|Nobody can stop the|
Westbard Development Express
One resident, Bobby Lipman, has written to the County Council and their staff suggesting now is an appropriate time to pause this process. Noting that Councilmember Roger Berliner lamented the community's loss of faith in the planning process at a recent meeting in Sumner, Lipman says a temporary halt would allow time "to restore faith and develop community support for the project. Failure to restore faith and failure to develop community support for the project evidences broken government -- and Montgomery County is better than that."
Lipman also calls on the Council to create an inexpensive scale model using foam that would create an easily-understandable way to grasp what this plan would allow at full-buildout.
Right now, the Council staff's "model" is going to give you a 1/3 acre civic green at the Westwood Shopping Center property. This won't be confused with Central Park anytime soon, folks.
On the Manor Care site, Council staff imagines 37 townhomes on the banks of a stream running alongside River Road west of Ridgefield Road, an echo of the Betco property disaster rammed through by this same County Council a few years ago (on behalf of the same developer). We can build right on, or put a bridge over, a sensitive stream (as was done in the Betco debacle) for private profit, but we can't build the Midcounty Highway Extended on its master plan route upcounty for public benefit, because it would cross a stream? Okay. Got it.
Importantly, Council staff is not giving the same consideration to residents of Westbard Avenue whose single-family homes are directly adjacent to the Manor Care site, as the Planning Board gave to Westbard/Westwood Mews. Where the Planning Board set a 35' height step-down by Crown Street adjacent to the existing townhome communities there, Council staff would allow 45' as the minimum height on the Manor Care site. And 55' a short distance away from those homes, and directly across the street from townhomes and single-family homes on Westbard and Ridgefield Road. Think about it - more height, right up against detached homes that are even lower-density than the Mews communities? That makes no sense.
Staff also reaffirms the Planning Board's recommendation of 90' for Westwood Center II. It suggests adding weak language regarding the "importance of transitioning to the surrounding residential communities, leaving that decision in the hands of the Planning Board - which just approved 90' for the site. Care to guess what height the same body would pick again?
The staff report cleverly does not mention that the Westwood II site is directly across the street from single-family homes. It also doesn't mention that the Planning Board reached its decision of 90' in truly amateurish fashion, by consulting a distorted Google Maps image of the site that warped its true dimensions, exisiting heights, and grade of the property. Amateur hour from a dysfunctional Planning Board.
Then Council staff sneaks another freebie in for the Housing Opportunities Commission on their Westwood Tower property. In addition to the excessive heights being recommended for additional future buildings on the site, staff is requesting that the non-conforming Westwood Tower itself be granted additional height to become conforming with the new zoning.
Council staff, as with the Planning Board and developers, repeatedly invokes the non-conforming high-rises scattered around the sector plan area as justification for taller buildings, even though their own zoning code forbids them to do so. Non-conforming buildings are NOT justification for additional high-rises. County employees need to start following their own zoning code; they are not above the law.
For the Park Bethesda site, Council staff is recommending 500 new units, with 100 of those being low-income housing. This is more affordable units than any downtown Bethesda project, near Metro and County services for such low-income people, has had! And, remember, that's 500 and 100 low-income before any of the density bonuses Captial Properties can accrue. Shameful planning, from both a sociological and quality-of-life standpoint.
Moving to River Road, you get another indication of how community-altering decisions are being made by people with no knowledge of, or interest in, the community. We already know the County Council had to be driven through the "Westbard" area on a bus tour, so that the many carpetbaggers on it could become familiar with it (and they also drove past sidewalks blocked with snow, and took no action to get them cleared!).
Well, now Council staff is introducing you to "Talbots" on River Road. Now, most nearby residents know of a business where one can purchase beer, wine, snacks, and lottery tickets, as opposed to "classic women's clothing with a modern twist."
Ladies and gentlemen of the Council - it is called TALBERT'S, not "Talbots." When bulldozing a community, details matter.
Here's where it gets interesting. While reaffirming absurd 75' heights for the Kenwood Station shopping center, Sunoco, other gas stations, 7-Eleven and Bank of America (most of which would loom over single-family homes and the famous cherry blossoms of Kenwood), Council staff is not quite as gung-ho about immediately redeveloping some of these properties near the Capital Crescent Trail. Remember, the handful of token "amenities" such as cycle tracks, new sidewalks, etc. along River Road requires full redevelopment.
If the redevelopment of River Road with 75' buildings (for starters before density bonuses, remember) doesn't happen within the life of this plan (30 years, they claim), then - wait a minute - none of the pedestrian and bike facilities will happen either. Could that be true? Or is there something else in mind?
I certainly don't support the redevelopment of River Road as laid out in the plan, but I'm pointing this out for the sake of argument. There is also a preference given for retaining industrial land south of River Road, with the stated goals being to retain services and light industrial uses. That's good, if true. But, again, the decrease in rabid enthusiasm for redevelopment that will bring all of these warm and fuzzy amenties and better stormwater runoff management to those properties has to be put into the context of the River Road recommendations.
The reason for the vague language about some River Road redevelopment? My guess is it's the same reason as the vague language about the supposed "urban park" (which isn't a real park, where one can get away to nature, like all of the postage-stamp pocket parks in this plan) and "greenway" for the Willett Branch and Capital Crescent Trail: a future extension of the Purple Line. And for ordinarily anti-road officials and politicians being unusually enthusiastic about building a "connector road" alongside the Capital Crescent Trail between River Road and Westbard Avenue. Hmm...
Council staff is recommending the County begin purchasing land in the vicinity of the Capital Crescent Trail, which is the right-of-way that would be used to extend the Purple Line to Westbard, the Shops at Sumner Place, and to either Georgetown or Tysons. The engineering that would be required to fit the full width of the 2016 version of the Purple Line would absolutely destroy the environment between the River Road industrial area's southern boundary and MacArthur Boulevard.
Are these "public land" acquisitions and "floating zone" pauses simply placeholders for an eventual Purple Line extension? Is the industrial land south of River Road a future Purple Line station and rail yard? Think about it.
Two controversial (and possibly illegal) "minor master plan amendments" to sector plans have already been passed by this Council. Imagine this scenario: At a time in the future - but not that far in the future - a proposed extension of the Purple Line to Westbard will be announced. The appropriate studies will be conducted. Land aquisition, according to Council staff, will already be well underway. Then, similar to the sham at Chevy Chase Lake, a minor master plan amendment will be proposed that allows some parcels to redevelop at transit-oriented urban heights and density, before the transit is actually built. With that carrot in place, the final build-out will then proceed, but at heights and density beyond even the 75' proposed in the current floating zones in the plan.
Could the HOC "freebie" being written in for Westwood Tower I referred to above, be another Purple Line placeholder for a building taller than 120' - in addition to Purple Line-related high-rises on River Road?
Residents will write, complain, scream and stomp up and down. And just as they are right now, the Planning Board, County Council and Council staff will lower their heads and surge forward, ignoring overwhelming public opposition on their way to the end zone. "This won't hurt the neighborhood, it will actually help, we can accomodate it, and here's the fake data showing how. Opposition? [covers ears] I CAN'T HEAR YOU!"
The danger is real. Speaking of which...
Will there be an urban residential tower constructed where the Little Falls Library currently stands?
The residents certainly made clear they don't want that. Councilmember Berliner promised residents at a recent Springfield Civic Association meeting that "nothing is going to happen on that library site."
Council staff has a different idea. It is recommending that language be placed in the plan to indicate "this area may be an appropriate location for affordable housing when there is a future CIP project related to the library."
Uh, no, this area is NOT an appropriate location for affordable housing. Including such language in the plan will allow a developer to join the County and propose a redevelopment with homeless and drug addicts among the residents on top, and the library on the ground floor. This is right on the corner of a block with two schools packed with young children, remember, children who use that library after school.
The only way to stop destruction of the library is to remove language from the plan that in any way leaves a loophole for it, such as that proposed by staff, and to include language reaffirming the library is not going anywhere. Berliner's memo does not suggest anything about designating the library as "an appropriate location for affordable housing." Where does Council staff get its directive for language nobody is asking for, other than the Executive Branch of the County government, and their developer partner who is hiding behind the curtain?
One other thing Kenwood residents can't be happy about in the Council staff report: staff recommends allowing a non-conforming 97' height for the so-called "senior housing" project on the Washington Episcopal School site - even if it ends up not being senior housing. Oops. I hate to say I told you so, but I did - way back on March 23, 2010 - six years ago!
Community facilities remain a major weakness in the plan, and the Council staff recommends little to change that. Staff suggests not specifying the public use space on the Equity One site be a senior center; only that it be indoors, and on the Westwood Shopping Center site. I would agree about the senior center. If development proceeds under the current recommendations of the Planning Board and Council staff, there will be a large influx of low-income children into this 2 block area. Where are they going to play? What activities will be available for them? A senior center ain't gonna do squat for kids.
There will have to be some kind of a recreation center somewhere. As the one about to be built in Wheaton shows (that area's second, while there are no comparable County facilities other than the library at Westbard), you can't fit this into a room in a shopping center.
Such a rec center can easily serve the needs of seniors, while also being accessible to all ages. It's embarrassing that there still is no such facility included in the plan. Just some junk and concrete for kids to crash their skateboards on. No thanks.
Stop the madness.