The Montgomery County Council largely upheld the recommendations of the PHED Committee regarding the Westbard sector plan yesterday, as councilmembers took series of straw votes ahead of the final vote that may come next month. Before adjourning, Councilmembers George Leventhal and Nancy Navarro declared their support for the plan.
Here are the aspects of the plan that were confirmed via straw votes on Tuesday:
- The naturalization of Willett Branch is "fading as a priority," in the words of Council President Nancy Floreen
- Low-income housing was declared the primary public "amenity", despite the fact that it is only an amenity for the low-income resident in it, not the community at large
- The "private shuttle" between Westbard and Metro is either a sham or dead altogether - the language in the plan approved yesterday does not actually require the developers to operate it, much less keep it running in perpetuity. If it does happen, it will be sham. First, the shuttle will give the sponsoring developer(s) a density bonus, making building heights higher, and negating whatever minimal traffic relief the shuttle represents. Second, Council staff indicated that if the shuttle is a success, it will be turned into a Ride On route. That would not only leave you, the taxpayer, holding the bag for an expensive shuttle that merely existed to give developers a density bonus, but would also slash whatever ridership there was for the free shuttle
- The Greenway Park by the Willett Branch is also in doubt, as are any significant pedestrian or cycling upgrades along River Road. Councilmember Roger Berliner has suggested a study of less-drastic pedestrian improvements along River Road that could be funded in the short-term. It was noted, however, that 28 other parts of the County are currently awaiting funding from the Council for similar upgrades
- Heights will exceed those stated in the plan, with the possible exception of the 110' Capital Properties building proposed for the Park Bethesda site. I say "possible," because while CP is restricted from raising its height via density bonuses for the 25% low-income housing it will offer, what about density bonuses it could earn via other options such as the shuttle bus?
- Equity One will be able to move its 15% low-income housing requirement among its various parcels, as it will file one single site plan for all of them
- The Council, at the request of Berliner, reduced the commercial F.A.R. of the future Westwood Shopping Center site from 1.0 to 0.75
- Heights on the Manor Care site were reduced from 55' to 45', but the Council still did not specify why residents on one end of Westbard would be protected by 35' tall townhomes, but residents on the other end would be stuck with 45'
- Deciding whether to leave a floating zone on the American Plant/Roof Center/Talbert's site, or outright upzone it to 75' for over 300 apartments, was the only real contentious item of the session. Councilmembers Floreen, Navarro, Craig Rice and Sidney Katz voted to outright upzone it, but lost the vote 5-4, meaning the landowners would have to come back to the Council for approval
- The Westwood Tower and Kenwood Professional Building, two non-conforming high-rises, were grandfathered into the new plan, meaning they could now be torn down and replaced with something taller when the Purple Line is extended. Terrible mistake, and clearly a placeholder for the Purple Line
- Supposedly the grand total of units approved in straw votes yesterday is 1378, including the 165 units already approved for the 100' senior housing project on the Washington Episcopal School site
- 1378 units (assuming this is accurate) would = 3555 people and 2618 cars jammed into a 1.5-block area; 1011 would be low-income residents taking into account the low-income units on the HOC and Capital Properties sites, which includes a doubling of the low-income units at Westwood Tower
- Both the useless short through-lane and proposed right turn lane on outbound River Road at Little Falls Parkway were eliminated by the full council
- The Council had absolutely no discussion about how to retain small businesses in the Westwood Shopping Center and Westwood Center II