Wednesday, September 02, 2015

School rage at Rock Spring planning meeting in Bethesda (Photos)

"I'm regretting my decision to
move here five years ago"

Montgomery County planners proposing more residential and retail development in the Rock Spring area of Bethesda encountered strong resistance from residents concerned about overcrowded schools last night at Walter Johnson High School. With the area facing a potential addition of thousands of new residents, and residents cynical from past promises-not-kept by elected officials, parents said they wanted to hear detailed plans for increasing school capacity.

But planners had no such answers ready, leading to a virtually-unprecedented intervention by the chair of the County Planning Board in the meeting, and leaving one new resident wondering aloud if she had made a mistake in moving to Bethesda.


In the words of one resident, planners pushing for dense, urban redevelopment of suburban office parks in Rock Spring are doing something "the community is not inviting you to do." After delivering a not-entirely-accurate summary of the current real estate and economic development profile of Rock Spring - largely drawn from a biased, taxpayer-funded study I discredited months ago - planning staff opened the floor to questions.


Residents summed up their top concern in 3 words: schools, schools and schools.

"We want space in our schools, and that's not a selfish thing - it's for our children," one said. Paula Bienenfeld, president of the Montgomery County Civic Federation, recalled Montgomery County Public Schools Director of Planning Bruce Crispell's conclusion that White Flint would need a new elementary school. But "the [County] Council kicked the can on that one, and that's why we're concerned" about Rock Spring, she said.

Planners promised MCPS will be part of the discussion, which will include a special meeting dedicated to the topic of schools. That meeting will be held September 17 at 7:00 PM at Walter Johnson HS. That didn't lessen concerns from residents who were convinced their feedback would again fall on deaf ears.
Newsworthy - NBC4's
Jackie Bensen interviews
a resident at the
meeting
"You're going to meet with the schools, but you don't have a school plan," one pointed out. "We don't have faith in our elected officials," another said, "because our experience is, it doesn't get done." "It's a little bit of a trust issue," said a third. "I have some doubt."

Planners struggled to respond, at one point arguing of schools in the Walter Johnson cluster that "some are not overcrowded." The crowd was incredulous at that assertion, with one person shouting, "Wrong!" emphatically.

A Stratton Woods resident questioned why the proposed Toll Brothers residential development at the nearby WMAL transmitter site wasn't being considered in the study. There should be coordination between this plan and that potential major student generator, she argued, but "apparently there ain't none." "That's on the other side of Democracy Boulevard," a planner responded, evoking chortles of exasperation from the crowd. "Please," one resident said loudly in disbelief at the planner's reasoning.

Pointing to a list of planning staff assigned to the Rock Spring plan update, one attendee asked, "Who on that list is dedicated to ensuring there are schools?" "Everybody," a planner replied. "Everybody," the questioner repeated. "So you mean, 'nobody,'" she added. "What part of the problem is," she continued, "is to realize [this discussion] was the first mention of schools in this presentation. It just feels that it's separate and apart from the rest of the process," she concluded to vigorous applause.

One resident had heard enough. An NIH employee, she said, "I moved to this area to send my child to Ashburton [Elementary School]. I keep hearing about the new development being approved. I'm [now] regretting my decision to move here five years ago, and wondering if I should be moving out."

School overcrowding should be addressed before development is allowed, another resident said, but "It's not. It's just not." "We can't take responsibility for everything that's happened up to this point," a planner told the crowd - despite his department being in charge of every development plan passed in the county. 

"There's a whole bunch of stuff in the tool box," a planner assured the crowd hopefully. Some attendees said they were still waiting to hear about these supposed tools from Councilmember Roger Berliner, who held a summit on infrastructure and development earlier this year. Berliner was not at last night's meeting.

Residents weren't buying the answers, such as they were, that were available last night. "We're not going to say we have the answers," one planner told the crowd. "We don't."

"Does anybody on the Planning Board actually have kids in the [school] system?" one resident shouted.

Planning Board Chair Casey Anderson rushed from the back of the room, and proceeded to hijack the meeting with an extended speech that was not on the official program for the evening. This was inappropriate for several reasons.

First, this is a meeting for planning staff to receive feedback from residents. It is not a Planning Board meeting. The Planning Board will receive a staff draft from planners in the future, and will have virtually unlimited time to opine and debate its merits at that juncture. Anderson's move was akin to a U.S. Senate debate being interrupted, and taken over, by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Was the crowd getting the best of the back-and-forth with planners? Absolutely. Was Anderson annoyed by that outcome, as he and some others on the board were when the same thing happened during a meeting on the Westbard sector plan last year? Probably.

But a lot of people in the room, including myself, may have been annoyed about many statements made in the presentation - or even during Anderson's speech - we thought were false or misleading. We don't have the opportunity to grab the microphone, make an unlimited speech, and take on our detractors and rebut them point by point in this particular venue. Should Anderson have that luxury? Is this now going to happen at every sector plan meeting in the future? 

Furthermore, Anderson appears to already be endorsing the broad concept of redeveloping Rock Spring as a mixed-use town center that was hinted at by planners last night. This is not the first time Anderson has been in a public role of pressing for new development. He has already publicly described a new urban future for squarely-suburban Aspen Hill, nowhere near Metro, for example. That is not a role planning commissioners are supposed to take. In fact, they're not supposed to make public statements of their opinions on a particular plan or project at all at the stage Rock Spring was in last night.

A O'Fallon, Illinois planning official, Ted Shekell, explains this quite well on the PlannersWeb website:

"One of the most important roles of the planning commissioner is to be an objective, fair-minded representative of the community. As those in the arena of city planning know all too well, land use issues frequently bring out passionate opinions from all sides, with the voice of reason and balance often coming from the planning commission. 

Having said that, if commissioners become partisan or politically motivated in their decision-making, or if the appearance of fairness and open-mindedness is breached, then the confidence the public has in the commission’s decision-making process will deteriorate rapidly. So, it is of the utmost importance to resist the temptation to “make up” one’s mind before hearing all the facts -- for the sake of the individuals with a stake in the issue, and ultimately, for the integrity of the democratic process itself."

With that in mind, it is not appropriate for Anderson to argue that residential growth in Rock Spring "will improve our ability to attract [office] tenants." The debate on that hasn't even fully started yet.

In fact, Rock Spring's suburban office park character has virtually nothing to do with why it has a particular vacancy rate. 4500 East-West Highway is virtually vacant, two blocks from Metro in downtown Bethesda. 7550 Wisconsin Avenue had to discard its grander plans for large corporate tenants, and chop up its floors into smaller units, to attract any tenants at all - and it is even closer to Metro, and walking distance to all of the wonderful restaurants people are telling us are necessary to attract millennials. So where are the companies and the millennials at those Class A office buildings?

The main reason for vacancies at Rock Spring and other office parks is that Montgomery County's business climate is hostile, and the county enjoys the worst-ranked traffic congestion in America - capped off by a lack of direct access to Dulles International Airport, the stated choice of international firms. If we ignore those factors, and destroy office space in favor of residential, we won't "improve our ability to attract office tenants" at all. There also seemed to be a misperception that planners are going to add office space to Rock Spring. Nothing of the sort is going to happen; in fact, existing office space will be demolished. No one would clarify that to attendees, perhaps hoping that the idea was bolstering the case to destroy office space. A number of speakers were already convinced that office space has "failed" at Rock Spring, even though they oppose the redevelopment with urban residential.

Anderson also boasted that he and the board have never failed to deliver a needed school, despite numerous people referring to the never-delivered elementary school in White Flint throughout the evening. And then there's Wood Acres ES in Bethesda, where that "never fail" record required 6 portables within a few years of the new school being built. That overcrowding is only being addressed years later with an addition.

Finally, Anderson claimed that Rock Spring office workers are "trapped in the middle of the day with nowhere to go" for lunch. At least one other official made the same claim last night. That left me wondering if any of them have actually been to the office parks in Rock Spring. There are convenience stores and at least two cafes at the Vornado/Suburban Hospital buildings on Rockledge. Stop by for lunch, and you'll see a constant parade of workers carrying takeout containers back to their offices. I've even dined at one myself. 

And those offices are - believe it or not - walking distance to the nearly-endless food offerings at Westfield Montgomery Mall, Georgetown Square, Westlake, and Wildwood Shopping Center. Hopefully, planners will add those stops to the bike tour of Rock Spring.

Residents already know about those many restaurants, citing them and their shopping centers among the strong points of the Rock Spring location. During breakout sessions, residents asked planners to "preserve the suburban, bucolic character of the area." Among things they would like to see in the plan are a trail to Cabin John Park, safer ways to cross Democracy Boulevard and Old Georgetown Road, and keeping new development to a scale comparable to existing shopping centers or parts of the Kentlands, rather than urban heights and density.

There's no doubt Rock Spring could be improved in any number of ways. But if we put our heads in the sand over the real drags on economic development and the county's moribund economy (we haven't attracted a single large corporation in over a decade), we'll never become more attractive as a destination for the corporate headquarters, laboratories and research facilities that demand the larger, secure campuses Rock Spring excels at providing.

Millennials don't drive cars? They don't dine inside their corporate headquarters? They only work in dense urban cities by transit stations?

Man, do I have a couple of businesses for you to visit: Facebook and Google. Their campus headquarters are, yep, just like Rock Spring. Millennials care about high-wage jobs, and they'll go anywhere they are being produced in abundance. 

One resident may have summed up what the goal of the plan should be best:

To create a model development "that those companies want to come for, but we want to stay for."









124 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the detailed report of last nights meeting. You summed up the concerns of the residents well.

Anonymous said...

Why doesn't "the community" actually include those who own all that land?

Anonymous said...

"...a biased, taxpayer-funded study I discredited months ago..."

Why does Dyer hate taxpayers?

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much. this is great. It is encouraging to see that level of interest among the residents. You mentioned Westbard. It seems that the B-CC cluster has already made a deal with Roger Berliner not to speak up against the redevelopment.

Anonymous said...

The area is disconnected and disjointed. That was the first planning fail. A lot of amenities close to each other that might as well be 10 miles apart since they are connected by a suburban maze of highways, streets, and parking lots. Far from bucolic. I've worked in places like that and people think you are nuts for walking across the vast expanses of pavement somewhere 10 minutes away.

Trying to overcome the suburban planning mistakes of the past is hard. People move in, make lives, and want security and stability. Maybe when they have abandoned office parks as their neighbor they will look for alternatives. Until then I don't expect much enthusiasm.

Robert Dyer said...

5:25: I assume you are joking - the sentence is pointing out the obvious outage of the County using your money to produce a fake report designed to fool *you* - the very person they forced to pay for the fake report. Just like the fake EMSI jobs report they used your tax money for. They apparently consider their constituents to be dimwitted fools who will fall for anything. Who do you say "hates taxpayers" again?

Robert Dyer said...

6:11: Perhaps the best solution is to start turning up the heat on a do-nothing County Council whose policies and failed economic development and transportation record are directly responsible for the vacant office space. It makes more sense to punish them, rather than the nearby residents, who have nothing to do with those failures.

Anonymous said...

And the Litany of St. Dyer has begun.

Popcorn, folks?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this excellent summary.

Anonymous said...

Disbelieving counts as discrediting nowadays?

Anonymous said...

As far as unprecedented intervention by the chair of the County Planning Board in the meeting, this is not the first time his position has been abused (Commissioners are supposed to be independent) which has definitely undermined any of the little confidence residents had left in the Planning Board and Department.

Andrew said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Andrew said...

I work in Rock Spring Park and live in Stratton Woods. There are quite a few good cafes in the various office buildings, but no we don't have a Starbucks and a Chipotle *in the building* which is what people think millennials want.

I don't mind adding buildings with things that people of today actually want in Rock Spring whether they are 3 stories or 30 stories tall. But I don't like the prospect of adding more children to my son's school which already seems like overcrowded crazytown. Yet they've just broken ground on the 168 townhouses in Rock Spring. If they can figure out the schools I don't see any reason to stop it. The problem seems to be that the schools are a very late afterthought and the formulas used by planners for student population projects are hilariously out of date.

Anonymous said...

The way you get state and local funding of schools is odd. You have to prove something is broken before you get the bucks to plan and build. That is why they let old buildings fester or become overcrowded. Then easier to prove that renovations and additions to the building are not the solution but rather an entirely new building is needed.

To me it seems better to aim ahead of the moving target than five feet behind it.

Anonymous said...

Great question from audience member about whether anyone on the Planning Board has kids in MC schools. Of the 5 Commissioners, only one child in MC Public Schools and the Chair sends one to private school. No wonder they don't care what the impact on schools is. They don't have to deal with it. If they don't see it, it must not exist. When was the last time the planners or Planning Board visited schools to see kids eating on the floor because there is not enough room, or attended classes in an external trailer? They don't even discuss school capacity when approving plans and projects. They're more concerned with bike paths and bike racks. #epicfail

Anonymous said...

Large scale suburban office parks are quickly dying, there's no way around that. If Marriott leaving isn't enough proof for you ask anyone in commercial real estate trying to lease large blocks of space in any office park and they will tell first hand.

There are currently a number office buildings in Rock Spring with large vacancy that the owners have not been able to lease or sell. What if the Montgomery County school system leased or purchased a building or two and repurposed them as schools? There is more than enough space to house a new elementary school and middle school plus additional capacity for WJ overflow. There's no reason to worry about high school kids having to walk across Rockledge Drive to one of the adjacent office buildings for class as high school is supposed to be preparing these kids for college and that's exactly what they'll be doing there. The only potential issue I see would be ensuring there is enough playground and field space outdoors for the elementary and middle school students but, given the existing green space and existing oversized parking lots I think it's an issue that can be solved.

Anonymous said...

"One resident had heard enough. An NIH employee, she said, 'I moved to this area to send my child to Ashburton [Elementary School]. I keep hearing about the new development being approved. I'm [now] regretting my decision to move here five years ago, and wondering if I should be moving out.'"

lol, it's idiot NIMBYs like this that are the bane of MoCo. "I moved here for schools; other people want to move here for schools?! Fuck them!! Amiright?!" Good grief. Some people feel so entitled it's just mind boggling - and she hasn't even lived here for that long, either!

Anonymous said...

Expand school capacity around Rockledge and Westbard, and take away these silly NIMBYs' pretexts to oppose recycling of these greyfields.

Anonymous said...

"Perhaps the best solution is to start turning up the heat on a do-nothing County Council whose policies and failed economic development and transportation record are directly responsible for the vacant office space. It makes more sense to punish them, rather than the nearby residents, who have nothing to do with those failures."

This type of office park is becoming obsolete across the country. And it has nothing to do with the MoCo Machine.

And no one is "punishing" the residents, who don't own those properties.

Anonymous said...

7:50 can you imagine the outrage if MCPS would propose such a plan? Many vocal parents want massive schools with massive footprints and all the amenities in that part of MoCo.

Perhaps the state and MCPS can set up some public charter schools in these spots. Parents who aren't as perturbed by the lack of a football field can send their kids to those schools.

Anonymous said...

A repurposed office building could have all the amenities of a traditional school layout in a much more efficient package. Elementary and middle schools don't need football fields so no issue there.

Anonymous said...

I believe that elementary schools are subject to fire safety regulations that limit the elevation of any classrooms, but I don't think that middle schools have such limits.

Anonymous said...

The regions of the county that don't have the room to put a new building will need to get creative. If there are state regulations in the way maybe the Hogan administration can loosen the regulations. We need schools and here is a great opportunity to open more without having to waste resources building new buildings.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

"a biased, taxpayer-funded study I discredited months ago"

That's like saying" "a biased imaginary thing called 'gravity' which I discredited months ago"

Maybe Mr. Dyer can explain the vacancies in Rosslyn, Crystal City, along the VA Route 28 corridor in Northern Virginia, or why downtown DC and urban areas with Metro stations are the only areas in the region with low vacancies.

Anonymous said...

It's one thing to convert empty office to mixed use with retail, public use and office but this will be like all the other developments so far, more residential, which has a direct impact on over capacity public facilities such as schools and other infrastructure.
Resident: "What happened to the school that was supposed to be built as part of the White Flint Plan"
Planning Dept.: "School? What School?"

At this point, many residents are now on the side of those who think this separate branch of government should be eliminated. They don't represent residents, and the decisions are to rubber stamp projects that come before them with no deliberation. This agency is beyond its expiration date and has sadly become a front for wealthy developers, and more importantly, a venue to pave the way for them to avoid requirements to provide infrastructure like schools and roads to support their additional developments, resulting in sticking taxpayers with the bill for necessary upgrades. Residents are slowly catching on to the manipulation and propaganda. "But you'll get another coffee shop and dry cleaner out of the thousands of new apartments. Don't you want those amenities and jobs? If not you're a NIMBY."

Anonymous said...

I always say why not go up and put offices and such upstairs. The students can stay downstairs.

Anonymous said...

Hear hear!

Anonymous said...

Haha yeah it's ridiculously selfish and self centered thinking.

Anonymous said...

I read your discrediting post and it's mostly opinion over any verified fact. Can you provide some sources to back up your claims? Your opinions are just as valid as any others, it just would be nice to see some data to validate your opinion.

Robert Dyer said...

8:06: It's not obsolete in Silicon Valley, where millennials are swarming to jobs nowhere near urban centers. Are Google and Facebook's office park headquarters obsolete? Hardly. It's the Montgomery County political cartel that's obsolete.

Guess what - the landowners don't own the nearby single-family homes nearby either. Those property owners are in greater number than the office park landowners.

Robert Dyer said...

7:58: Any sensible parent would make the same argument she did. Your anti-NIH-scientist bias may be surfacing again.

Robert Dyer said...

11:15: In addition to the pages I linked to, to provide further detail on a few points, which of the following data do you dispute:

A) Several Northern Virginia counties and DC each created more jobs every year than MoCo over the last decade

B) Montgomery County hasn't attracted a single major corporate headquarters in over a decade

C) Google and Facebook are wildly successful at attracting millennials to their suburban office parks

There are plenty of facts supporting everything I've said in this article, in contrast to the weak arguments being made to justify razing Rock Spring so residential developers can make a ton of money.

G. Money said...

1:08: Well then, if we can just convince every company to be Facebook or Google then that will solve everything!

Robert Dyer said...

10:06: Maybe *you* can explain why Capital One is building the tallest building in the region in Tysons. Or why Intelsat chose Tysons over 4500 East-West Highway in Bethesda. Or why the office market is so bad near Metro in Wheaton's urban area, where office buildings are being demolished rather than filled with hip, car-free millennials?

Robert Dyer said...

G. Money - Better yet, let's establish a business climate and a functional road network that will draw major tech companies to locate here.

Robert Dyer said...

Regarding schools in office buildings - I think the County would just have to stop talking and start acting, and buy up property in Rock Spring, raze the structures they claim are "obsolete", and build a school with all of the necessary facilities. In today's hyper-security era, where campuses are regularly locked down and treated as government hard targets, I don't think it's feasible to have unrelated uses in the same building as students. Maybe that could be worked out just as elevators can only go to certain floors in some office buildings. But I don't think elementary school parents want floors of adult strangers wandering around their kids' school hallways, or dealing with unhinged ex-employees coming back to their workplace two floors above school classrooms. I can't imagine many parents who actively chose the suburbs buying into that, but I won't claim to have a scientific poll on that.

Anonymous said...

"Or why the office market is so bad near Metro in Wheaton's urban area"

Please. This has already been debunked. The office vacancy is bad for the Kensington/Wheaton region as a whole, but doing just fine at the Wheaton Metro station.

Robert Dyer said...

9:45: They can also reclaim the former MCPS schools they've leased to others. There are quite a few around the County. It's a viable possibility in the Westbard sector, although they haven't shown a solid plan to residents in that regard yet. There's also at least one former ES not far from Rock Spring.

Robert Dyer said...

1:44: So why is the large office building at Georgia and Blueridge being demolished? You have to really cook the books to show a solid office market in Wheaton.

Robert Dyer said...

8:03: It's been a year since the Westbard plan process began, and neither the planning department, nor MCPS, have produced a detailed action plan for expanding school capacity. "We'll cross that bridge when we get to it" isn't an action plan.

Robert Dyer said...

6:50: No, but discrediting a fake office market report could lead to people disbelieving it. Particularly in a highly educated area like Montgomery County.

Anonymous said...

The old Equitable Building may be 7 stories, but its footprint is actually quite small. The lost office space will be more than made up by the much larger office building that is being built on the site of the County Services Center a few blocks south of there.

Anonymous said...

"Google and Facebook are wildly successful at attracting millennials to their suburban office parks"

firms like Twitter are relocating to the City by the Bay [San Francisco ] because it offers a more attractive lifestyle to talented employees.

"If you're in your 20s (or) 30s, you want to live in a vibrant environment where you're surrounded by like-minded people. Where there's a lot of interesting cultural stuff to do," Collenette said.
http://www.cnn.com/2015/02/17/americas/san-francisco-tech-hub/

companies want to be here [San Francisco], in part, to attract young employees who don’t want to commute. Much of that Silicon Valley spillover has also come from companies like Google opening up secondary offices in the city.
http://www.bizjournals.com/sanfrancisco/blog/real-estate/2015/04/startup-san-francisco-salesforce-trulia-talkdesk.html

Google is expanding its already sizable presence in San Francisco by leasing space in one office tower and buying another on the Embarcadero, close to a third complex where the company currently has offices overlooking San Francisco Bay
http://www.mercurynews.com/business/ci_26134875/google-expanding-its-san-francisco-offices

It looks like Google isn't so wildly successful populating its suburban office parks and is heading to the cities to solve a problem you claim doesn't exist.

Robert Dyer said...

2:01: But that's a government project, like the Soviet Union. We're talking about private office space. That building, which is actually going on Lot 13, is government's attempt to jumpstart development in Wheaton, which wouldn't be necessary if demand existed.

Anonymous said...

"But that's a government project, like the Soviet Union."

Oh, get over yourself, Miss Poison Thang.

Robert Dyer said...

2:08: Twitter is a failing company, unlike Facebook and Google. Google has offices around the country, but its main, millennial-packed HQ is a Rock Spring-style suburban office park. Proving such office parks are not obsolete. Google is absolutely not moving its HQ into the city.

Robert Dyer said...

2:15: Very intelligent rebuttal. You're right up there with William F. Buckley and Barack Obama as a debater. Not.

Anonymous said...

And "like the Soviet Union" is "intelligent"? Seriously?

Anonymous said...

You do realize that Apple, Facebook, and Google all have offices in the DC area and none are in a suburban office park. Google has 2 offices one in the Capital Hill/MoMA neighborhood in DC and the other in Reston town center (which happens to be pretty similar to the ideas being pushed for Rock Spring, go figure...) and Facebook has 1 office in the hip Penn Quarter neighborhood of DC as does Apple.

Robert Dyer said...

2:23: Absolutely. If your economy is so weak that the government has to do the building in place of the private sector, you do run the risk of being compared to the Soviet Union. Of course, like MoCo, the Soviets also produced fake economic reports showing great success.

Robert Dyer said...

2:26: And Cadillac is in Tribeca. But the question being debated is the viability of suburban office parks. The Google and Facebook main headquarters both prove to us that suburban office parks remain viable. So the real problem is the county's business climate being unwelcoming to the large firms that favor such office parks.

Anonymous said...

My fine dining experience at Rock Spring was a pasty white bagel with a hard block of cream cheese in the middle, because the food bar was closed, and it wasn't even late afternoon yet.

The place is archaic; some of my doctors are there.
If you work there, walking to Wildwood, or any other area is only feasible if you have a 2 hour lunch break, and if you get in your car, you are just adding to traffic. No,I can't see the place being very attractive to new businesses.So something should be done.

If development is going to go on unabated, the school issue must be addressed of course,although many of these townhomes are not the kind of places families with little kids move into that often. And I think developers should provide shuttle bus service to the metro. At Rock Spring, it would only take a few minutes to get to White Flint. I don't think the developers are being made to bear much of the responsibility for the transportation glue that will hold many of their projects together. BRT will be great, but what happens if it doesn't become a reality? Then what?? I have no issue with new people moving in, improvements made to existing outdated areas, and the like, but I don't want to see new roads built because of it, or people just doing more of the same---being suburbanites in a more urbanized area. That will be a nightmare without an improved transportation and social infrastructure.

Anonymous said...

If you truly believe in the viability of office parks I highly recommend putting an investment group together and making some building purchases. There is over a million square feet of space currently on the market for significantly less than replacement cost that there are no buyers for. If you are right you will make millions.

Robert Dyer said...

7:53: If I had the money, and was in a more business-friendly jurisdiction, I would. I wouldn't spend a dime buying office space in MoCo until we get a new County Council that actually has a clue about economic development.

Then again, if one had the money, and voters eventually get fed up (and actually vote in a way that reflects being fed up), you're right - you could make a killing if you had snapped it up at the cheaper price.

However, now that we have an irresponsible zoning code that allows residential anywhere, even office space prices are likely inflated higher than they would be for single-use commercial space.

Anonymous said...

"an irresponsible zoning code that allows residential anywhere"

Why does Dyer want to impose North Korea-style restrictions on the free market responding to market demand for new housing?

Anonymous said...

"Then again, if one had the money, and voters eventually get fed up (and actually vote in a way that reflects being fed up), you're right - you could make a killing if you had snapped it up at the cheaper price."

We can't follow this sentence. What is exactly the subject? "One"? "Voters"? "You"? "It"? Six separate clauses, four set off by commas, one by parentheses, and one by a dash.

I challenge you to diagram this sentence.

Anonymous said...

Based on your refusal answer my questions it's pretty obvious that you don't know much about what you talk about. However, I will answer your questions in the spirit of enlightenment

"10:06: Maybe *you* can explain why Capital One is building the tallest building in the region in Tysons. Or why Intelsat chose Tysons over 4500 East-West Highway in Bethesda."

Oh I that's easy:

a) Cap. One's HQ has been in VA for decades. Why would they move? +the Silver Line
b) the Silver Line and lower rent

"Or why the office market is so bad near Metro in Wheaton's urban area, where office buildings are being demolished rather than filled with hip, car-free millennials?"

Another easy answer: Because Wheaton's stock of office buildings is around 50 years old and it has to compete with nearby downtown Silver Spring (which, by the way, also has low vacancy). Crystal City in VA (where "all the corporations are going" according to you) has the same problem

Anonymous said...

How is it that MoCo's commercial real estate is "moribund", yet has higher rents than Virginia?

Dyer never quite explains that anomaly.

Anonymous said...

Office parks are on sale throughout the DC metro area not just in McCo. There is one park with over 600,000 SqFt within minutes of Dulles airport and several others along toll road corridor that may be right up your alley.

Anonymous said...

"Because Wheaton's stock of office buildings is around 50 years old"

Dyer is still stuck in the 70s and hates it when any relics of that era are put to a higher and better use.

Anonymous said...

"If I had the money, and was in a more business-friendly jurisdiction..."

So why don't you get a job and move?

Anonymous said...

I lived in Clarksburg from 2006-2009. After 20 years of planning, the county proved completely incapable of executing its master plan, which pales in comparison to the complexity of white flint sector. The Clarksburg kids change schools every couple of years, along with many going to school in "portables" (trailers), the county was unable to execute any of the infrastructure improvements required, did not oversee the developers, illegally implemented a tax district, the list goes on - it was 3 years of hell. Now, I'm in Bethesda and I see the same thing on our horizon. We should in no way trust the planning department or our county council, nor our county exec - their agenda is driven purely by developers' interests, and if we do not fight this inexcusable lack of planning, we will suffer the same fate as those upcounty. Don't let the county ruin the WJ cluster; our children's education. Continue to speak up regularly and often because your kid's futures are at stake. Thanks Robert for the summary. gregfioravanti@yahoo.com

Anonymous said...

Your link mostly just shares your opinion?

A) can you link to a source for that?

B) is a major corporation the only indicator? Would it be moving from somewhere else, in which case our nation's economy has no change and we are simply transplanting from one place to the other and is a very hyper local we are the only ones that matter perspective?

C) from what I read in the comments below, these are not office parks but dense developments. Can you provide supporting evidence for these companies successfully attracting millenials a to office parks?

And honestly the developers really don't need to justify anything. It's their land.

Anonymous said...

And if the developers are desiring to do this type of development, their research would presumably show there is this demand. So despite a few local residents not wanting something in their backyard, the fact the developers want to do it indicates the demand is there from a greater audience than a few opposers.

Anonymous said...

More bad news for Dyer - Dulles is rated "one of the worst airports in the world".

http://www.bizjournals.com/washington/news/2015/09/02/dulles-considered-by-some-one-of-the-worst.html

Anonymous said...

Funny how Dyer had to go all the way to the other side of the continent to find an example of a "successful office park".

Peter said...

re: Anon @8:13 -- yes, and I also think that Google, Apple, et al are heavily involved with car/van pools to their campuses because...there is not enough room to park.

Anonymous said...

Hey guys all the county has to do is to literally become Silicon Valley and BAM! office parks are relevant again. I hear that is what they did at Tysons.

Anonymous said...

In response to the post above where it seems the same commenter continues to try to discredit Mr. Dyer, your comment that developers don't need to justify anything, it is "their land" is the most offensive, wrong-headed comment in this whole discussion. Development has huge impact on the community - stressing resources and infrastructure - in the case of Moco, it is at the breaking point. IMO, the problem is impact taxes - developers are not paying their fair share, putting profits in their pockets and leaving us with clogged roadways, crowded schools, etc. For some reason, our planning dept and county council have become rubber stamps for what was once called "smart growth", but in reality is growth with negative consequences for the residents who have been paying for the infrastructure the developers now want to exploit. This isn't a "nimby" issue as was insensitively characterized above, this is an issue of developers not paying their fair share to improve infrastructure to leave a neutral impact on the area, so our kids do not have to go to overcrowded schools and we do not have to suffer with insufficient infrastructure. If they were to pay their fair share, there would not be so much controversy.

Anonymous said...

Peter -

I don't know about the parking, but I think the issue is that the Millennials who work in Silicon Valley would rather live in San Francisco.

Anonymous said...

@ 9:16 PM - Why do you keep trying to pretend that there is only one person in all of MoCo who disagrees with anything that Dyer says?

And why are NIMBYs so sensitive?

Anonymous said...

@9:19 - can you prove there are others? and we're not nimbys, we just want to fix a rigged system where developers aren't paying their fair share and ruining our quality of life.

Anonymous said...

7:36 AM If you're a business traveler, you need access to Dulles.

Anonymous said...

@9:27 - What is a developers fair share and how much do you think they currently contribute to schools, roads, utilities? (Hint: it is millions of dollars per new building for "impact fees" charged by the county and tens of millions in increased real estate taxes once a building is complete)

Also, how much credit do you give developers for creating the current quality of life you enjoy by living in this area? (Hint: If you live anywhere near Bethesda it should be alot)

Anonymous said...

@Anonymous, it is not 'millions of dollars.'. The developers have gotten an impact tax waiver in White Flint. Sp, how much money have they really paid in taxes? Answer: $4million. Try building a school with that.

Anonymous said...

@1042 - clearly it is not enough. In 10 years, we went to the top of the list in traffic, kids going to school in trailers has become the norm, other general infrastructure isn't upgraded. You are delusional if you think that development is paying for itself. I don't have access to figures, but no one in the county can deny a lower quality of life as a result of overcrowding. Corners are routinely cut and deals made by groups with privileged access to lawmakers (I have seen this firsthand). With respect to White Flint, they are adding 10,000 additional residential units, yet the planners have not upgraded the roads - why? they wrongly think everyone will be walking to the white flint metro, or taking the CCT which may never be built, and if it is, will be too late, and they also think only 3-5% of those living in those residences will have kids who need to go to school. Either the planning department & council are delusional or they have been corrupted to the point they can no longer manage objectively. Oh, and how about that SS transit project? yeah, the county is really good at managing growth isn't it? And personally, with respect to downtown Bethesda, I now avoid it, I enjoyed it very much 10 years ago, so thanks for nothing.

Anonymous said...

White Flint property owners pay a development zone district tax instead of upfront impact fees but the end result is the same millions ($4 million is millions") of dollars paid to the county.

So the thought is developers should be 100% percent responsible for the cost of all new schools while other business owners and residents get the benefit at no cost? That sounds totally reasonable. Let's also charge car dealerships in the county for 100% of road maintenance costs and food & drink providers for 100% sewer maintenance.

Anonymous said...

@7:28 is exactly right. If there isn't demand for what gets built it won't be leased/sold.

Peter said...

re: Anon @10:00 -- uh well no, if you can get to Metro you can get to National far easier (still), which from my understanding is actually doing more passenger numbers than Dulles lately.

re: Anon @11:06 -- please do not discount also, the fact that the numbers of parents that put their kids in MCPS in the past few years far exceeded anything what they were predicting in the first place...mainly due to the lousy economy that we had just a few years ago when Shrub was President. Well that and maybe parents got the hint that some of these private schools are charging rates almost on par with some colleges. At least for the schools that exist now, frankly I don't see what MCPS can do otherwise about a solution given what is required for school renos and construction (which as a parent I am familiar with as MCPS torn down and built a new school in my 'hood, and all of that process ate up maybe 4-5 years in total including planning and actual construction).

General comment also: shouldn't we be assuming that the sector plan for this area (and who knows how old THAT is??) did NOT anticipate the possibility that there would be some redevelopment of the offices to regular housing? Yes I am trying to be pragmatic because MCPS, the County Council, the planning board, developers, and regular working schlubs like us do not have crystal balls and have perfect omniscience about what is going to happen to a given piece of property 5/10/20/50 years from now.

Peter said...

re Anon @11:43 -- and I would further amend your comment to say "If the demand changes, then the developer will do something else with it." (such as, "your Class-B office space is not in demand because there's a lot of Class-A space at lower rent is being rented near Metro, thusly maybe you should renovate or redevelop.")

Anonymous said...

@12:06 maybe... but private schools seem to still all be in business. I don't imagine school the population has increased from anything else as much as it has from overdevelopment & bad county planning.

Anonymous said...

So the people that move here with kids will not be worried about overcrowding? Only current parents will have that concern? Are new people dumb?

Anonymous said...

@1238 do you have a point to make, or do you just like to type rhetorical questions all day long?

Robert Dyer said...

6:22: Huh? We have the Red Line in Bethesda, but Capital One and Intelsat don't want to be here. So the Silver Line isn't the deciding factor. Rather, it's the prime highway and Dulles Airport access, and superior business climate in Virginia that attracts and retains these corporations.

And you now acknowledge that Wheaton's office market is poor. Despite wonderful Metro station right there. So we know transit alone doesn't attract corporations or millennials - my original point.

Yes, all the companies are going to Virginia - Fairfax, Arlington, Loudoun. Just read the papers and statistics - they're killing us.

Peter said...

re: Anon @12:27 -- not disagreeing at all, apparently there are still a few people willing to pay, say $30K/year for the McLean School. Probably we need to add the other caveat of turnover of neighborhoods from empty nesters to those who have kids (which is what is going on in my part of Potomac, and why when they re-built the new ES by me, they included 4 extra classrooms in the build-out in case they need them).

re: Anon @12:38 -- well, no, but I will agree it is worrisome (especially if you have an older school far down in the reno list) and MCPS is waaaaayyyyyy off the ball with not recapturing some of the leased-out, closed schools and putting them back in use to address it.

Robert Dyer said...

6:37: Very simple - MoCo has higher property taxes, fees, utilities and expenses than Northern Virginia. High property taxes are one tool the Council uses to force property transactions & consolidations, and encourage redevelopment into "town centers".

Robert Dyer said...

Peter - very good point about the County not reclaiming those former school buildings. Regarding National vs. Dulles - National simply does not offer the international flights, destinations & departure frequency that Dulles provides, and neither does BWI. That's why corporations competing in international markets want to have Dulles access, one reason NoVa is killing us in economic development.

Robert Dyer said...

9:17: The question at hand is office parks in the suburbs, and Google and Facebook prove that millennials are indeed willin and eager to work in suburban office parks. They want high-wage jobs, not high-fare transit and hipster restaurants. They dine on-campus in corporate dining facilities, as well.

Whether they want to live in MoCo, with little affordable housing, and the declining "nighttime economy" that was made worse by Hans Riemer's disastrous Nighttime Economy initiative is a separate debate.

Robert Dyer said...

6:53: Great points, Greg. Having lived in Clarksburg, you know firsthand the incompetence of our developer-beholden County Council.

They're only now getting started on a "town center" up there, nothing like what was originally promised to residents. And they failed to deliver the M-83 highway and light rail residents were promised.

Clarksburg is indictative of what they're doing in Rock Spring, White Flint, Westbard, etc. - they allow all of the development, but not the infrastructure to support it.

Anonymous said...

Not much we can do about not having an airport.

Anonymous said...

Sorry who said anything about anti-NHI-scientist bias? I'm rereading these past comments and nothing is there anywhere remotely related to that?

G. Money said...

Google and Facebook employees do not live in affordable housing. Look at rents in SF right now. Look at the animosity between the tech workers in the city and the residents being pushed out by those rents. That's what happens when you suppress development in the face of strong demand. And by the way, transit fares in SF are higher than they are here.

I think we all agree that infrastructure needs to improve to accommodate growth. How that infrastructure gets paid for, and which infrastructure to prioritize, are worthy questions for debate. But acting like we can just turn off demographic growth while increasing economic growth is absolute nonsense.

Anonymous said...

it is also nonsense to not plan AND implement that infrastructure growth prior to allowing for "economic & demographic growth" (aka new development?)

Anonymous said...

The real hijackers, were the frustrated parents from other neighborhoods who came to complain about school crowding. This was a meeting about the Rock Spring master plan, not public-school crowding. Rock Spring is essential to the county's future.

Anonymous said...

How does high property taxes encourage redevelopment? Or force property transactions and encourage redevelopment?

This is not an argument and I trust you not to take it as such. It is a question at face value based on your stated opinion.

Anonymous said...

Agreed. Well said.

Anonymous said...

The vslidity of your discredit is more in question than the validity of the report.

Anonymous said...

Wait for it ... wait for it ... and there it is, "a lack of direct access to Dulles International Airport".

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

I'm guessing the folks who say National is equivalent to Dulles aren't frequent business travelers. Just sayin.. :)

Anonymous said...

Watch out, Dyer will delete your opinion and claim it as defamation. And then he will delete my comment too.

Anonymous said...

I'm guessing that 7:00 PM thinks that all air travel is international travel.

Robert Dyer said...

1:33: Yes, there is - building a bridge to provide direct access to Dulles from the I-270 corridor.

Robert Dyer said...

1:34: A commenter made a pathetic attack on the NIH employee quoted in my article. This same political faction that's arguing for urban development in suburban residential areas has made insulting, anti-NIH scientist comments in the past.

Robert Dyer said...

G. Money, we absolutely control how many people can move into the county, by controlling where and how much additional housing is built.

Your point about Google and Facebook employees living in high-cost housing supports my point - we need high-wage jobs like that in Rock Spring and other suburban office parks to reduce the number of people commuting into DC and VA every morning. And to help those millennials afford the overpriced housing in MoCo.

If they just "blow up" all the office parks, where would those jobs that require such larger-scale campuses go in the county, assuming we ever had leaders who would actually start working on attracting said jobs?

Robert Dyer said...

2:54: The residents you refer to are in the neighborhoods directly adjacent to the Rock Spring area, and will be directly affected by any residential growth in Rock Spring. Are you suggesting a North Korean-style meeting where they would be unable to comment on something that directly affects their property investment and their kids' education?

Residents speaking was entirely appropriate. The Planning Board chair barging in and taking over the meeting was entirely inappropriate. He was clearly out of order.

Robert Dyer said...

3:58: Very simple. The Council jacks up the property taxes, and the current landowner cannot afford to pay with his or her single use commercial/office/retail property. Or the mom-and-pop tenants cannot afford the rents that result from said property tax hike. That leaves landlord with vacant space and no income. Again, he or she can't pay the property tax. As a result, he or she sells the property to a big development firm for mixed-use redevelopment - development that would never have occurred if taxes and other county-imposed costs hadn't gone up.

Robert Dyer said...

5:14: No, unlike the fake office report, my rebuttal discrediting it was based on fact and statistics.

Robert Dyer said...

6:29: At last you're acknowledging it. We're making progress.

Anonymous said...

Prices are so high though it's hard to assemble. I've been trying but no one wants to sell in Bethesda. Anecdotally it's not working out that way, at least for me and several developers I know

Anonymous said...

The 4500 building is terribly inconvenient.

Anonymous said...

Land is so freaking expensive. As is development. And the process is so long and difficult. How is that not a fair share?

And speaking of fair share - if it weren't a fair share, why don't you buy the land and do what you want with it? That's fair.

Anonymous said...

And there he deleted it. Was it defamation?

Anonymous said...

We can influence it but surely not entirely control it. Rising rent and property values is a perfect example of how people want to move here. Supply is low. Demand is high. Prices go up. How do we control that with existing housing stock again? Not just new development.

Anonymous said...

I would love to assemble. Folks won't sell.

Is Greenhill assembling btw? What's his plan? Anyone know? He's snapping up lots of property and it seems not doing anything with them.

Anonymous said...

Greenhill doesn't buy obsolete office parks. He buys crappy one- and two-story buildings.

Anonymous said...

"If they just 'blow up' all the office parks, where would those jobs that require such larger-scale campuses go in the county?"

Just because a given employer may require a large building, that does not magically mean that said building must be sited in the middle of an obsolete office park. When Marriott leaves, the only large employer in this complex will be Lockheed Martin. Most of those buildings contain small offices. The Johns Hopkins Building will be mostly empty after the expansion of Suburban Hospital is completed.

G. Money said...

9:52 - Right, we can control how many, but by doing so you also drive up housing costs, because when you restrict supply those willing to spend the most will drive up the cost. Basic economics. Furthermore, if you try to implement rent control on existing units, as they've done in SF, you create incentives for owners to kick out existing tenants and redevelop in order to get around that control. It's an issue that requires a balanced approach - and let's be clear, I'm not saying the Council and the Planning Board have the right balance, I'm just saying that the positions you've advocated in the past don't add up in the way you think they do.

We agree that high wage job growth is a good goal for the county, we just disagree on which levers will be most effective in stimulating that growth. You are for massive, car-based infrastructure growth that you hope will lead to poaching of corporate HQs from other states. I am for increasing (mostly) public transit connections between mixed use research hubs within the state, as part of a plan to grow our own successful industry. Either way, funding is tough. At least the Purple line is happening though.

Anonymous said...

452 - the land being expensive has nothing to do with developers paying their fair share to improve infrastructure and schools. There should be a ratio where every new residence is charged an impact tax that will cover the additional stresses that a residence puts on the community - that is what an impact tax is, and shouldn't be waived and reduced under any circumstances. If you can't afford the land, pay a fair impact tax and make a profit, then don't build - no one cares if you do or not, but waiving impact taxes as they did in white flint, or keeping them artificially low as the developer lobby does in MoCo winds up screwing the residents. That's how we wind up with kids in trailers and the worst traffic in the country.

Anonymous said...

* waiving MOST of the impact tax

Anonymous said...

MoCo has added 60,000 in 5 years.

Robert Dyer said...

5:56: Office parks aren't "obsolete" - it's the County's elected officials who are. Facebook and Google are both headquartered in suburban office parks - two of the top companies in the world, as are many other corporations.

Your comment about the location of large buildings makes no sense - if you eliminate all the space for large, secure campuses, how would we be able to accomodate such corporations in the future?

Anonymous said...

The majority of residents in the immediate vicinity do NOT have public school children. To be sure there are plenty of families with public school children, but they are outnumbered by households with no children and households who send there children to private school. In a representative sample of 50 homes, just 6 of the 50 homes had children in the public school system this year.

There is support for the public school system, but not at the expensive of quality of life. Those who live near Rock Spring (walking distance, not school bus range) want a balanced approach that allows mixed use development that supports restaurants and retail.