Montgomery County Taxpayers League

The Voice of Taxpayers of Montgomery County, Maryland

Comments on Planning Board Presentation – Oct. 25, 2017

These are comments from MCTL member Max Bronstein on the Oct. 25, 2017, presentation to MCTL by Casey Anderson, Chair, Montgomery County Planning Board:

Dear Taxpayer’s League members & friends,

We should all recognize that Casey Anderson is a very skilled communicator & quite an informed & accomplished person.

In the past, I was one member of a group from the Montgomery County Civic Federation that interviewed applicants for the Planning Board as to chairs & commissioners.  So, I was able to observe many applicants over a period of years.  After the group which included Casey Anderson was interviewed & its findings sent to the Council, the applicants were later interviewed by the Council at a public hearing.  Casey Anderson stood out as the only one who spoke without notes while presenting his answers in a very cogent & easily understood manner.  Also impressive was his flow of conversation without hemming & hawing or pauses marked by “uhs” & the like.

Having mentioned the above, here are some of my impressions & analyses of the answers & the power point presentation from the Planning Board Chair.

With the questions received in advance Casey put together a power point that included charts & graphs in an effort to present the Planning Board & himself in the best light.  Primarily, he did a good job at carrying that out.  However, there were instances when that was not the case.  I also favor changing the theme he used of “the glass is 1/2 empty or 1/2 full” to ” the bucket is almost  full” & at times overflowing.

* The chart showing more growth in the past & less in the more recent past, was misleading in regard to what went unsaid.  Which was that further back in the county’s history, there was much more open land to develop & the county was in a more rapid growth period.  Also, most buildings were 6 stories or less & many homes were single level & were on larger lots.  Plus, now & in the very recent past, there has been a proliferation of tall buildings, upwards of 15 & 30 stories.  Those tall structures are mainly on busy thoroughfares & their occupants are major sources of traffic congestion during commute periods.  Granted, some are close to Metro stops & transportation hubs, but that does not eliminate all the traffic problems.  So, just to show a graph with numbers of units omits the devils in the details. Some of the omissions are that currently a large part of the residential units are expensive homes, townhouses, condos & apartments.  It is not unusual to notice that real estate for sale includes many homes & condos at $1 million & up.

Consider the building above the Safeway in  Wheaton at 17 stories, with expensive rental apartments on 15 floors.  Also, the 30 story building on Rockville Pike, 1 block south of Nicholson Lane, with lower level grocery, restaurants, furniture stores, commercial exercise facility, etc. & expensive rental apartments above them.  So, we are galloping toward taller structures, greater density, & decreased quality of life in the opinion of many, but to be fair, not all.

* There is an emphasis on walkable & bikeable communities & that’s fine for those who choose to live in that type of dense setting, but the majority of the county’s 1.1 million residents have not chosen that lifestyle & are not choosing that lifestyle going forward.  Also, if biking is applied to commuting, it’s less than 1% of commuters who travel on a bicycle.  Also, try hauling 6 grocery bags on a bike after shopping.  Biking & walking for exercise & recreation, is fine. Just recall that seniors are the largest population growth segment & many can walk only short distances & usually don’t bike at all.

* There was mention that unless you live or travel close to new developments you might not know about them & Poplar Run along Layhill Rd. was cited as an example.  What was omitted is that 773 dwelling units were allowed on 309 acres there, much of it wooded & nothing visible from Layhill Rd. except trees.  Contrast that with Glenmont Metrocentre approved after Poplar Run.  It is further west on Layhill Rd. & close to Georgia Ave.  Glenmont Metrocentre is approved for up to 1550 dwelling units on 30 acres.  Note, that is twice the number of units as Poplar Run, but on 1/10th the land.  It is true that Glenmont Metrocentre is across the street from the Glenmont Metro, & therefore deserves different zoning, but the excessive density could quite possibly lead to many unintended negative consequences in the future.  As one travels east from Georgia Ave. along Layhill Rd., it is easy to see that about 75 4-story townhomes have been built there, with more under construction.  The pricing for those homes is $400,000. to $600,000.  Not quite what one would expect as replacements for very modestly priced rental garden apartments currently on the site.

*For some time, our County Council has promoted growth with increased heights & density.  Their philosophy supports that, based on the belief that new revenue from all the new growth will enable the county to pay all its current bills & any future bills including the cost of the new infrastructure needs resulting from the added growth.  We submit that that “cat has never caught its tail” & never will. Support for the “no catch” position is borne out; by the ever present leased relocatable classrooms clustered around many, many of our schools; by MCPS Superintendent Smith’s recent proposal for a $ 1.8 billion 6 year school construction plan; by the recent property tax increase needed to pay the county’s current bills along with the resulting passage of term limits; by the huge backlog of postponed maintenance present in regard to the county’s roads, buildings, & facilities; by the millions of dollars spent studying BRT, which at best is a very expensive experiment.  In addition, if the increased density has resulted in revenue over & above expenditures, are we enjoying reduced taxes?  The answer, as Santa would say, is HO-HO-HO.  

At this juncture it would be fair to ask Mr. Anderson if the Planning Board should act as a brake if it finds that the Council is excessively supporting dense growth at too rapid a pace?  Or, does the Planning Board just go along with whatever the Council’s growth philosophy & pace is, since one can argue that since the Planning Board is appointed by the Council, & the Council is elected by the voters of the county, therefore the Planning Board is carrying out the will of the people of the county?

I am certain that there are many additional questions & comments that can arise from the meeting with Chair Anderson & the information presented in his power point.

Max Bronstein

Official Federal, State, & County Taxpayer 

October 28, 2017