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Community Meeting on Bicycling in Bethesda – Nov. 1

ROCKVILLE, Md., October 25, 2017—Montgomery County Council Vice President Hans Riemer and Council President Roger Berliner, the County Planning Department, the County Department of Transportation (MCDOT), and the Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA) will host a community meeting on Wednesday, November 1 from 7:30 to 9 p.m. to discuss bicycling issues in and around Bethesda. The meeting will be held at the Jane E. Lawton Community Center, which is located at 4301 Willow Lane in Chevy Chase, MD 20815. RSVP Here »

County officials will update the community on alternate routes to the Georgetown Branch Trail and the latest plans for a low-stress bicycle infrastructure in and around Bethesda. Officials will be available to answer questions from the public.

The County Council recently adopted a bold new vision for Downtown Bethesda that includes many transformational changes to the area’s bicycle infrastructure. The plan supports the development of “low-stress bike networks” that are safer for bicyclists of all ages and skill levels as well as a new development mitigation policy that requires developer payments for all modes of transportation, including biking. In addition, the nearly complete Bicycle Master Plan will be making recommendations on bicycle infrastructure, routes, and parking in Bethesda.

The County also is working closely with stakeholders to identify alternate bicycle connections between Silver Spring and Bethesda in the wake of the closure of the Georgetown Branch Trail for the construction of the Purple Line. The County invites residents to learn more about these opportunities and challenges and to share their perspectives at the meeting.

“I am committed to creating the safest environment for cyclists of all ages and all skill levels,” said Council Vice President Riemer. “With the recent closure of the Capital Crescent Trail, this is an important time for a community discussion about the future of biking infrastructure in the affected areas. The changes recommended in the Bethesda Sector Plan, the Bicycle Master Plan, and the ongoing discussions about alternative routes to the Georgetown Branch Trail all are pushing the County in the right direction. But we need to get it right. That is why I am looking forward to hearing from the public, as the County considers ways to make bicycling a real option for more residents.”

Council President Berliner explained that, “When the Council passed the Downtown Bethesda Plan, we did so with the aim of creating a truly walkable and bikeable community – one that embraces a multimodal approach that encourages people to get out of their cars, reducing congestion and our carbon footprint. The closure of the Georgetown Branch Trail to allow for construction of the Purple Line and the completion of the Capital Crescent Trail has made it clear that we need the bike infrastructure recommended in the Downtown Bethesda Plan more than ever. I look forward to hearing from the County Department of Transportation, the County Planning Department, the Washington Area Bicyclist Association and the community on November 1 as to how we can make our bicycle network the best it can be.”

To RSVP for this community meeting, visit:
http://councilmemberriemer.com/bethesda-bike-meeting

To read more about the Downtown Bethesda Plan, visit:
http://councilmemberriemer.com/2017/08/a-bold-new-vision-for-bethesda.html

To see the Bicycle Master Plan, visit:
http://montgomeryplanning.org/planning/functional-planning/bicycle-master-plan/

For futher information or questions, please contact Tommy Heyboer at the Office of Council Vice President Riemer, at 240-777-7948 or Tommy.Heyboer@montgomerycountymd.gov , or Aaron Kraut in the Office of Council President Berliner, at 240-777-7962 or Aaron.Kraut@montgomerycountymd.gov .

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Improving transportation for Upcounty

As the Council debates the resolution I introduced to make sure that future master plans don’t make traffic worse, here is some background information on what we can do to improve mobility.

The Resolution currently before the Council does not make any decisions about what transportation projects, including M83, will or will not be built. It expresses the will of the Council that future master plans should not factor in M83 on the master plan alignment when the transportation capacity of the master plan area is assessed. There is no consensus to build M83 on the master plan alignment, therefore it does not make sense to continue adding new development that requires M83 as a transportation solution.

The Montgomery County Department Of Transportation has produced several detailed studies of options for improving mobility Upcounty over the last decade. They can be viewed on the County’s website at:
http://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/corridor/. I believe there is an option that will make significant improvements for the area and could also gain the consensus needed to go into construction.

The most recent study was the Midcounty Corridor Study Supplemental Report from February 2017. DOT studied how four possible alternatives would perform in 2040, using the same background assumptions about development and infrastructure.

  • “No Build” – No improvements on 355 or M83
  • “Scenario 1” – Widening 355 and adding service lanes, improving intersections throughout the area, and building Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) on 355.
  • “Scenario 2” – Building a two-lane reversible parkway on the M-83 route and BRT on 355.
  • “Scenario 3” – Building a four-lane highway along the M-83 right-of-way, without any improvements to 355.

See the figure below that summarizes the results of that study. The study did not recommend one alternative, but found that each scenario improved conditions over the “No Build” scenario.

I believe that Scenario 1 – widening 355, improving intersections, and building BRT – should be our highest priority, in addition to I-270 and the Corridor Cities Transitway, for which we are seeking state funding. Compared with Scenario 3 (M83), Scenario 1 allows auto travel times at rush hour that are only 2 or 3 minutes more, while allowing 22% of commuters to take transit and producing 34 million fewer vehicle-miles per year. Only 8 intersections continue to fail under Scenario 1, compared with 9 intersections under Scenario 3 and 14 intersections under No Build.

Scenario 1, which I favor, includes a combination of road improvements from Alternatives 2 & 5 of the 2013 Environmental Effects Report. These expand auto capacity along Ridge Road, 355, and the existing Midcounty Highway by widening the route to a six-lane divided highway along the entire stretch (sections are already six lanes) and building service roads along 355 to minimize driveways and turning movements.

  • Ridge Road would be widened to a six-lane divided highway with a sidewalk and shared use path from future Snowden Farm Parkway to Brink Road under a separate developer-funded project. (From Brink Road to MD 355, Ridge Road is already six lanes.)
  • From Ridge Road to Middlebrook Road, MD 355 would be widened from a four-lane divided highway that contains auxiliary turning lanes at various locations to a six-lane divided highway with auxiliary turning lanes, service roads at select locations, and a sidewalk and shared use path.
  • From Middlebrook Road to Montgomery Village Avenue, MD 355 is already a six-lane divided highway. Service roads would be added at select locations.
  • Montgomery Village Avenue between MD 355 and Midcounty Highway is already a six-lane divided highway, but would be modified by replacing the existing eastern sidewalk with a shared use path.
  • Existing Midcounty Highway from Montgomery Village Avenue to Goshen Road would be widened from the existing four-lane divided highway to a six-lane divided highway with a sidewalk and shared use path.
  • Intersection improvements (such as additional turn lanes) at the following intersections:
    • Midcounty Highway /Montgomery Village Avenue
    • Midcounty Highway/Goshen Road
    • Midcounty Highway/Woodfield Road
    • Midcounty Highway/Washington Grove Road
    • Midcounty Highway/Miller Fall Road
    • Midcounty Highway/Shady Grove Road
    • MD 355/Shady Grove Road
    • MD 355/Montgomery Village Avenue
    • MD 355/Watkins Mill Road
    • MD 355/Professional Drive
    • MD 355/Gunners Branch Road
    • MD 355/Middlebrook Road
    • MD 355/Germantown Road
    • MD 355/Shakespeare Boulevard
    • Watkins Mill Road/Stedwick Road
    • MD 115/Shady Grove Road/Airpark Road
  • Finally, Scenario 1 includes Bus Rapid Transit on 355, attracting more than 1,600 new daily transit riders according to the study. You can read more about the proposed BRT line here.

Performance Measures (2040) from Feb. 2017 Midcounty Corridor Study Supplemental Report

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Attracting more craft beer, spirits, and wine to the County

Montgomery County’s craft brewery, winery, and distillery scene is gaining momentum with at least seven breweries, three wineries, and one distillery now calling the County home. There are nearly as many in-planning, too!

Several of these businesses have opened in recent years as the County has worked closely with State legislators and local businesses to address many regulatory and legal issues. To build on this momentum, Councilmember Leventhal and I have called for opening one of the County’s financial incentive programs to craft breweries, wineries, and distilleries. See our letter to County Executive Leggett here (pdf) and below.

Cheers!


October 17, 2017

Isiah Leggett
County Executive, Montgomery County
Executive Office Building
101 Monroe Street, 2nd Floor
Rockville, MD 20850

Dear County Executive Leggett:

Montgomery County is currently home to at least seven breweries, four wineries, and one distillery. Several of these have opened in recent years as your administration and the Council have worked closely with State legislators and local businesses to address many regulatory and legal issues. Many of the successes can be traced back to the great work done by the Night-Time Economy Task Force. These successes include:

  • Allowing craft brewers to self-distribute their own products
  • Allowing craft brewers to sell growlers
  • Repealing distance requirements of breweries from churches and schools
  • Extending hours of operation for alcohol licensees to 2 am on Sunday through Thursday and 3am on Friday and Saturday.
  • Reducing the food to alcohol ratios for alcohol licensees to allow for more flexibility
  • Clarifying rules to allow craft distilleries in the County’s urban and light industrial areas
  • Allowing craft brewers to sell more beer on-premise and allowing farm brewers to self-distribute

Later this fall the County Council will be considering zoning reforms that create more flexibility for brewing and distilling uses in the County’s commercial zones. These reforms, when taken as a whole, have made the County much friendlier to local production. Nevertheless, we are presumably at the earliest stages of growth in our locally-produced beer, wine and spirits sector. The potential for this sector in the County is great.

While the regulatory climate has improved and will continue to improve, there remains a significant financial barrier to entry due to very high capital costs. Initial investments for craft breweries, wineries, and distilleries can reach several million dollars, depending on the size and business plan. Much of that capital investment is front-loaded into equipment, build out, and lease costs. We have had many conversations with current and prospective craft alcohol production companies, and they cite this as one of the largest hurdles to launching a successful business.

The craft alcohol production sector is highly relevant to our economic development goals precisely because it creates good middle-income jobs in manufacturing, management, marketing, and sales, among others. The County’s economic development strategic plan, “A Plan for Economic Prosperity,” cites the dearth and relative decline of middle-skill, middle-income jobs in the County and suggests that it is important for the County to take steps to reverse these trends to help foster a balanced economy. Statewide studies have shown that Maryland brewers alone will generate nearly a billion dollars in economic impact by 2019, contribute over eleven million dollars in state tax revenue, and capture between 7.6%-11.5% of all beer sales. Those figures are sure to rise.

Supporting the sector also furthers the placemaking goal in the strategic plan. Wineries enrich and make more sustainable our Ag Reserve, while breweries and distilleries produce placemaking and night-time economy benefits that help us attract and retain talent by helping create the vibrant urban centers many employees and employers are looking for. We have already witnessed how the County’s seven breweries, four wineries, and one distillery, have contributed to the vitality of their respective neighborhoods, but much more can be done.

Given these challenges and the great benefits this sector brings to the County, we request that your administration modify the County’s MOVE program to allow eligibility for craft alcohol production companies whose primary use of the space is production, not retail. The current MOVE program precludes their eligibility simply because these businesses have a retail component, regardless of the primary use of the space. Under our proposal, these companies would still need to meet every other requirement of the program. Below you will find our requested language to the second criterion of the MOVE program (underlined).

2. All businesses are eligible except for retail, restaurant, and independent financial or insurance agent/broker establishments. Independent agent/broker establishments are defined as a sole proprietorship that primarily sells products underwritten by a third-party.
Craft alcohol production companies (breweries, cideries, distilleries, and wineries) whose primary use of the space is production are eligible notwithstanding their retail operations.

We appreciate your attention to this matter, and we look forward working to closely with you and your administration on our collective economic development goals.

Sincerely,

Hans Riemer
Council Vice President

George Leventhal
Councilmember, At-large

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Making our zoning code more hospitable to breweries, wineries, and distilleries

Although Montgomery County’s local alcohol production industry is young and small, it has a lot of momentum. The County is already home to at least seven breweries, four wineries, and one distillery. There are, at least, four new breweries destined for Montgomery County in the next year or so. Recognizing the significant economic benefits, the County and State have already taken numerous legislative, zoning, and regulatory steps to facilitate the growth of this sector. Compared to communities in other parts of the county, however, our industry is small and our culture is nascent.

We can and should do more to accelerate the industry’s growth. The industry is relevant to our broader economic development goals because it creates good jobs and an appealing culture. Wineries have great potential for businesses in our Ag Reserve, while breweries and distilleries produce placemaking and night-time economy benefits that help us attract and retain talent by creating the vibrant urban centers many employees and employers are looking for.

This is why I introduced, with the support of seven of my colleagues, a zoning text amendment (ZTA) that would allow brewing and distilling as light industrial uses–with certain strictures on production limits to make sure that they are craft breweries/distilleries, not Bud Light factories–in the County’s commercial zones.

The current zoning ordinance’s restrictions on manufacturing in commercials zones make it difficult to open a breweries and distilleries in our urban centers, particularly if they are not attached to a restaurant. Last year I worked with the Department of Permitting Services to address to the distillery piece; we produced a policy that allowed distilling in commercial and light industrial zones under an interpretation of the artisanal manufacturing use. However, when a brewery-in-planning reached out to us with questions about zoning in downtown Silver Spring, it became clear that some changes to the zoning ordinance would be needed to make their business and others like it work.

The public hearing for the ZTA is on November 7, 2017 at 1:30pm. You can sign up to testify here.

Further reforms to zoning, regulations, and incentives are likely required to facilitate the growth of the industry. I look forward to working with all stakeholders in the coming months to address these challenges.