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Bethesda Downtown Sector Plan

The County Council recently approved a dynamic new master plan for the Bethesda Downtown – one that clearly defines goals for the future and seeks to create options for accomplishing those goals. This vision for the future was the result of a two year planning process, including a major community outreach effort led by the Planning Department at MNCPPC, then continued through the Council public hearings, bus and walking tours, meetings with property owners, residents and advocacy groups, lengthy PHED Committee worksessions, Council deliberations and, finally, County Council approval.

This was no simple debate about building heights and architectural styles, as some news accounts may have implied. The complexities of planning for a future one cannot accurately predict but hopes to influence anyway are enormous. Our work is not yet done. The plan relies on the completion and approval of other fairly sophisticated legislative and policy elements such as:

  • The Bethesda Overlay Zone which will, among other things, define the point system available to developers who must earn their way to the maximum zoning height by providing priority elements such as affordable housing, dedicated parkland or monetary contributions for public benefits;
  • Development of a Unified Transportation Mobility Plan for Downtown Bethesda (to replace the Local Area Traffic Review) which identifies all costs associated with transportation facilities (including roads, sidewalks, bikeways, transit) needed to support the development potential prescribed in the master plan; and, to formulate a pro rata share to be charged each developer at time of development; and,
  • Development and adoption of a Countywide Transportation Demand Management Ordinance to replace the individual Transportation Management Agreements DOT currently negotiates for any development plan that cannot meet APFO standards without using measures to reduce traffic generated by their use.

These supportive components are being developed by DOT and County Council staff and will be brought to the County Council within the year. They are the linchpins on which the Downtown Plan hinges; and, these will be in place by the time any new development plans based on the new Downtown Master Plan are reviewed and approved.

I am proud to have worked diligently with the community, the planners and all others involved in this effort to find and fix potential challenges to implementing the Plan; and, I have great confidence that the ambitious goals defined in the Bethesda Downtown Master Plan will be completely achievable.

Here are the goals:

  • Preserve, create and expand housing opportunities to meet a growing population of diverse ages, household size, income level, and unit types;
  • Transform the urban district to provide safe bike routes and a better pedestrian environment
  • Change the transportation policy focus to include all modes, like walking, biking, and public transportation, that reflect the healthier, smarter, more environmentally sensitive preferences of our community; over time this will be our best approach to reducing the growth of traffic
  • Transform county-owned surface parking lots into urban parks and recreation spaces. Exchange concrete for plants and fresh air by converting surface parking lots into parks and concentrating parking under and in buildings in appropriate locations to meet the essential needs of both residents and businesses.
  • Improve collaboration and cooperation between MCPS and the County agencies involved in planning and development to ensure schools that are adequate and efficient and meet our standards of excellence in education for ALL students.
  • Identify, create or generate new ways to finance those elements of the master plan without dedicated sources of funding to ensure implementation of the priority goals defined in the plan. This point is particularly important for our plan to turn parking lots into parks; without a new source of funding, existing county budgets can provide only a small fraction of the money that is needed to bring the ambitious and transformative vision to reality.

Thank you for participating in this process. I am pleased that we got a much better Bethesda Downtown Plan as a result of the community’s effective engagement.

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Daily journal, 10-25-11

Today’s council session featured a presentation by the new Montgomery
County Business Development Corporation. This group of CEO level execs
are working to make recommendations for how we can create more jobs
here. I observed that according to our most recent economic report we
have fewer private sector jobs in the county than we did 10 years ago.
We need to get moving on building new economic development tools and
creating the infrastructure to grow our economy, particularly
transportation.

Then this evening I joined my colleague Roger Berliner, chair of the
transportation committee, at a committee session in Bethesda about the
escalator problems and the proposal for a new entrance to the Bethesda
Metro. We heard a range of suggestions for how we can improve access
there and manage the crisis when the escalators all go out of
operation. WMATA said that current plans are for replacement of the
escalators to begin in January of 2014. We will look into what it
would take to accelerate that timeline.

The picture is my view at the Bethesda Metro hearing. The gentleman in
front on the right side is Art Holmes, Director of the county
department of transportation.

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Bike facilities tour

This morning I am joining county officials and bike advocates for a
tour of bike facilities from Bethesda to Silver Spring. Here we are at
Cedar Lane and 355. The surface we are on is previous concrete.

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At Bethesda Library

Today I read to a group of second graders at the Bethesda Library. I
had a blast. The event was organized by the library system as part of
a statewide effort. I was excited to join up as I worked hard (and
successfully) this year to restore cuts that had been proposed to the
library system in the budget.

The Bethesda Library shows why libraries matter. As I said to the
kids, they can spend time in the library their entire lives. There is
a kids reading room and a teen reading lounge. A quiet study area for
students and a computer bank where you can job hunt. A room where you
can meet with colleagues or community groups. At every stage in our
community life, the library is a backdrop.

The kids seemed to enjoy the reading, especially the book Stone Soup,
one of my favorites that my parents read to me.