|Does this look like the|
suburbs to you? This
image appears on the
cover of the Westbard
Sector Plan draft
As of this point, the plan remains unconvincing in its arguments. While it has solid environmental recommendations, a very good and comprehensive bike facility plan, and many people would like to have Willett Branch daylighted as a stream park centerpiece, the scale of development remains out of sync with the character of the neighborhoods around it. And of what few rewards for the community there are in the plan, they are mostly pie-in-the-sky, down-the-road promises. The traffic, overcrowded schools, urban character, disruptive construction - not to mention the rat invasion that will occur when these sites are dug up - and other negatives are coming within the next five years, not in the plan's mythical 2035 A.D.
Examine the details closely, and you'll find things aren't quite as they're being presented to you:
For example, what passes for parks and green space in the current draft are things like a cocktail napkin-sized 1/2-acre square on Westbard Avenue. Notice we're promised not that much more even in the long term. Maybe a skate park, which I don't think many homeowners are clamoring for. Notice also that public facilities such as a recreation center are filed under long-term, and vaguely defined.
Right now, there are no county facility buildings at all in the Westbard plan area. The area has been grossly underserved in that respect, among others, for decades. When you consider the Bethesda Pool reached capacity on Memorial Day weekend - and additional swimmers were turned away, and that thousands of more residents being added under this plan, it's clear that aquatic facilities are lacking in this part of Bethesda. A pool is just one element that could be incorporated into a recreation center, along with a fitness center, weight room, basketball courts, etc. There's nothing like that explicitly mandated in this plan. Just a lot of residential housing units.
Similarly, there's no guarantee that the bike facilities as shown will happen on River Road in our lifetimes - if ever. It would require the redevelopment of all properties on River Road.
Explain it any way you like, but the loophole is there to allow developers to get away with giving nothing of significance once again, just like the 1982 plan.
One of the promises being given inappropriately-exceptional weight is private shuttles, to be ostensibly operated by the property owners, to take people between the Westbard developments and Metro stations. Forget that there's no study given to show how many cars such a service would remove from roads. Notice that there is also nothing to prevent developers from canceling the service once their sites are built out.
However, temporarily adding the shuttle service is listed under ways developers can achieve additional density, beyond what's allowed in the plan. So now you're talking about adding even more people and cars, which could end up on the roads, rather than even just mitigating the standard density allowed.
But wait, there's more density trickery.
The plan clearly states that planners are seeking affordable housing at a rate higher than the required 12.5%. That's great from an affordable housing standpoint. But I asked Equity One's Michael Berfield about that very question in February. He said that the number of units Equity One is tentatively seeking to construct on its 22 acres could change if more affordable units were required. So if planners were to require Equity One to exceed 12.5%, they would have to add more density to achieve the same rate of return. The same would go for every other property owner that plans to redevelop.
In short, we need to have more accurate numbers in the plan on just what its recommendations will end up allowing in total.
Is it viable for developers to construct 500 SF spaces for lower-rent retail to retain the popular small businesses that currently exist on Westbard Avenue, Ridgefield Road and River Road? Is there anything that will actually require this to happen? How do those compare in size to the spaces in the Westwood Shopping Center today? For example, isn't Anglo Dutch Pools and Toys larger than 500 SF? I don't see anything tangible or assured for these business owners in the current text.
The plan cites a substantial number of senior citizens wanting to age-in-place. But it still shows the full-service Citgo station many of them rely on to fill their cars with gas being replaced. How does that facilitate aging-in-place, if your basic automotive care and fueling services are eliminated?
75' is too tall where it's being proposed near single-family home neighborhoods like Kenwood and Springfield. 50' is too high for Ridgefield Road, where single-family homes are adjacent to the plan area. Particularly with insufficient benefits being promised for existing residents, no improvements for vehicle commuter routes outlined, and no promise of exceptional or distinctive architecture to this point. When some of the optional methods of attaining greater density are added to projects, how much higher than 75' will those structures be? Even at 75', the map above clearly shows the concrete canyon effect that will result along Westbard, Ridgefield and River.
2096 rental units - and that doesn't include townhomes, condos, or additional density allowed - mean about 3144 people (1.5 persons per unit is the standard estimate for planning), and 4087 cars (1.9 vehicles per household under the latest Census number-study) being dropped into an area that comprises 2 city blocks. That is sprawl by any definition, and density totally out of character with the current suburban, residential character of the area.
It's also important to note that the student generation numbers are not only greater in the Westbard-area apartments and condos today (already acknowledged by Bruce Crispell of MCPS in November 2014), and that affordable units will generate students at an even-higher rate.
Images via Montgomery County Planning Department