CCCFH Letter to the Planning Board Regarding the Equity One Sketch Plan

The letter is succinct summary of CCCFH’s position on a number of topics contained in the Equity One sketch plan and addressed by a Planning Department staff report which will come before the Montgomery County Planning Board on Thursday, February 23, 2017.   The points in the letter are provided to give CCCFH member associations and their residents ideas of issues they might address in communicating with the Planning Board or in testimony at the hearing.

The sketch plan documents are in Planning Department files at  http://www.daicsearch.org/imageENABLE/search.asp?Keyword=320170010. The staff report is at http://www.montgomeryplanningboard.org/agenda/2017/documents/item9_StaffReport320170010postcs-signed.pdf.

CCCFH Written Comments to Planning Board on Equity One Sketch Plan Feb 2017

(This can also be found on the Westbard Sector Plan page)

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January Meeting Notes

Capitol Crescent Trail and the Purple Line

At a Planning Board meeting on the Apex building in early January, the Capitol Crescent Trail Tunnel below Wisconsin Ave came up – it also came up at a meeting on bicycle aspects of the Bethesda plan organized by Hans Riemer recently.  The Tunnel has not been funded to date because people don’t know what that will entail.  At Hans’ meeting, George Leventhal has said it will be funded.

Right now, the plan extends only to build a tunnel below the Apex building down to Woodmont Ave – it will be a 16-foot wide basic shell. The Apex building design assumes a great deal of bikers (as indicated by lots of bike storage).

Until the tunnel is resolved and built, the trail will have to be re-routed, with it crossing Wisconsin Ave.  Some alternatives are under consideration.  These include crossing at Jones Bridge Road, as East-West Highway has been deemed too dangerous for bikers, and crossing in the Town of Chevy Chase although the Town opposes having the trail simply re-routed through their streets.

Westbard

Background: Equity One originally submitted Sketch plan in June, then submitted an updated Sketch Plan in September – both had significant issues. They recently submitted a second amended plan. The planners had comments on it, and Equity One responded last night (Jan 17).

Under the current schedule, the Planning Board will take up the Sketch Plan on Feb 9 at the Planning Commission. They have 3 hours planned to discuss. It will be a push for the Staff Report to be completed by Jan 27, but they are going to push for it.

A call had been made to John Marcolin, who was unsure if there had been a decision on the cemetery.  At a pre-meeting to a Little Falls Watershed stakeholders group meeting with planning staff, an archaeologist came who has contacts with the organization that the church would prefer do the cemetery delineation. They think they can complete it by April. The idea would be that the sketch plan could be reviewed, but with a caveat that the cemetery delineation would need to be completed. An issue is that there is a proposed building on parcel 175, which some believe would be on the former cemetery area. The proposed building now has about 30 residential units (up from 8-12) because the Planning department wants “eyes on the creek”.  This building also has parking.

The plan seems to be fairly baked at the planners level with the exception of how big the building is behind HOC and the resolution of the possible graveyard. This seems basically done at the planners’ level – we may be able to make some changes with the Planning Board.

Rooftop Terraces – ZTA 16-17

The Planning Board voted against the ZTA proposed by Councilmember Elrich to count rooftop terraces as part of the building height.  Planning Staff has been against this in part because single family homes do not have this restriction and they seem to like rooftop terraces for owners of new units. The ZTA is drafted only to address rooftop terraces on townhouses in the CR and CRT zones.

The issue is in front of the County Council right now.

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CCCFH January Update

The next CCCFH meeting is scheduled for February 15.  A special meeting that had been slated for January 25 was cancelled.

On Westbard, while not yet formally changed, the February 9 Planning Board hearing date on Equity One’s sketch plan is expected to be moved back.  A likely new date is Feb 23.

On the Bethesda downtown plan, the PHED committee held its first session yesterday.  Chair Floreen said that they did not yet have a schedule for the remaining sessions and as of this morning there was not one.  This plan is very complex and they have some work to do.  For example, the Planning Board draft plan contains soaring heights and a novel approach to allocating density, and relies on unspecified design guidelines.   Fire and rescue facilities are compromised by on-site mixed-use development.  The proposed zoning of areas near the edges of the plan boundaries is incompatible with nearby residential neighborhoods and needs to be scaled back and modified. There are inadequate parks and public open space for the planned population. The transportation system – roads and mass transit –  is already stretched and could become increasingly inadequate. The Planning Board studies on traffic are 2 years old.  After they were prepared and only several months ago, the Council adopted a new Subdivision Staging Policy.  The Council will look at traffic using the new policy, as well as some work that U Maryland did for citizens. School overcrowding without clear and viable plans to accommodate rising enrollment is another significant issue

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December Meeting Notes

Bethesda Self-Storage Plan

Timothy Dugan, who represents Westbard Self Storage (Bethesda Self Storage Partners LLC), attended the CCCFH meeting to outline plans to build a storage facility behind the McDonalds on River Road. The maximum building height will be 50 feet, and they could go a few stories below ground.  The parcel that is zoned IM, with a 2.5 FAR is about an acre in size.  They will develop about ~120,000 square feet of space. The main entrance will be off the access road that runs along the access to the Capitol Crescent Trail.

The owners are planning to dedicate parcel 177, which is zoned residential, to the Parks department for the Willett Branch Greenway (0.4 acres or ~17,000 sq ft).  This is part of the area that is being assessed regarding possible graves remaining from an African-American cemetery.  The owners are looking to encroach on the stream buffer a bit in the corner of the land, and say they need to do that to economically develop the building. They are exploring if there is a way to improve access to the greenway along the facades of the building.

They acquired the land last Friday and plan to submit the preliminary site plan to the Planning department in January. Planning Board hearing likely will be in May/June timeframe.  The conversations for the next 4 months will be around where the building is going to be located, access to roads, stormwater management, forest conservation, and the greenway. The hope is that the storage building will be under construction by this time next year and completed in a year or so.

Bethesda Downtown Plan

It has been in the works for 2.5 years and just got to the Council this fall. Rumor is the Council is not happy with what they were sent, and may re-write it. The Planning Board draft plan would cap density at 32.4M sq ft. There is 24M sq ft on the streets today, with the zoning limit from the 1994 plan of 28.4M, so a very large increase is proposed. This draft plan is different from other Sector Plans in that the plan maps height, but not density for each parcel.

Building heights are quite high – in general (290’ in some cases) and adjacent to single family homes. No one (communities, developers, land owners) has a clear view of what this will look like in either execution or upon completion. When the Planning Board attempted to map out densities on a per-parcel basis, it would have added another 2.9M sq ft to the 32.4M sq ft in the plan, so the simply adopted the 32.4 million square feet in the staff draft.

The proposed sector plan creates a density pool. Properties have the density they have in the 1994 plan, and then can purchase density up to the cap by:

  1. CR transfer
  2. Buying density from priority sending sites – historic or greenspace
  3. Park impact payment

Determinations on density would be made based on design guidelines that have not been written yet. It is a very complicated plan to implement in its current form.

A coalition of communities has been working on issues presented by the draft plan  for the past few months.  The communities agree that the park space increase from 2% to 4% is insufficient. Schools info is positioned the same way as in Westbard.  There are significant traffic issues.  This coalition is asking for, among others:

  1. Staging: Particularly if there is no clear mapping of densities in the Sector Plan. They would ask for a pause at the current plan maximum (28.4M sq ft), then again at 30M sq ft. These pauses would check in on the progress and make sure the area within and outside the plan is protected against the uncertainties in the current plan.
  2. Big question of what happens with Fire Station 6 – the plan maps it at CRF 1.5 H 70 (a floating CR zone with 70 ft maximum height and the potential for mixed use development). All the communities would like it to remain a stand-alone fire station.

Like Chevy Chase West, the communities of East Bethesda and the Town of Chevy Chase are impacted by this plan as they have houses that are close to areas that could have large buildings under the draft plan. The coalition of 11 communities is working on a letter and would like support from the CCCFH on it. CCCFH will need to review letter and discuss this further.

Two meetings in January! January 18 will be a standard meeting. January 25 will be focused on the Equity One sketch plan and preparing for the planned Feb 2rd hearing before the Planning Board.

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December CCCFH Meeting

CCCFH is holding its December meeting on December 21, at 8 p.m. in Somerset Town Hall.  There has been some maintenance on the building’s furnace and, as a result, the building may be a bit cooler than usual and the bathroom has been closed with the water turned off.  It might be a good idea to wear or bring a sweater.

Agenda for the meeting can be found here.

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November Meeting Notes

Westbard

Equity One will hold a public meeting on its Preliminary Plan at the Ballroom at 5521 Landy Lane on Tuesday, November 29 at 7:00 pm. Heavy attendance should be encouraged and attendees should speak on all the objections they have to the current Equity One Sketch Plan that carry over to the Preliminary Plan so those objections are noted for the Planning Board. RSVP is requested for the meeting.

On November 8, the County Councilmembers (in a District Council session) approved the Sectional Map Amendment for the Westbard sector, with only one amendment to the Planning Board’s submission, which reduces the height set for Site 6b (Park Bethesda, now the Residences on the Capital Crescent Trail) to 100 feet (rather than 110 feet) so that any additional height resulting from affordable housing in excess of 12.5% would not cause the building’s height to exceed 110 feet.

The Equity One Sketch Plan is currently expected to go to the Planning Board on January 19, 2017. Comments should be submitted by Monday, 1/16/17. The planning staff is still discussing issues with Equity One, particularly the buffer along the Willett Branch. The next meeting of the Willett Branch coordinating group will be on 12/7/16 from 10:00-12:00 am in the MNCPPC conference room. In the next month or so, we should glean information on the developing program to naturalize the Willett Branch and define a buffer. That ultimately should be crystalized by the staff report. CCCFH will coordinate with the Little Falls Watershed Alliance (LFWA) to create a sample letter to be sent to the Planning Board urging appropriate improvements and a buffer for the Willett Branch.

Bethesda Downtown Plan

CCCFH has submitted detailed comments on the Bethesda Downtown Plan to the Council.

FAA Flight Paths

Efforts continue to persuade the FAA: not to move the flight paths across the Potomac River into Montgomery County; to establish altitude limits; and to disperse planes so that no single neighborhood must endure all the additional noise.

 

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October Meeting Notes

Westbard Sector Plan

It looks like the Equity One Sketch Plan may not be voted on in the Dec 8 Planning Board hearing.  The Equity One resubmittal is still in nonconformance with the Sector Plan, so the Planning Board can reject the plan, approve with conditions (but the conditions would be quite long), or request for a resubmission again.  The latter option seems most logical, but would then make the Dec 8 date difficult.

The sketch plan cannot be discussed by the planning board until the Sectional Map Amendment (SMA) is approved.  This may push the December 8 date out further. Further, the Save Westbard lawsuit may not make it onto the court trial docket until 2018, so if they are waiting for that to be decided for the SMA, we may be waiting quite a while.

Ecotone would like to do a trail with benches on one side of the creek, but they are having a hard time determining where the utilities are located.  The flood plain will change when the concrete is removed – the flood plain is somewhat small because the creek is fairly deep.  Planning is still working with Parks department to determine the right approach to the Willett Branch.

The letter regarding CCCFH comments on the Sketch Plan was discussed at length.  Stay tuned for the full letter!

WES

The River Road entrance gates to WES should be open a minimum of 90 min in the morning and 2.5 hours per afternoon, with the times being set by the transportation committee.  There will be a sign on Little Falls preventing trucks from traveling onto Little Falls to make deliveries to WES.  CCCFH has worked on this issue for years, and is pleased that the river road gates to WES will be open. Learn more here.

Zoning Officer Proposal by County Council

A paid position, proposed by Roger Berliner, who would guide communities through the zoning process.  The CCCFH is in favor of this position.

Bethesda Downtown Plan

Hearing before the Council this week. Many folks, including those from the Town of Chevy Chase and East Bethesda, are very unhappy with the Planning Board Draft Plan.  Our letter to the Council is due by Nov 1, but the PHED committee work sessions have not been scheduled yet.

Subdivision Staging Policy

They are discussing removing the TPAR test.  Transportation Policy Area Test has produced only $1.46M in fees.

 

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