With several master plans up for approval, residents hope details get worked out
Kensington, Gaithersburg, White Flint on council agenda
The County Council's land use agenda this year is stacked like a Russian nesting doll, and observers are hopeful the components get approved and put away in the right order.
The Council will deliberate three new county master plans in the coming months— White Flint, Gaithersburg West and Kensington—as well as specifics of the new Commercial-Residential zone, which is being crafted to encourage mixed-use developments of residential, retail and commercial space within those plans. The Council must also approve the 2009-2011County Growth Policy by the end of the year, which will affect the final version of all the plans.
The sector plans are meant to spell out the long-term development parameters for their respective areas, such as what zones can be used, how high buildings can be and the ratio of housing to commercial development. The Commercial Residential Zone under development is known as the CR Zone and will be used heavily in the White Flint Sector Plan, as well as in parts of the Kensington Sector Plan. The Growth Policy dictates what growth in these plans can be sustained by existing or planned infrastructure.
Garrett Park Mayor Chris Keller has previously expressed to the Council on behalf of the town concerns about the traffic and school impacts to be felt there as a result of the town's location between the White Flint and Kensington Sector Plan areas. Keller said he is concerned the Growth Policy has been "liberalized" to allow exceptions for greater traffic and school congestion in the White Flint Plan, something that will affect testimony on the White Flint Sector Plan if it remains unchanged. Further, he said, the Council must get the specific terms of the CR Zone defined before the public can comment on plans containing them.
"It's sort of a pig in a poke, and it makes it difficult to comment fully and rationally on the White Flint Sector Plan because such a big element is still undefined," Keller said. "From a common sense standpoint, analytically, it doesn't make sense to be adopting master plans if the Council is still unclear on what the CR Zone is. A lot of these concerns are not so much about the intricacies of these (plans) so much as the timing and sequencing."
The County Council is scheduled to hold rapid-fire meetings to prepare for the land-use deluge. A public hearing on the Gaithersburg-West Plan, which doesn't use the CR Zone, will be held on Sept. 15 and continue on Sept. 17. Also on Sept. 17, a Council worksession will be held on the CR Zone. On Sept. 22 a public hearing will be held on the growth policy, and a tentative Nov. 3 public hearing has been set for the White Flint Sector Plan. The Planning Board has not yet approved the draft of the Kensington Sector Plan to transmit to the County Council, but is expected to do so by October.
County Councilwoman Nancy Floreen (D-At large) of Garrett Park admitted it is a full schedule, but "this is not all that unusual that we have a heavy workload."
"It would have been better if it had been spread out more but for a variety of reasons— the master plan process—the master plans are all coming to us the same year," Floreen said.
She said the Council relies on the processes that have already happened at the Planning Board level to work out many of the kinks in the plan.
"Most of the serious debates will have occurred by the time we get this stuff," Floreen said, adding that the remaining points of contention will be the focus of the Council's attention. "We will do what needs to be done and listen to what needs to be listened to."
Natalie Goldberg of Garrett Park Estates echoed Keller's concern that the CR Zone is a lynchpin in the schedule, and said when she has brought it up with members of the Council they have reassured her that enough meetings will be scheduled to appropriately hash out all the fine points.
"One has to trust that if they get into it and really can't handle it all they will have to move something," Goldberg said.