Trachtenberg, who lives in White Flint, said problems that arose when development in Clarksburg happened slowly and off-track from the way it was planned, coupled with concerns from her neighbors about accountability, led her to introduce the legislation.
"I know from comments from my neighbors they have questions about who is going to be in charge, and how do we know that the money will be there," Trachtenberg said. "It gives people a sense of assurance."
The White Flint Sector Plan is proposing to increase development around the White Flint Metro Station in North Bethesda with a housing, retail and commercial mix. The Gaithersburg-West Plan seeks to create a mixed-use community around a scientific research center near Muddy Branch.
Ken Hurdle, a Luxmanor resident on the board of Friends of White Flint, a nonprofit composed of residents, businesses and developers interested in the White Flint Sector Plan, said the idea of an overseer is "fantastic."
"The position will be something that will help navigate the red tape and help make predictable who to reach out to," Hurdle said.
But the bill language calls only for the county executive to "designate" an executive employee to have the responsibility of oversight, leaving open the question of whether the position will be a full-time job or one responsibility among a staff member's duties. Because there has not yet been discussion of whether to make the position full time, the projected cost of such a position has not been released.
Hurdle said a part-time position is better than nothing, but he would prefer full-time oversight.
"That's something that we've been stomping our feet about as a citizenry for years," Hurdle said. "That way, one person's accountable. Hold their feet to the fire, as opposed to they've got 15 other things to get done."
Trachtenberg said that whether the overseer position is full time or simply a new duty for a current employee "will no doubt come up as part of the conversation in debate."
But, she added, "We want something that states very emphatically and clearly that there is someone in charge."
Natalie Goldberg, a Garrett Park Estates resident and member of the former advisory group to the Planning Board that helped craft of the sector plan, said she doesn't think the position needs to be full time, but thinks the proposal for an overseer "makes a lot of sense."
The County Council was set to meet about possible financing options for White Flint on Tuesday, after Gazette deadline, but likely will not designate a financing mechanism in the sector plan, instead waiting to craft a separate document, according to council attorney Mike Fadden.
Goldberg said having the overseer position could make those financing questions easier to answer.
"It certainly gives more confidence that this will be equitably financed," she said.