Saturday, February 14, 2009


Westwood Shopping Center Plans
Revealed in Planning Board Document

The draft of the Montgomery County Planning Board's new growth policy argues for the demise of the strip mall countywide. In its place, developers will be permitted to profit from building vacant luxury apartments and empty retail storefronts, as they have done in recent years.

But as we know, that money is fool's gold for the taxpayer. Developers make money, but no economic activity is generated by largely vacant housing and failing boutiques. Politicians direct taxpayer funds to developers and pro-developer master plans. A portion of developer profits is then returned to the politician in campaign contributions. Politician is reelected, and here we go again.

I've already covered the issue of why strip malls are indeed appropriate in neighborhoods and along Rockville Pike. We've already had a preview of the concrete canyon proposed for Rockville Pike. Only in the fantasy world of Dr. Yes and his developer buddies does replacing a parking lot with a building improve our environment. Exactly who wants to dine at an outdoor table on the curb of a major state highway? Can you smell the exhaust? I feel like I'm in Paris already.

The open environment of the Pike should be retained. 355 should be widened not only for traffic, but also for bus and bike lanes. Small areas of the heavily-used - and therefore much needed - surface lots can be modifed to improve drainage and add green space. Surface lots are not only essential for shopping, but are also safer than garages. Garages are not green - just check out how many lights are burning away inside of the nearly-vacant garages in Rockville's town center. I'd like to hear a conversation in which Dr. Yes and Mr. Stanley from our planning department tell Pierre Charles L'Enfant about the virtues of concrete canyon design.

And we already know that the current plans for the Westwood Shopping Center and Westbard Sector are simply too large in scale and unacceptable. Once again, I offer the Shops at Sumner Place as the ideal model for how a neighborhood shopping center should be redeveloped. It has what the residents need, but does not draw heavy traffic from outside the neighborhood. And it doesn't have vacant apartments above it. What is does have is open space, well-lighted surface parking, and doesn't tower over the neighborhood.

Here's the exact quote, to give you an idea of what planners and developers have in store for your neighborhood:

"Every strip mall in the county, or large surface parking lot, should be considered a potential site for mixed-use development."

- Montgomery County Planning Board Growth Policy Draft Report, 2009
Says who? It's time to restore a citizen-driven process, where residents are making decisions. All the Planning Board is giving us are commands, orders, and "here's how it's going to be, whether you like it or not." Remember, we pay their salaries and we - the residents - are the boss. Not Dr. Yes, and not the developers. But it is increasingly hard to tell that is the case.

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