This will be the first of several articles today, and in the coming days, on yesterday's public hearings on the Westbard Sector Plan.
Residents packed the room Thursday for 2 public hearings on the draft Westbard Sector Plan before the Montgomery County Planning Board. Across hours of individual testimony, they coalesced around several major criticisms of the plan: heights and density are too high, there are no specific solutions in place for school overcrowding and traffic congestion on River Road and Massachusetts Avenue, there aren't enough parks and public facilities being offered, and the vision proposed is out-of-character with the existing neighborhood.
Aside from one potential divisive point - where along River Road access to the future Equity One development on Westbard Avenue should be placed - residents are united on the issues, indicating the flaws are real and opposing arguments have merit. In order to move forward without simply ramming the plan through, changes will have to be made, and questions and dilemmas answered in more detail within the plan language.
Only one resident who favored the plan as-is, by my count, actually lives in a neighborhood directly adjacent to the redevelopment sites. The rest of the residents there find the plan too urban for the low-density suburban area.
"The proposal goes a bit too far," said Lynne Battle of the Westbard Mews community. Buildings could be 75' tall and higher with the many density bonuses available to developers. "This is a residential area," Battle said. "We want it to stay that way. We don't want it to look like a canyon."
Bob Cope, a resident and representative of the Citizens Coordinating Committee on Friendship Heights, said it was "Planning 101" to ensure that development steps down to 35' townhomes on the Springhouse Manor Care and Park Bethesda sites at the edges of the commercial zone. The current draft shows apartment buildings permitted there.
Virginia Voorhees, a Kenwood resident for over 30 years, asked "Why have you proposed this in an established suburban residential neighborhood without transit?" Frank Anderson of Westwood Mews said of the existing, non-conforming height of the Park Bethesda apartment building, "It's certainly not anything we want more of in our residential neighborhood."
Leeann Tobias, a resident of Springfield, said the proposed heights and density "violate best practices in urban planning. There's nothing green about overdeveloping a site." She proposed reducing heights to 35-55', and 1000 or less residents, less than half of the current proposed number of newcomers. "A scaled-back Westbard Sector Plan is imperative," she said.
Mike Neruda, President of the Kenwood Place condo board, said he supports mixed use, but wants planners to ensure heights on the Westwood Shopping Center property are no higher than Kenwood Place relative to their elevation.
Richard Mathias, president of the Westbard Mews association, said a "village center" would not have buildings like those shown in the plan. He had wondered what Capital Properties would propose for the surface parking lot adjacent to the two Mews townhome communities. After hearing CP's attorney describe the towers they propose to build, Mathias had heard enough. "Well, there it was," he said. "A monster building."
Lloyd Guerci, president of the CCCFH, said that in fairness to the adjacent single-family home residents, Manor Care's former site should be townhomes of 35'.
Kari Irvine of Springfield, who grew up in Wood Acres, noted "this area is already overcrowded, and it does not need 2000 more residents." Her Springfield neighbor, Glen Sutcliffe, argued for capping new units at 750. He said police officers are already strained to the maximum protecting the current population size today. A third Springfield Civic Association member, Frank Vita, said "this is a settled" neighborhood, and termed the current proposal "overwhelming."
While some County officials have held conversations on school overcrowding solutions, no specific action plan has been put in the plan. In fact, as resident William Outman noted, a promised appendix holding such solutions never materialized in the plan, and the reference to it was ultimately deleted. Outman accurately termed it "a classic case of kicking the can down the road."
Jason Sartori, President of the Wood Acres ES PTA, said "it's a shame to see so little emphasis given to the plan's impact on schools. He urged planners to identify specific solutions in the final plan, and "challenge MCPS for specifics. Families deserve to know the future of our schools."
Sartori contrasted the MCPS prediction that the plan would generate 348 students with the known higher generation rate in the Whitman cluster, which would give you 382 students for Whitman, not including those going to the BCC cluster. Pyle Middle School is of highest concern, Sartori said. Already the largest middle school in the county, and overcapacity, it "simply cannot absorb the students," he said. And there is no land available to build another middle school.
Kristen Khanna, a parent at Westland Middle School where music classes are currently held in the teachers lounge, said "we can't simply wish away the consequences" of the density proposed in the plan on schools.
Small business owners in the Westwood Shopping Center are also seeking more certainty out of the plan. Owners and employees of these businesses are fixtures in the community and known often to generations of residents. Kids who once bought toys at Anglo Dutch are now bringing their kids to the store. They're getting their clothes cleaned at Fashion Craft Cleaners or a haircut at the Westwood Barber Shop.
Darryl Trupp, owner at Fashion Craft, said "we've been part of this community for over 30 years." But the small businesses' leases expire in October-December 2017, and Trupp says landlord Equity One will not discuss leases with them until 6 months before the leases are up. He calculated that 20-25 people at the center will be unemployed if they are forced out, and that owners' retirement money could be threatened by the demise of their shops. Trupp said the merchants also have concerns about parking, traffic flow, staging and the safety of their spaces during the proposed redevelopment.
More topics to come as coverage continues.