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Daily journal, 10-04-11

Today’s council session featured a lengthy debate and then a
preliminary vote on the new proposed commercial-residential zones for
the areas in our communities with commercially-zoned property.

I’m pleased with the outcome. The proposal that I supported moves the
county more aggressively in the direction that I pledged to support
during my election campaign: a shift towards
environmentally-sustainable growth, development that is centered more
around public transportation and that allows us to add jobs and
housing without adding as many new cars to the roads; development that
builds more vibrant, people-oriented, walkable communities in our
urban areas while preserving our suburban and rural neighborhoods and
way of life.

Yes there are still many issues that we have to continue working on,
particularly how to promote more affordable housing production in the
county. We will return to those issues.

Over the past few months, I have heard many concerns from residents
about the new proposal. Some are legitimate and represent the kind of
difficult choices to balance the public interest that have to be made:
for example, some residents want all restaurants on commercial
property that is adjacent to residential property to go through an
expensive “site plan” process. These residents are worried about the
worst case scenarios (biker bars? chicken joints??). The problem is
that placing such a large barrier to new restaurants opening on this
kind of commercial property county-wide would have to result in fewer
restaurants, most or nearly all of which are desired by the community.
This means fewer opportunities for local entrepreneurs, and probably
a higher likelihood of chain restaurants since they would have more
capital to spend on planning expenses; not to mention less desirable
places to live across the board.

Other concerns that I heard were not founded. Many residents seemed
to think that we were rezoning residential property to commercial,
which of course was not true, or that we were replacing guidelines in
master plans with a one-size-fits-all zone, also not true.

The master plan process will continue to be where the community
gathers to form a vision for future development, which the planning
department will use to negotiate with developers as projects proceed.

The exciting and interesting thing about the new zoning proposal is
that it will vastly expand the number of projects that must have
negotiated public benefits. The community will get a lot more
amenities as a result, and residents will have a much stronger voice
in shaping the future of land-use and development in this county.

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Daily journal, 09-27-11

A zone is not a master plan! That is my take-away from today’s
lengthy but invigorating discussion of the CR zone rewrite. We are
working on a new family of zones for our commercial-zoned property.
The zone will not replace residential with commercial zoning or
supersede master plan recommendations about heights with zone-defined
heights.

What the zone will do is require many if not most property owners to
negotiate with the planning department over public benefits when they
want to do new construction. Master plans guide the public benefits.
Today many property owners do not have to negotiate at all. This new
approach will make it easier to build good commercial projects with
more public benefits and resident participation near public
transportation.

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Daily journal, 09-20-11

Today, two highlights: first, I shared a memo with my committee chair at the Government Operations committee, Nancy Navarro, and my other council colleagues, about some ideas I have for moving ahead on open government issues. I am excited that there is general interest to move ahead on this front and I think we are going to make some real waves. More on that soon.

Second, a briefing that I requested from council staff about the CR zone. I have been following developments at the Planning, Housing and Economic Development committee very closely. The committee members have been working hard on a commercial zone that can make for quality community life and strong economic development particularly in Takoma/Langley, Kensington and Wheaton, where we have master plans up for approval this year. Because these are complex issues and there are a lot of very smart people working on them, the debate has been very contentious. The council received recommendations from the Planning Board for the zone and the question before us now is how much to modify them. The primary issue at hand is that if we are going to spur quality development in these areas of the county that have not shared in the economic progress of, say, the 355 corridor, we have to make that development affordable or else nothing is going to happen.

We are trying to maximize the community benefits while minimizing the barriers to investment. Its tricky.
As always, please share your thoughts or questions and I’ll try to respond.