Thursday, March 03, 2016
Westbard area residents dissatisfied with Berliner plan; councilman acknowledges he may lose votes
compromise Westbard sector plan put forth by Montgomery County Councilmember Roger Berliner (D-District 1), and an endorsement of that plan by a civic group that didn't poll its member associations first has further disgruntled those fighting urbanization.
Berliner acknowledged their dissatisfaction at a meeting of the Sumner Citizens Association on Monday night. "I get it," he responded, but did not appear ready to pare down his plan any further. Berliner, who hasn't faced a serious election challenge since defeating incumbent Republican Howard Denis in 2006, told residents who opposed his plan that he recognized he may not earn their votes in the 2018 election. He crushed challenger Duchy Trachtenberg 78.53% to 21.47% in the 2014 Democratic primary.
The only public indication of support for Berliner's plan so far has come from the Citizens Coordinating Committee on Friendship Heights, which passed a resolution endorsing the plan on February 17:
One opponent of the "Berliner alternative" described the CCCFH's move, which came without a formal vote of support from the 19 civic associations it represents, as "a stab in the back." Berliner referenced the endorsement at the Sumner meeting. Along with his statement indicating a willingness to risk the electoral consequences, rather than further reduce the number of housing units and building heights in his plan, this generated serious concern among residents that their many thousands of emails against urban heights and densities are being trumped by one councilman, and a resolution supporting it that they didn't assent to.
"CCCFH does NOT speak for me, or the multitude of people whom have contacted you since last Fall demanding that the number of new residential units be held to 580 for the Westbard Sector Plan," one attendee wrote Berliner in an email following the meeting. The writer noted that the CCCFH "NEVER published their Resolution for the community to see, react to, comment upon, and reject, ultimately."
Another resident who attended the meeting suggested that, given the clear lack of support for the Berliner alternative in the community, each of the 19 CCCFH member organizations should be given the opportunity to vote on three options: 1) a limit of 580 new residential units; 2) the Berliner alternative of 1,200 new residential units; or 3) the Final Planning Board Draft allowing for 2,480 residential units (and remember that these unit totals are only the starting point for each, as developers can easily score density bonuses under the current rules).
Only then, he suggested, would the County Council PHED Committee have solid data to indicate what level of density the community actually supports. While Berliner's plan is an excellent, well-thought-out start to the conversation, few thought it was the end of the conversation.
The Berliner option would still represent a massive strain on school and road capacity, a fate clearly verified during a Council worksession earlier Monday. It would bring 2280 new cars to a two-block area, according to the latest U.S. Census figures, a very conservative estimate given the surge in auto sales since the data was collected during the recession.
An objective review of community feedback from November 2014 to present clearly shows community opinion strongly falls into the category of Option 1, which allows 580 units.
"Unless each home owners association or citizens association has a vote of all their members," Berliner's Chief of Staff Cindy Gibson wrote in response to a resident's complaint that he had cited the CCCFH vote, "we will never know for sure what the majority view is – on any topic."