Council unanimously approves White Flint Sector Plan
Plan calls for 9,800 new residences over the next 30 years
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Big changes are on the horizon for White Flint and the skyline is already changing.
The County Council on Tuesday approved the White Flint Sector Plan, which will govern growth in the area around the White Flint Metro and calls for 9,800 new residences and nearly 6 million square feet of commercial space over the next 30 years.
Montgomery County Planning Board Chairman Royce Hanson said the plan's passage represented the county's decision to focus on creating more urban development in already existing residential and commercial centers, instead of creating more suburbs.
"You are moving the planning paradigm in the county," Hanson told the council.
Though the council unanimously approved the plan, which has broad support from civic groups, several outstanding issues remain, including the location for a new elementary school and how to fund an estimated $1 billion for several key elements, such as the school, transit and road improvements. One option is a special taxing district.
Councilman Roger Berliner (D-Dist.1) of Potomac introduced an amendment to the White Flint resolution that would require the Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission to review traffic conditions and present an analysis and potential transportation projects to improve any inadequate roads to the council every two years. The amendment passed 9-0.
He hailed the White Flint plan as "arguably the most important master plan we may ever adopt," noting that in terms of its financial impact for the county it would be significantly larger than the Gaithersburg West Master Plan, which would create 20 million square feet of research and office space, 8,000 homes and 60,000 jobs at the Shady Grove Life Sciences Center.
Residents who have worked alongside planners and developers during the process also expressed support after Tuesday's meeting.
"I think the fact that we are changing an auto dominated culture, an area that's covered with asphalt, into a pedestrian-friendly, transit-oriented area it's an innovation," said Barnaby Zall, co-chairman of the Friends of White Flint, a nonprofit that represents residents, businesses and property owners. "It's something that a lot of people have been talking about across the country and we're actually going to try it here, and that's exciting."
Ken Hurdle, a Luxmanor resident also on the group's board, said the council understands the concerns, but has shown a willingness to work with the community.
"Is it perfect? No. Is it doable? Absolutely."
A flavor of what is to come is already present on Rockville Pike: Several residential buildings have sprung up near the Metro station and a 24-story commercial and residential building the tallest residential building in Montgomery County and part of the North Bethesda Market is at the planning area's southern edge, near White Flint Mall.
"While the North Bethesda Market preceded the sector plan, it embodies the plan's vision for the area," said Fred Greene, development analyst for JBG Companies, the property's developer.
Density will be highest and buildings will be tallest up to 30 stories closest to the Metro station, between Marinelli and Old Georgetown roads.
But questions remain. While residents and elected leaders agree on the plan's broad ideas, the proposed location for the elementary school is still unresolved.
Two possible sites have been identified along the southern boundary of the White Flint Mall property, and the Luttrell Property, near Nicholson Lane and Woodglen Drive, according to the plan.
The Montgomery County School Board selects the site for the school, said County Council senior legislative analyst Marlene Michaelson. Suzanne Hudson, a resident of the Garrett Park Estates-White Flint Park neighborhood, said if the mall site is chosen, it could compete with Garrett Park Elementary School.
"It seems odd that you would pick a site within walking distance of another elementary school," said Hudson, a member of the White Flint Community Coalition.
Mall representatives have heard about the site recommendation, but do not yet embrace it, said Robert Brewer, a land use attorney who works with Lerner Companies, the mall's owner. He has been working with planners, developers and the community, particularly the White Flint Drive area, which runs closest to the mall, to establish buffers, he said.
Paula Bienenfeld, development chairwoman for the Luxmanor Citizens Association, and Hudson said that their communities are concerned about the cut-through traffic, mainly to get to Rockville Pike. According to the plan, a grid system will be used to diffuse traffic. But Bienenfeld does not think the traffic and density can be contained.
"You can just see it coming like a tsunami," she said.
Staff Writer Erin Donaghue contributed to this report.