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Development mitigation — schools and transportation

I would not be surprised if you missed news reports about the County Council’s rewrite of our development mitigation policy, called the Subdivision Staging Policy, or SSP.

We have spent several months working on the policy. Because I serve on both committees that deal with the SSP, I have worked particularly hard on it and I am happy that it reflects three key priorities that guided my decisions:

  1. simplicity and transparency
  2. a stricter policy to address school overcrowding, and
  3. ensuring new development invests in public transportation, walking, and biking in order to reduce the number of new cars on the road.

The Washington Post Editorial Board praised our new “smart growth” plan as a “thoughtful framework.” Following are some of the highlights that may be of greatest interest to you.

A transparent policy that people can understand: Perhaps the worst aspect of our existing policy was that very few people could understand it. A needlessly complex policy erodes accountability and discourages public participation. The new policy is much simpler and should be easier for residents and business interests to evaluate. In the future it will be much clearer – for developers, community members, and us managing the County’s budget – how much new development will be required to contribute for new infrastructure.

School-capacity development moratorium: The County Council significantly strengthened the moratorium policy to pause development where schools are overcrowded. The new policy will not allow residential development to move forward if any of the individual schools that serve that area are more than 20% over capacity, unless there is a funded project that will add sufficient capacity. Previously, we used a test that averaged all of the schools in a given high school cluster, so that, for example, if one elementary school was severely over capacity but other schools in the cluster were not, the moratorium would not be in effect.

School impact taxes: As a general rule, we charge an impact tax on new development that ensures that developers cannot free-ride on previous county investments in schools and transportation. I supported significantly raising the school impact tax rate to fully reflect MCPS’s one-time expenses for new students. This position was strongly supported by the Montgomery County PTA, and it was one of my top priorities.

Transportation impact taxes: Transportation impact taxes will now be set according to a geographical sliding scale, with higher rates for development that will generate more automobile traffic. New development that is farther from Metro requires more new infrastructure and will be charged more than new development near Metro, which is consistent with the smart growth principles that I support.

Multi-modal development mitigation: Our localized review process will now measure and require improvements for biking, transit and walking infrastructure — not just driving. In the past, development projects were only required to mitigate their impacts on automobile traffic. This policy was one of many in the county that create an unfortunate loop where people do not take advantage of other transportation options because we do not invest in other options. We need to break that cycle, and requiring new development to improve surrounding transportation infrastructure for all modes or options will help.

Comprehensive mobility plans for urban districts: Previously, new developments in our urban districts were required to research their auto traffic impacts and identify possible solutions. This approach often let developers off the hook or favored solutions that were easy rather than the solutions that were most desired by the community. Under the new policy, the county will take charge of modeling traffic impacts and devising a comprehensive plan for the Metro station districts, then charge each developer proportionately for their contribution to additional use of the networks. The plans will also address and require mitigation for all modes of transportation (public transportation, walking and biking), not just driving.

A final but crucial piece of policymaking in this area will be a new Transportation Demand Management Ordinance. I advocated that the County adopt such a policy and as a result a DOT work group is in the final stages of formulating a proposal for council consideration. A TDM Ordinance will require new development to reduce the number of drivers on the road by investing in and managing other transportation options. For example, building owners will work with their tenants’ employees or residents to increase use of public transportation, biking, or carpooling. The County Council will take up this plan in 2017 and I think it will become a crucial component of our transportation strategy.

The Subdivision Staging Policy, which might be better called the Development Mitigation Policy, is intended to be reviewed and updated every four years, although it can be amended at any time.

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Daily journal, 10-24-11

Today in Gov Ops committee we passed out my bill relating to the
timing of impact tax payments. The measure would change when impact
taxes are paid from the front end to near completion of construction.
The effect is to allow investors to preserve cash for investing — and
to make Montgomery County a better place to invest. With some helpful
amendments from the executive branch, the bill passed unanimously.

In the afternoon, after an audit committee meeting, I met with the
county’s chief administrative officer Tim Firestine to discuss some of
the technology initiatives I am exploring. He encouraged me to push
forward. We have a Gov Ops committee meeting on Monday the 31st where
this effort will really get going.

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Daily journal, 10-6-11

I started off today meeting with Ana Lopez van Balen, the new mid
county services director, to learn more about her work and see some of
the social services that are provided out of the county building in
Wheaton. Then I stopped in to chat with Mr. Leo, my good friend who
runs Marchones Deli right there in Wheaton. We talked about the coming
redevelopment and how it may affect local small businesses.

Then into a great meeting with advocates from the senior community.
Patrick Lacefield in the county executive’s office is working with me
and a team from Senior Leadership Montgomery as well as nonprofit
service groups to help identify how we can more effectively inform
seniors about transportation options available through 311. We are
making great progress.

Then I met with community leaders from the Lyttonsville area,
including Ms. Charlotte Coffield. They have a challenge with how the
Purple Line will impact their community and I am glad to be able to
help them out. Coincidentally I heard from my dear friend Barbara
Sanders that the Purple Line received a new approval from the US DOT,
which will mean continued progress in design and construction.

Finally, a helpful presentation from Federal Realty about upcoming
development in White Flint.

The council was briefed today on results from the beefed up police
patrols in Silver Spring and Burtonsville. The additional enforcement
has cut crime significantly, which is great news.

Swirling in the background: my impact tax bill, the peace resolution,
the curfew, the fire commission, a big box community benefits
agreement bill with UFCW, politics with MCGEO, and a whole lotta
email.

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Daily journal, 10-03-11

First up, breakfast with my friend and now member of the Montgomery
County Planning Commission, Casey Anderson. I first met Casey when I
knocked on his door in 2005 during my campaign for council, district
5. He was involved with a few local officials (Raskin) and advocacy
campaigns. We had a pretty involved discussion about county issues
right there on his door step and we’ve never stopped talking. Funny
enough he was in Clarksburg with Commission Chair Francoise Carrier
while I was there with Parks Director Mary Bradford on Friday. We
decided to tour together in the upcounty to mull over planning issues.

Then a meeting with Roger Berliner and Dan Hoffman to talk about
technology and OpenGov issues. I relayed some of what I learned last
week talking with Bryan Sivak, Maryland’s new Chief Innovation
Officer, who had a lot of great ideas about how to move forward.

Then into scheduling discussions and keeping up with the outstanding
legislative work by my team. We have a public hearing tomorrow on an
economic development bill I have sponsored.

Next, a committee meeting for T/E where we got a briefing on road
maintenance. I put my OpenGov learning into practice, requesting that
our DOT provide a map showing residents the condition and maintenance
schedule for county roads. We get so many inquiries on this issue that
I think there may be a big audience for the map. Our DOT does a superb
job with limited funds, making wise investments about how to maintain
the roads, in my view. But residents have to contact an official in
order to learn that kind of information and we could provide it
openly.

Last, some studying for tomorrow’s vote on the new CR zone. I am
excited about the implications of this zone for our commercial areas.
I think it will improve our environmental impact, enhance resident
input into development and promote transparency, facilitate more
growth in the right places rather than in traffic-generating sprawl
locations, require developers to provide more community benefits, and
make for much better places to live.