Thursday, March 03, 2016

Westbard area residents dissatisfied with Berliner plan; councilman acknowledges he may lose votes

Many residents are dissatisfied with a 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."


Westbard Concerned Citizens said...

Mr. Berlin may cravenly suggest that he does not know where the majority stands; however, his position doesn't hold water. He DOES know where the community stands; he just wants to ignore the residents and serve the developers who will continue to fund his campaigns for office going forward. This community has spoken. Mr. Berliner owes it to us to reduce the density number to 580 -- as repeatedly demanded by those who've taken the time to contact him. CCCFH "negotiated" for this community without surveying those who will be affected. What's in it for them? CCCFH released an endorsement behind the residents' backs. That is a fact. CCCFH may now explain to the residents why their organization lacks transparency. CCCFH should also explain to the residents why they are secretive, why they do not have an active website, why they do not maintain an email list to notify residents of their meetings and their upcoming "resolutions." CCCFH should also have the decency to publicly release the names of those who signed this fabled resolution -- you know, the one where there are no signatures so that the itsy-bitsy few who agreed to the resolution may hide behind the Wizard's veil. Well, you get the picture. Bought and paid for.

Anonymous said...

I'm more likely to vote for Berliner because of this. He's the only council member who has offered any alternative to the current proposal. I realize his proposal is not perfect, but it is a scaling back and seems like the kind of compromise that is viable.

Robert Dyer said...

5:38: I agree that his alternative is certainly an improvement over the Planning Board proposal. But do you think that dropping 2400 people and 2280 cars into a 2-block area is really "viable"?

Those are the lower numbers under Berliner's alternative.

Anonymous said...

I cannot imagine that limiting new housing to 580 units would result in any building at all; the developers need to/must make enough profit to justify the project. Meanwhile, the CURRENT zoning allows for at least 1000 more units which have never been built. I hope the shopping center will be upgraded but wonder how it all will play out in the long run.

Anonymous said...

I'm pretty sure Berliner understands that the CCCFH "endorsement" was a fraud cooked up to give him and the developers cover. While his "split the baby" plan is better than the developers' "obliterate the neighborhood" plan, his deceitfulness with regard to CCCFH makes me doubt anything he proposes. Looking for an alternative in 2018.

Robert Dyer said...

5:50: I have a feeling nobody would complain if 580 units would result in no building.

Westbard Concerned Citizens said...

Dear Anonymous Friend 5:50:

The CURRENT zoning allows for 580 additional units, not 1000.

Moreover, I find it very interesting that we don't hear a lot of grumbling from the developers re the 1200 number. Why is that? Could it be that the developer is able to make plenty of money at that baseline number? Why YES! That's it. As Mr. Dyer has patiently explained in previous blog posts, there are developer loop-holes and options that can and will be exercised which will float that baseline number much higher. (Robert Dyer, perhaps you could revisit that information for the readership? Thank you.).

Approximately a year and half ago, the developers admitted before a public audience of Westbard residents that they would make plenty of money at the current zoning level (i.e., 580 additional new units). Oopsie, they probably should not have admitted that; but we know better. It's true that they don't need 1200+ new residential units in order to make money. They are a business after all. They did not buy this land blindly, hoping against hope, that they could possibly make a buck for the investment.

So, The Great Berliner has not really offered us a solution that protects the residents. Plus, he is the only Councilmember to offer an alternative because he was forced to by the actions of the residents who demanded that their representative take action. This was not altruism on this part; it is politics.

Folks, the silence of the developer on the 1200 number speaks volumes.

Many thanks for listening and for your interesting and learned comments. I will continue to press forward while respecting everyone's opinions.

Anonymous said...

Who is "obliterating the neighborhood"? None of the existing single-family homes will be touched.

Anonymous said...

Glad the residents are organizing against this plan. Supporting this number of new units is disqualifying for any council member running for re-election.

Anonymous said...

Let them have their decrepit neighborhood. They clearly have a fascination with run-down gas stations, Soviet-style apartment blocs, the world's worst Whole Foods, decaying industrial buildings, quite the possibly the ugliest neighborhood center in the area (which shows a brick wall and loading dock to the street), and the finest dining the area can muster--a McDonald's.

Westbard will continue to be a "drive-through" area for down-county residents on their way to DC or Friendship Heights. The private sector should redirect their attention elsewhere, and let the locals viciously opposed to any community redevelopment to wallow in their paradise. They clearly don't want or deserve the investment.

Anonymous said...

It is a game they have played repeatedly in EVERY sector plan in recent years: ask for the pony....well, you know the rest. They start out with a ludicrous absurdly high number, then "compromise" on a number that while incredibly high seems like such a reasonable compromise.

Honestly folks, does ANYONE really pay attention at election time? If everyone had been paying more attention last time around, maybe we would have Beth Daly and Robert Dyer on council instead of the 3 at large developer groupies that we have saddled ourselves with; Floreen, Leventhal and (shudder) Hans.

Please please please, stay angry, because it is this council's policies that will turn our communities into transient urban rental communites where people don't really have much of a stake.

So YES: Throw the bums out!

Anonymous said...

8:59 AM The Westbard area has more than McDonald's. Yirasai Sushi is well reviewed. Ledo's pizza is a fixture, etc.

Anonymous said...

8:59 is clearly not a Westbard resident.

Why does everything have to look the same? Town Centers, Main Streets, and chain stores and restaurants...this is considered progress? Sucking the life and character out of communites and replacing with faux developer's vision of a fantasy land town centers?

No thank you. Give me my decrepit practical useful gas stations, building supply stores, garden centers, independent toy stores and friendly neighborhood dry cleaners.

All these new redevelopments have a depressing predictable sameness to them.

Anonymous said...

8:59 AM - Developer post!?!

Interesting how troll comments began way-y-y back when Dyer was reporting on Westbard development. Until then there'd be real conversations; questions would be asked and Dyer would answer, developers too; people posted under names a lot. Trolls ended that with personal attacks against Dyer and other commenters. Well, only at those with differing views from the politicos and developers.

Then when White Flint got closer to closing, the troll comments really escalated. Again with personal attacks against anyone with differing views from developers.

Truth. Check it out.

And for those of you in denial, there are people whose job entails searching all media for any mention of "x." RE developers, politicians, union offices, PR companies all do this.

Anonymous said...

excellent reporting Mr. Dyer.

I wonder though how many people who denigrate "ugly" industrial areas ever use a lawn service, or get their cars about get pinhole leaks fixed? How about get their HVAC systems checked or repaired?

Where do they suppose these services materialise from? Thin air?

Westbard Concerned Citizens said...

Dear Friend 8:59:

If you don't live here (Westbard), why would you bother to spill your vitriol on honest residents who are trying to protect their community? Perhaps you are a developer's minion, as others suggest above. In any event, your comments on OUR community belie your developer-based leanings. If you are a regular here on the Robert Dyer blog, you would know that the residents are merely fighting over-development, not development per se. We welcome your thoughtful comments about the issues, but having a temper tantrum in a combox is most unbecoming.

Please do spend some time with the residents who actually live here. You might possibly learn something. We promise to be nice.

Regards to you and yours.

Anonymous said...

Yes, the developer PR folks would love to disrupt Dyer's site.
It's a common practice to hire PR folks to do that online. I've seen it done before. Enough attacks and they hope Dyer gives up.

It's all about controlling the message. I'm sure they'd love Dyer to stop publishing. He's providing a forum for those of us opposed to this insane plan.

Anonymous said...

9:46AM - I know! Well, they'll be far away, so I guess the lawn people, plumbers, HVAC people can use Metro to get there. Hahahaha. What are they thinking?

Robert Dyer said...

8:59: "Soviet-style apartment blocs"? That's what I see in the renderings for the future redevelopment at Westbard!

McDonald's is a huge asset. If it's pouring rain outside, and you need a quick meal or coffee, you just go through the drive-thru.

In your idyllic urban town center, you walk a mile in the rain from the parking garage for a hamburger that costs 2x the whole meal at McDonald's.

Convenience is a major selling point for living in the "Westbard" area.

Anonymous said...

Of COURSE it's about controlling the message, folks. Few of us have time to actively monitor council behavior until it affects us directly; still fewer donate directly to alternative candidates. Bottom line, in attempting to achieve a REPRESENTATIVE council body you're up against the Koch syndrome at local level. The contributions of developers are focused on areas where they have interests, and those areas' council members, so don't expect other council members to give two hoots about Westbard, as
long as planners give them the most superficial cover arguments. As for Berliner,
to stand ground for the existing 1982 plan and curtail developer profits -- not eliminate them, not stall redevelopment of the shopping center, just apply a sense of perspective -- how can that happen when he's already in debt to them?

Anonymous said...

What if we want to live there? This new housing will give us opportunity to do so.

Anonymous said...

No not really. I've been trolling Dyer since long before Westbard ever came up. So you can take your truth and do whatever you want with it.

Anonymous said...

Ah, you're the one that had a deleted comment every month or two. Or made snide remarks. Recognize your style of writing. But, for the most part, there were rarely comments on the blog. Just normal neighborhood talk.
Except Westbard or later on White Flint, then there is a flurry of comments, with anonymous spouting the hate. Middle of 2014 it starts.

Truth is truth. I only point out where it is.

G. Money said...

Since it came up, anyone who reads the comments on this blog knows I give Dyer hell on his positions all the time, but I actually pretty much agree with him on this issue. I am in favor of low-to-moderate development in Westbard, but I don't think it needs to be turned into some kind of "town center."

Of course, my only real interest is in preserving the bowling alley.

Anonymous said...

As someone who returned to this area from the "villages" of Columbia Md, you don't want a bunch of little "town centers." Sounds great now. Give it 10 years. I got to 15 and had to bolt.

Anonymous said...

interesting discussion. Robert Dyer is right that convenience is currently built into the area. Having been to various "town centers" they are all the same, parking is very inconvenient, and if you have a handicapped or elderly person, even more so. I have nothing against walking and usually cover 4 to 6 miles most days, but having to walk through a labyrinth of an underground parking lot, just to get a cup of coffee or some toothpaste seems like a big waste of time. And these "first rate" designs often end up looking very cheap, very generic, very much the same. Lot's of strange rooflines, faux balconies, different colored siding. It looks unfinished and yet I am told it is supposed to provide visual excitement. The proximity of tall buildings to the street are supposed to provide a sense of enclosure and make folks feel "safe". Claustraphobic would be a more accurate term.

But what I really can't understand is why we have to get rid of our practical services and local independent merchants who we have gotten to know and are part of the community...all so the developer can make a killing cramming in thousands of extra people?

Sorry folks, but with this current council I don't hold much hope. Anyone remember Nancy Floreen saying, "we need more money, LOTS MORE MONEY" and "we use you all (residents of MoCo) as an ATM" . Well, at least she's honest.

But I gotta echo, VOTE THE OUT.

Anonymous said...

"Friends of White Flint" and its various tentacles aren't exactly Robert Dyer fans, so I'm sure they lashed out here regularly anonymously.

They have a history of nastiness. Dan Hoffman himself leveled an unhinged and improper public attack on Robert Dyer in a past election.

Robert Dyer is always taking the brunt of developer attacks.

Bethesda Resident said...

I think it is time to create a Legal Fund to explore the legality of the Council's and Planning Board's actions, and determine what the legal remedies are to this clear money grab.

As an area resident whose property values and style of life will be greatly affected by this nonsense plan and callousness of the Council, I would be happy to put my money where my mouth is and help fund an appropriate challenge. Any excess funds can be put toward voting these developer's puppets out of office.

This is a Council that cannot attract any jobs to Montgomery County, but can create ugly high rises everywhere. Every major corporation that has looked to relocate to the DC area recently has decided upon Virginia, DC, or Howard County. How are all of these new Bethesda residents going to get to their jobs in Virginia and DC without roads or public transportation? Maybe the Council should spend their time figuring out how to improve the economic conditions for its residents, rather than building high rises.

Anonymous said...

Has anyone asked Mr. Berliner or the Council the following question?


What has changed since the original plan? The schools are more crowded now. No new roads have been built. No major employers have moved to the area?

Just because developers want to make money does not justify allowing them to build a multiple of the original number planned.

Robert Dyer said...

11:36: You have the opportunity now. There are houses for sale, condos for sale, and apartments to rent.

Anonymous said...

Where would these new residents live if they didn't move to Westbard? Honest question. Where are they coming from? Where do they work?

Developer must feel there is the demand right?

Anonymous said...

1. Bravo for Robert Dyer, who has provided the most consistent and independent reporting on Westbard.
2. I appreciate Roger Berliner's compromise plan, although I believe that his 1200 additional units should be an upper bound.
3. New traffic and school population studies are warranted before finalizing the Westbard plan, as are concrete plans for sufficient school and transportation capacity.
4. No one has satisfactorily explained why Westbard cannot be redeveloped under current zoning. Equity One's Mike Berfield has stated that he can meet his return objectives by operating Westbard as-is.

Anonymous said...

The residents of the Westbard area have been disregarded and disserved in the development of this over-developed Westbard plan.

If the County Council does not substantially scale back the plan (the Berliner alternative is only minimally acceptable), I will vote against all incumbents.

Anonymous said...

Best case is that we organize, stand united and firm against this plan and hope Equity One backs down and sells the property. We'll then potentially get an owner who'll work with us and build a lower density new shopping center. More like a Village Center.

Andrea Li said...

How many residents are there now in Westbard?

How many new residents would this development bring?

Robert Dyer said...

2:31: Under the Planning Board's plan, more than 5000 residents would be added into a 2-block area at Westbard.

Under Berliner's plan, about 2400 residents would be added.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure why people are complaining about the bland design and cookie-cutter town center concerns. Yes, it's probably bland, but is what's there now so great to look at? Vast expanses of empty parking lot by Rite Aid, used by the VW dealer to store their extra cars. Dilapidated gas stations and ramshackle auto repair shops.

Guys, you're not going to convince anyone if the concern is aesthetic. It's about more important issues, like school overcrowding. Then you can come at it with real numbers, and real concerns.

Personally, I'd like to see some redevelopment (what's there is sorely in need of updating), but the impact of thousands of new residents on the already over-capacity schools in that cluster seems to me like the biggest issue.

Andrea Li said...

What's the revenue that 2400-5000 new residents and new retail and commercial would bring in? Does that offset infrastructure costs?

Anonymous said...

Five cookie-cutter gas stations and a cookie-cutter 1960s shopping center, surrounded by cookie-cutter 1960s homes.

Robert Dyer said...

5:38: Developers are the ones who typically say they are creating a "sense of place." So we're naturally expecting something that will be unique to the Westbard area. That was not the case with the renderings shown so far. But one of the few positives in the plan is that the historical section gives some pretty clear guidelines about how to make the design materials and architecture relate to the unique history of "Westbard."

5:48: No, the revenue does not offset the infrastructure costs. In fact, we had a major breakthrough this week, when George Leventhal acknowledged that fact for the first time.

6:24: Wrong. The buildings are very unique and distinctive that are there now. And so are the original homes, which used materials from the nearby quarry. Nobody is confusing a classic structure like Talbert's or the old TV station with the cookie cutter town centers. Homes around Westbard range from the 1930s (Kenwood) to present, not just the 1960s.

Anonymous said...

6:24 - that could be describing 800% of downcounty neighborhoods.

Anonymous said...

ooops 80%

Anonymous said...

Funny how dyer can assert a man's opinion of cookie cutter is "wrong".

Anonymous said...

"A classic structure like Talbert's"

I.e., old and crappy. Imagine the howls of protest if someone built something that looked like that, nowadays.

The only reason Talbert's still exists is because state laws prevent the 7-11, the Giant, the Whole Foods, the Rite Aid, and those five gas stations, from competing with them.

Robert Dyer said...

9:27: What's there now evolved organically over time. It's not a Disneyland artificial town center. Even the TV tower is part of the unique character of the neighborhood.

Anonymous said...

It's old and decrepit and ugly. IMHO.

Btw, if Equity One decided to build everything to max out the existing master plan and by right limits, would Westbadd folks be ok with that?

Westbard Concerned Citizens said...

Dear Anonymous Developer Friend 10:01:

Humble people don't insult others' hometown surroundings. Do you often enter other people's homes and insult their furniture? I hope your manners are better than that.

If you had been following the conversation, rather than throwing fire bombs, you would know that the residents have repeatedly asked that new residential units be limited to 580 and that building heights be limited to 50 feet ... which is exactly what the existing master plan calls for. I'm surprised you did not know that. So, the answer to your question is ... yes. Please go tell your employers that we would appreciate their support before the County Council since the Council seems oddly desperate to give you more than you apparently want or need.

Please visit again soon. We would like to give the facts that you need to make informed decisions about our humble hometown.

Many thanks.

Anonymous said...

The shopping center didn't "evolve organically over time". It was the "Disneyland artificial shopping center" of its day.

Anonymous said...

So if residents don't cover infrastructure costs we should be getting rid of some of the existing SFH right? Too many people moved here for the schools and are a tax burden on everyone else that was already here.

Anonymous said...

There is no question our area needs an upgraded shopping center, including a couple bars and restaurants, maybe a movie theatre, with surface parking like we enjoyed before, why downgrade now?

We could use a new tenpin bowling alley like the old River Bowl, a higher quality fast food like the old Roy Rogers, a fun ice cream shop like the old Farrells, a great Italian pizza shop like the old Marios' s.

What we get is out of town rich developers with no clue of the surroundings or the needs of its citizens, a bunch of stooges on a coucil and planning board subserviant and obediant to the wishes of those financing their next campaign run.

I predict the costs of improving the infrastructure to accomodate this project will be astounding and felt by everyone come tax time.

Robert Dyer said...

8:51: Wrong! There is a point where infrastructure is adequate for x-number population. By the time these neighborhoods were fully built out, MCPS was actually CLOSING schools in the area, supposedly due to underenrollment.

So it's definitely the new folks who will be the "burden'. Pull up the ladders!

5:05: Wrong! It was greenfield development over time, parcel by parcel. Unless the Army Corps. of Engineers wants to come clean about the rail yard that may have been where the shopping center is today. Strip malls don't have fake placemaking elements, either. At Westbard, it's the businesses and mom-and-pop owners that create the sense of community, not a fake postage stamp town Square.

Anonymous said...

Robert, I love you. You tell it like it is.

Anonymous said...

"We could use a new tenpin bowling alley like the old River Bowl, a higher quality fast food like the old Roy Rogers, a fun ice cream shop like the old Farrells, a great Italian pizza shop like the old Marios' s."

I hear that Sonny Jurgenson will come out of retirement and will be the Redskins' starting QB in September.

Anonymous said...

"We could use a new tenpin bowling alley like the old River Bowl, a higher quality fast food like the old Roy Rogers, a fun ice cream shop like the old Farrells, a great Italian pizza shop like the old Marios' s."

10:06, what's so bad about that?
Sounds like those newfangled ideas they're putting in play at Montgomery Mall. ;)