The Council recently held its public hearing on the Zoning Rewrite. We heard testimony from sixty individuals, either representing themselves, homeowners associations, civic organizations, businesses, non-profits or developers. Some felt the zoning rewrite represents a step forward for the county, making our zoning code easier to understand and more appropriate for shaping our future. Others expressed concerns regarding proposed changes that they feel pose a threat to the integrity of our residential neighborhoods, including a broader adoption of our Commercial Residential zone throughout our county, parking standards, rules about animals in residential zones and special exceptions, and a host of other issues.
I have heard from numerous others who have written into me and I expect the correspondence will keep coming! I take all the comments and suggestions very seriously and will take them into consideration as the Council reviews the ordinance. It is an extremely complex document that our Council will take many months to digest and act upon.
The Council is just beginning its review of this proposed revision to our zoning ordinance. The Council's Planning, Housing, and Economic Development Committee (PHED) began its worksessions on Friday, June 14 and 21. Three members of the Council sit on this committee: Councilmembers Nancy Floreen (Chair), Marc Elrich, and George Leventhal. Additional PHED Committee worksessions are currently scheduled for 6/28, 7/2, 7/12, 7/19, and 7/26, but I expect the Committee's work to continue into the fall. The public is welcome to attend all Council sessions or if you prefer, you can watch them live on the Council website or at your convenience at a later date. If you have specific questions or concerns that you would like the Committee to take up at these worksessions, I encourage you to contact their offices directly.
Once the PHED Committee finishes its deliberations and makes their recommendations, the full Council will then hold its worksessions this fall before voting on the revised ordinance. We will spend several months reviewing the zoning rewrite and will take all the time we need to understand and evaluate all the issues raised by residents as well as those who do business in the county.
In the meantime, my staff and I will be following the Committee's work closely. Feel free to call my office should you have further questions or comments. Given the importance of this issue, I have tasked my Chief of Staff, Cindy Gibson, to staff this issue for me, and she is available should you wish to discuss your concerns further.
Increasing the Historic Preservation Tax Credit June 27, 2013
I am co-sponsoring Expedited Bill 14-13, which makes a larger tax credit available to home owners making historic improvements on their homes.
Previously, the maximum percentage of improvements eligible for a tax credit under state law was 10%. That state law was amended this past spring to allow counties to increase that number up to 25%. This legislation will do just that, and it will take effect right away.
We have heard in the past that the imposition of historic designation does come at a cost to affected property owners. This measure seeks to rebalance that equation just a bit. I hope that many of my constituents in Somerset, Chevy Chase, Greenwich Forest, and Kensington will consider taking advantage of this tax credit as they make repairs and improvements to their homes.
Zoning Code Rewrite May 16, 2013
The County is currently in the process of rewriting our Zoning Ordinance, or Zoning Code. For those of you wondering what a zoning code is, it can generally be described as a set of local rules regulating the use and development of property. Zoning ordinances typically divide a community into land use districts or "zones" and specify the allowable uses within each of those zones. For example, some communities, like Montgomery County, divide land into industrial zones, commercial zones, and one or more residential zones.
It has been 33 years since our County's Zoning Code was last comprehensively rewritten in 1977. Based on stakeholder input, it has been pointed out frequently that this 1152 page code is unwieldy and difficult to use. The number of zones has nearly tripled from 41 in 1977 to the current 120. There are over 400 footnotes and over 400 land uses enumerated. The time has come to update and modernize terms and simplify the organization of this document, as well as to clarify provisions that have been unclear. It is also the opportunity to incorporate a commitment to sustainability, address infill and redevelopment, and add more user-friendly features, like graphics, tables, and images.
But change is not always easy and the zoning rewrite process may not be either. However, the process will be a thorough one with many opportunities for vetting and public comment - even before it gets sent over to the Council for consideration. Since 2008, planners from the Montgomery County Planning Department have been working in coordination with other County agencies and a team of nationally-recognized consultants to improve the zoning ordinance.
The revised zoning code has now been drafted, presented to the County's Zoning Advisory Panel (a citizens' panel appointed by the Planning Board) and is available for public viewing and comment. The Planning Board held its public hearings and is now finishing its review of the draft. The Planning Board's approved draft will be sent over to the Council this summer and the Council will hold its public hearing soon thereafter. Once the public hearing is held, the Council's Planning, Housing, and Economic Development Committee (PHED) will begin reviewing the document.
The Council's public hearing will take place on June 11 at 7:30 PM and the first committee session will be on June 14 at 9:30 AM. To sign up to testify for the public hearing, please call 240-777-7803. All Committee and Council sessions are open to the public and viewable online. For more information, please visit the Planning Department's zoning rewrite website.
Where Do Big Box Stores Belong
And What Should They Look Like in Smart Growth Areas? November 21, 2011
Depending on your personal perspective, shopping preferences, environmental outlook, and general view of the county, you may answer this question differently than your neighbor, the business man or woman up the street from you, or even your family members. I do not have a strong reaction to big box stores in and of themselves like some do. I shop at Costco, PetSmart, and Best Buy just like many of you, and while I recognize the value of Walmart, I am not a fan of theirs.
But when we think about smart growth and the limited land available in our county for development and/or redevelopment, and for how long a large project defines an area, I do believe we have an imperative to think carefully about how best to use the precious land resources we have -- especially in close proximity to transit opportunities like Metro. We must plan for our future by making wise land use decisions in order to mold the kind of communities that will best serve our existing residents as well as the generations to come.
I do not have any intention of blocking big box stores from coming to the County or of delegating to community organizations matters that I believe are fundamentally government decisions and are currently addressed by government. On the contrary: I believe many big retailers are desirable for our county and are an essential part of a thriving economy.
However, not all big box stores come in the same shapes and sizes. The sprawling, expansive box stores of old are undergoing transformations all over the country as they try to fit in with an urbanizing landscape. There are fine examples of retailers building two and even three story retail establishments in order to better adapt to their surroundings. Some include structured underground parking and are incorporated into larger mixed use projects in order to limit adverse environmental impacts and reduce the overall footprint or impact on a given neighborhood.
I have been thinking a great deal about this issue in light of a proposed redevelopment project on Rockville Pike that would bring an 80,000 square foot Wal-Mart very close to the recently-approved White Flint Sector Plan which will transform the White Flint area into a more lively, pedestrian and bike friendly place. This project is only three tenths of a mile from a metro station which makes the property perfect for transit oriented development - commonly thought of as mixed use development or a combination of residential and commercial use - as opposed to a project that would be so car-centric in nature. This project is, to my way of thinking, a throw-back to the suburban model we are trying to move beyond. As a result, I am exploring with the Planning Board staff ways in which we could set forth in our zoning ordinance exactly what we expect of development that is this close to a metro.
I shared my thoughts last week in a letter to JBG Rosenfeld in response to their proposed retail project on Rockville Pike. I welcome your thoughts on this topic as well.
CR Zone Amended
Two New Mixed Zones Approved November 21, 2011
One of the major land use changes that our county is undergoing is making sure that in our currently zoned commercial areas, we allow for mixed use development that will include residential uses. These so-called CR Zones were first approved for use in the White Flint Sector Plan when the Council approved the new master plan for that area.
Afterward, it became clear that while the new CR Zone worked in White Flint, it was not as fine tuned as necessary to work for other communities, such as Kensington, Wheaton, and Takoma Langley. So, the Planning Board, in Zoning Text Amendment 11-01, recommended creation of two new CR Zones - the CR Town zone (CRT) and the CR Neighborhood Zone (CRN). And while there is always a great deal of confusion with what a zone allows and what a master plan allows, it is important to remember that zones focus primarily on allowed uses and maximum densities, while the master plans sets forth the specifics, block by block.
The biggest change the CR Zones will bring to these master plans is redevelopment that allows both commercial and residential in places where only commercial use was allowed previously. What does this accomplish you may ask? Mixed use development is an appealing land use goal in places where residents want the convenience of amenities at their doorstep. It can help create places where people can work, live and play all in the same area and therefore, potentially use their car a lot less. Mixed use zones can also help revitalize areas that are economically stagnant by creating walkable, pedestrian friendly areas that draw in new residents.
But we already had some mixed zones in our county's land use toolbox. "Why did we need a new zone?" some have asked. There were several reasons - first, the existing mixed use zones weren't producing mixed use results; second, the existing process was not as transparent or predictable as desirable. Under the new system, developers can earn the right to build to the maximum density permitted by the master plan if they agree to provide public benefits and amenities carefully selected from a defined list of options in consultation with the Planning Board. Another benefit of this family of zones is the ability to differentiate core development areas in a master plan by designating CR or CRT and the transitional areas of development adjacent to existing residential neighborhoods where the CRN Zone can be utilized.
While no zone is perfect, the Council determined on an 8-1 vote that the this new family of CR Zones will serve as a useful tool for advancing our smart growth policy goals, enlivened communities, while at the same time protecting our lovely residential neighborhoods.
Commercial-Residential Zone Update July 29, 2011
My colleagues on the Planning, Housing, and Economic Development (PHED) Committee have been busy this summer reviewing the Planning Board's recommended amendments to the CR Zone. I know that some of you have serious concerns about the proposed changes and I assure you that I will look at all facets of the zone when it comes before the full Council this fall after the PHED Committee finishes its work and makes its recommendations.
The CR Zone was originally approved for use in the recently adopted White Flint Sector Plan, and my colleagues and I spent a great deal of time reviewing the zone at that time. I suspect the same will be true with the changes proposed in ZTA (Zoning Text Amendment) 11-01. These changes, in the form of the CRN Zone and CT Zone are currently planned for use in the Kensington, Wheaton, and Takoma-Langley master/sector plans. I think it is important to note that these zones have not been recommended for any other areas of the County at this time - only the three plans currently under review.
A variety of concerns regarding ZTA 11-01 have been expressed to me. One of the greatest concerns involves the appropriate zoning for areas immediately adjacent to current residential neighborhoods. These types of concerns are quite understandable and I will look at this set of issues carefully when they come before me.
My colleagues and I will also closely examine the incentive density requirements for developers, the sketch plan and site plan requirements, and the potential changes to the special exception process. We will also consider which elements of the ZTA should - and should not - be retroactive. I, for one, am not inclined to support any retroactive changes to the CR Zone approved for White Flint.
While I am not ready to opine on all of the details of ZTA 11-01 or the CRN and CT Zones, I can promise you a few things: 1) I respect the integrity of our existing master plans and will do what is necessary to protect that integrity and 2) I will continue to work to preserve the beautiful single family neighborhoods enjoyed by so many in the County.
A Decision for Greenwich Forest July 29, 2011
After many years of hard work, the application for historical designation status by the Greenwich Forest Citizens Association was approved unaimously by the Council in late June. Because of the very nature of such a designation and the inherent impact to private property owners, the Council spent a great deal of time on the proposal and, at one point, deferred action on the designation in order for the community to work towards greater consensus.
After some significant strife and toil (hopefully worth it in the end), the community came through and returned to the Council with a set of guidleines that did just that. The new guidelines, approved by the Council, were the result of many conversations and compromises among neighbors that could be supported by most, if not all, of the community's residents.
I tip my hat to all those community members who kept at this, who believed a consensus could be reached, and to those who never stopped talking to their neighbors despite some tension and disagreements. I think it will all pay off in the long run as residents realize they will be able enjoy the integrity of this beautiful neighborhood for generations to come.
Zoning Code Rewrite: What is it and What Does it Mean? January 27, 2011
The County is currently in the process of rewriting our Zoning Ordinance, or Zoning Code.For those of you wondering what a zoning code is, it can generally be described as a set of local rules regulating the use and development of property. Zoning ordinances typically divide a community into land use districts or "zones" and specify the allowable uses within each of those zones. For example, some communities, like Montgomery County, divide land into industrial zones, commercial zones, and one or more residential zones.
It has been 33 years since our County's Zoning Code was last comprehensively rewritten in 1977. Based on stakeholder input, it has been pointed out frequently that this 1152 page code is unwieldy and difficult to use.The number of zones has nearly tripled from 41 in 1977 to the current 120. There are over 400 footnotes and over 400 land uses enumerated. The time has come to update and modernize terms and simplify the organization of this document, as well as to clarify provisions that have been unclear. It is also the opportunity to incorporate a commitment to sustainability, address infill and redevelopment, and add more user-friendly features, like graphics, tables, and images.
But change is not always easy and the zoning rewrite process may not be either.However, the process will be a thorough one with many opportunities for vetting and public comment - even before it gets sent over to the Council for consideration. Planners from the Montgomery County Planning Department are working in coordination with other County agencies and a team of nationally-recognized consultants to improve the zoning ordinance.The Rewrite began in 2008 and is projected to be complete by the end of 2012.
The first two sections of the rewrite have been drafted, presented to the County's Zoning Advisory Panel (a citizens' panel appointed by the Planning Board), and are available for public viewing and comment. For more information, please visit the Planning Department's zoning rewrite website.A few of the initial ideas proposed by the consultants (tandem housing, cottage court housing, and the corner store concept) have been pulled from the preliminary drafts and will no longer be part of the zoning rewrite. If you are interested in the rewrite, I encourage you to keep checking the rewrite webpage which is updated regularly.