First, I'd like to talk about the positives of the updated plan.
|Comparing the previous|
draft to the new one
This work is important to provide some long-overdue recognition of African-American history in the plan area, but also to establish that this community does have a history and an identity. We don't need to have a developer manufacture one - we need to reclaim the genuine and fascinating one we have. Agricultural, railroad, African-American, Native American, and broadcasting history are just some of the many strands that make up "Westbard" history.
Secondly, anytime any heights are reduced in suburbia, it is a positive. The new River Road building heights are a mixed-bag for Kenwood. One building close to homes on the current Whole Foods site is shown as 50'. But the rest on River Road are shown as 75' - too tall, in my opinion, that close to homes. I think they should be 45', or 50' at most. The odd idea of putting 80' buildings on the sites of Westwood Center II and the Westwood Shopping Center's parking area between the "Bowlmor entrance" and Westland MS has been cut back to 50' and 75', respectively.
Now let's get to what still needs work - a lot.
|New building heights|
In my personal opinion, we would do better to have structures along Ridgefield, and the side of Westbard across from the shopping center, be suburban/garden-oriented in character, with lower density and plenty of publicly-accessible green space.
About that green space.
|The future Westbard Avenue?|
Westbard's lack of transit use comes from a lack of direct bus access to downtown Bethesda, and limited hours and days of service on the Ride On 23 and Metrobus T2. As of about 7 years ago, a community survey of the neighborhoods around the Westbard commercial center revealed that about 92% of residents drive to work. They don't drive because there's no bus shelter. They have smartphones that already tell them when the next bus is coming. They drive because it is the most convenient way to go when you are not right on a Metro line. Period. Transit is never going to be the main mode by which Westbard-area residents travel.
|River Road would have|
a cycle track and new
Adding 1516 more housing units above what is currently allowed now will bring 2880 new cars (based on the latest 1.9 cars-per-household Census data) to what is essentially a two-block area. And no new vehicle capacity will be added to River Road? That is a recipe for Carmageddon.
Schools? That topic is not going to go away, either. There is no community support for moving Little Falls Library, and the library site is too small for a new school. So why is a potential library move still shown in last night's plan draft? It should be removed. I'm suspicious of a bait-and-switch: The library moving to fit the Equity One timetable, and then MCPS later saying they're not going to build a school on the old library site. Presto, change-o, and you've got a private developer coming in to build an apartment building on the library site.
Redistricting just the new households into the Bethesda-Chevy Chase cluster was another option mentioned. But it's important to remember that MCPS is the one that will decide who gets redistricted, regardless of the good intentions of the planners in specifying anything in the plan.
The other primary option has much more support. That is to reopen Clara Barton Elementary, the Goddard School and/or take back Brookmont ES from the Washington Waldorf School. WWS recently signed a new 30 year lease, with 5 year renewal options. I've heard that the options are at the discretion of WWS, not MCPS. But I haven't confirmed that yet.
Still, that won't address the problems of kids taking gym class in the hallways at Pyle MS, or overcrowding at Whitman. Residents already in the BCC cluster probably don't like the sound of getting all the new students dumped into their schools, either.
|Proposed connector road|
along CCT between River Road
and Westbard Avenue
Ultimately, there was very little to offer residents in exchange for the pain urbanization would inflict. And providing amenities isn't just the burden of the developers. The County Council, who receive those fat developer checks, need to put some skin in the game as well. They and the developers will only benefit from a major redevelopment and urbanization. What about the taxpayers?
I grew up in the Westbard area, and can attest to the total lack of public facilities in the neighborhood other than Little Falls Library. Where is the Recreation Center in this plan? When you hear about the Wheaton Youth Center in its prime, when kids could go there after school or on summer vacation, and shoot hoops, act in a play or take advantage of numerous other activities and programs, you have to ask - why wasn't there a facility like that in the "Westbard" area? It's so often said that Wheaton is an afterthought compared to Bethesda. But they're getting a second rec center, while West Bethesda hasn't had its first yet. I don't want to limit potential ideas to a rec center. But personally, I'd like to see at least one world-class facility for people of all ages, and a lot more green space - just for starters - in this plan.
A different Kenwood resident seemed to agree with my argument above, concluding that what's being offered was "no justification for the changes you propose."
I couldn't have said it better myself.