Friday, April 15, 2016

Berliner Westbard compromise is so tough...the developers are using it in PR campaign

Montgomery County Councilmember Roger Berliner released an open letter to the "Westbard" community in Bethesda this week, the theme of which was how tough the Council had been on the developers. Of course, that compromise plan was the very one hundreds of residents marched on the Westwood Shopping Center twice to protest last weekend. In fact, along with many anti-Council slogans carried around the property, one resident held a sign advocating that voters "Dump Berliner." And the plan, while obviously better than the original version, had hardly won over residents it was pitched to at several civic association meetings in February.

The case for toughness and "rightsizing" of growth at Westbard became weaker Thursday, when Berliner's letter became the centerpiece of a new email blast and social media campaign by developer Equity One.

Of course, Berliner's letter was already weak in several respects.
"But wait- there's more! Send in your
positive Westbard message now, and
Hans Riemer and I will throw in
this fabulous 9-piece steak knife set
as a bonus gift
- ABSOLUTELY FREE!!"

First and foremost, he utilized the now-infamous Rollin Stanley canard of, "They're coming." This argument is that a ton of people are converging on the D.C. area, and we must build housing to shelter them, at any sacrificial cost to our quality of life and tax bill.

To use polite language, this is complete baloney that defies all common sense. Even if X-amount of people traveled here, if we don't build housing for them, they will leave - and take their classroom and road-congesting selves to be another jurisdiction's problem. Period. They aren't going to camp out in the woods.

So we are under no pressure to add housing. Berliner's (and Stanley's) case is even weaker when you consider that, according to his Council colleague Marc Elrich, the actual population increase forecast can be fully accommodated by all of the development projects already approved by the Planning Board and Council. Period.

Then he says this:
"Email us in the next 5 minutes,
and Hans and I will throw in
another pocket park! How many
units would you expect to have dropped
into your neighborhood to get a postage
stamp park - 580? 1200? 2400?
Operators are standing by!!!!"
"Our first choice is to maximize our opportunities around Metro stations. But obviously not all our housing needs can be accommodated there. So we need to plan for new households close to services, close to transit options and jobs and along our major corridors which has been part of the County’s guiding 'wedges and corridors plan' since 1962."

Huh? The whole idea of smart growth was to develop the areas around Metro stations at a higher density. There was nothing about high-density away from Metro, like the Westbard plan.

"Not all our housing needs can be accommodated there," is brazenly false. Downtown Bethesda has barely begun to redevelop, particularly in the Woodmont Triangle neighborhood. It would take at least 20 years to even make a dent in redeveloping downtown Bethesda near Metro - why in the world would we turn to Westbard for density at this early stage? Plan households "close to services, close to transit options?" Westbard is close to neither.

Is River Road a "major corridor"? If Berliner agrees it is, why does his plan fail to include a single project to increase automobile capacity along it?

Berliner says that if the plan the Council passes adds housing "without degrading the quality of life for the Westbard community, then we are planning appropriately for the future. And that is part of our job."

Well, it's pretty clear this plan would degrade the quality of life for residents - urbanizing a suburban neighborhood, further overcrowding schools, and dumping thousands more cars onto already-jammed roads.

The Council's real "job" is to protect their constituents from overdevelopment that would change the character of their community, as this plan clearly would do. That's why we pay them the Big Bucks. We're the boss, not the Council and not the developers.

The letter does give Westbard plan opponents another boost in credibilty, as Berliner acknowledges he has received "approximately 2,400 pieces of correspondence to date" on the Westbard plan. It's known for a fact that the overwhelming majority of that mail is against the plan, so you can do the math.

Berliner, who hosted an infrastructure summit almost preposterously accepts the promise that "we'll figure it out when we get there" from Council staff and Montgomery County Public Schools: "MCPS is confident that they can accommodate these new students without an undue burden on the system."

How can he say that, when he was on the dais when it was exposed that the ultra-vague plan to deal with the schools depends on not only millions and millions of magic dollars that haven't been appropriated, but also assumes that the U.S. economy will not go into recesssion before 2040. Would you put money on that gamble yourself? Not if you're smart.

Save Westbard, the volunteer organization representing residents of the affected neighborhoods around the plan area, responded to Berliner's letter yesterday.

Something interesting about this so-called compromise plan: Usually a compromise means both sides are unhappy to an extent. So far, the residents are unhappy. The developers seem totally fine with it. Isn't that an indication that the plan needs to be further downsized, until developers are also complaining? And then we will know that both sides have truly sacrificed, not just the residents.

Save Westbard's letter makes note of that:

"Equity One and [Capital Properties] are not the least bit disappointed with the modified plan as it now stands, but your constituents certainly are."

Responding to an unusual County Council move this week - describing thousands of their displeased constituents as "a small group" - Save Westbard sets the record straight:

"We are not the voice of a small group of disgruntled citizens. We are the voice for the vast majority of the people you represent in the neighborhoods that will be most affected by this redevelopment."

When an elected official's smiling face is beaming out at his constituents from the marketing materials of the developer his decisions determine the profits of, it's not a good look.

77 comments:

Anonymous said...

If River Road was widened, you'd be complaining too.

Anonymous said...

And if the school system were expanded, you'd be complaining about residents being denied their "right" to have their children attend Whitman and the schools in its cluster.

Robert Dyer said...

5:19: I wouldn't be, but I suspect the folks who have houses along River Road east of Little Falls Parkway would understandably be pretty unhappy. It's my understanding that they can carve out one more lane without much widening. That's how they fit a turn lane in at Willard. You still have the problem of it collapsing back down once you cross Western, and that will cause a jam in itself as people try to merge back. It would have to extend all the way to Wisconsin to really work. Good luck getting "War on Cars" D.C. to agree to that.

5:23: I don't understand - how would they be denied by adding capacity?

Anonymous said...

So you are in favor of expanding roads throughout Montgomery County... except in your own neighborhood. Color me shocked.

Robert Dyer said...

5:40: I just told you I would be in favor of expanding roads. I've been talking about it throughout the whole Westbard planning process. Realistically, others would be opposed. Duh!

Anonymous said...

I think in the end Westbard will end up looking like Rockville Town Center. There are drawbacks to that, but I don't find it too bad. Yes, the town center has had some retail vacancies, but that's a problem for the developer. The housing there seems relatively full from what I've seen.

Anonymous said...

Imagine if they replaced that dingy, isolated library in Westbard with a much nicer, centrally located library like the one in Rockville.

Anonymous said...

You're sadly uninformed in saying downtown Bethesda has barely begun to develop. There's nearly 24 million square feet of development within the Bethesda Downtown plan boundaries, and that's just under the 1994 plan, which is currently being updated. Right now Bethesda is looking at a possible 50% increase in allowed density. It's appalling that you would wish even greater traffic congestion and overcrowding in the BCC school cluster.

Anonymous said...

Equity One has made Berliner the face of this insane development plan.

Anonymous said...

9:13 AM I think Hull has anointed the gentleman with the Monopoly board as the face of the opposition.
Does the gentleman with the Monopoly board know Hull is snarkily ridiculing him every time Bethesda Mag publishes that photo?

Anonymous said...

I assume these Whitman activists show the same amount of concern at what is happening at schools where their darlings do not attend. Especially if they want out sympathy. Poor things.

Robert Dyer said...

7:19: I'm not advocating anything. I'm simply making the point that Berliner claimed we had no more room at Metro to develop, and therefore have to bulk up at Westbard. Not true! There are many, many small lots in the Woodmont Triangle that have not been consolidated and redeveloped. Whether they should is a separate debate. But he can't claim we've fully built out downtown Bethesda already.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

5:19 AM "And if the school system were expanded,"

Let's stick to facts. No fantasy here, please.

Stop trying to make readers spit out their coffee with laughter.

MCPS + Portable Classrooms = World Class

Anonymous said...

@6:15 AM How about the ghost town that is King Farm center? What a success that is! Hellloooooooo anyone home?

Rockville town center does not have "some" vacancies. The whole thing is vacant. Those were supposed to be condos and only 1 person bought one.

Anonymous said...

@6:18 AM residents just luuuuuuvvv the paid parking requirement for the Rockville Library. You see how well that has gone?

Keep the laughs coming. These comments are a great way to start the day.

Anonymous said...

"The whole thing is vacant. Those were supposed to be condos and only 1 person bought one."

And we should believe you because????

Anonymous said...

@1:21 Is your google broken? Come on, you can do it.

Anonymous said...

If you read the apartmentratings reviews for the Fenestra, you'll also see that, in the past, they had to rent a bunch of units to college students just to fill empty apartments. I doubt folks paying $2K+ a month enjoyed the dorm-like experience.

This was after converting the whole damn thing from condos to rentals.

Anonymous said...

Regarding Rockville Town Center, parking is free for the library with validation. There's a validator machine by the front desk.

The Town Center, especially on Friday nights in the summer (they have free live music) is packed. I'm sure it's not that way at other times, but there seem to be a good amount of retail and eating establishments.

Anonymous said...

@1:21 And you are working for ....?

Anonymous said...

@9:42: What is your interest? Who do you represent? Troll.

Anonymous said...

@ 11:51 AM - "Residents just luuuuuuvvv the paid parking requirement for the Rockville Library. You see how well that has gone?"

@ 3:08 AM - "Regarding Rockville Town Center, parking is free for the library with validation. There's a validator machine by the front desk."

Thank you. The lies of the NIMBYs are so easily disproved.

@ 3:31 & 3:39 PM - For a Waaahmbulance, please dial Whine-One-One.

Anonymous said...

3:51: You are a troll who won't be fed, sorry.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for showing how stupid and intransigent the NIMBY Westbarders are, Dyer. The fact they are even against Berliner's compromise shows that they can't be reasoned with. They just love their parking lots and storage facilities too much.

Anonymous said...

And what was the history of the parking validation at the Rockville Library? Remember the issue? Paid parking protests?

Forgot - you do not live here. So hard to comment from out of town. Try to use google before you type, you won't look so stupid.

Anonymous said...

Crabby NIMBY is crabby. Funny how you suddenly remembered that parking is validated, once you were caught in your lie. Oh, and thanks for the food.

Anonymous said...

5:40 WOW you are stupid. You don't remember the parking was paid.
Almost time for you to clock out for the weekend!

Anonymous said...

Crabby NIMBY is even crabbier.

What is "here"? Westbard? Lyttonsville? Downtown Rockville? I live in Bethesda, where do you live?

Anonymous said...

5:49: NIMBY screeching troll. Who do you work for? Do tell.

Anonymous said...

@ 5:56 PM - "NIMBY screeching troll" screeching troll. In which precious obsolete suburban subdivision do you live? Do you have a job? Have you ever had a girlfriend?

Anonymous said...

@5:56 Use of "NIMBY" is troll speak. Bye bye and don't let the door hit you on your way out.

Anonymous said...

5:19

Hell yeah you POS, been paying taxes here since 1956 !!!

Anonymous said...

8:18 Me too, Maryland/MoCo/Bethesda tax payer since 1983!

Anonymous said...

River Road has been a construction disaster for over 2 years since 2014. Does anyone on the board really know or care what's going on ? Complete incompetence. We need more conservative leaders...

Anonymous said...

While the Berliner compromise is a step in the right direction-- it is an improvement over the original Westbard plan-- it retains tremendous residential density along Westbard Avenue at heights up to 110 feet, and in the immediate surrounding area.

Overall, the revised plan delivers ~1380 units, most of which is on the Westbard I, Westbard II, Westbard Avenue and Manor Care sites. That number of units will bring 2000 or more vehicles and a population of 2600+. That is a very substantial amount of density along roughly .6 miles of road.

I think that it is fair to say that the compromise plan urbanizes the Westbard Avenue area. The compromise leaves all announced development plans (Equity One, Capitol Properties, Housing Opportunities Commission) largely intact. No wonder that the compromise is supported by Equity One.

Question: what good is the Council's delay on a final vote, if it doesn't consider citizen reaction and additional revision of this plan?

I think that additional downsizing of this plan is legitimate. I would like to see a 50 foot height restriction.

Anonymous said...

@ 5:19 AM wrote: "If River Road was widened, you'd be complaining too."

@ 8:18 PM responded (15 hours later): "Hell yeah you POS, been paying taxes here since 1956 !!!"

@ 8:23 PM responded (5 minutes later): "Me too, Maryland/MoCo/Bethesda tax payer since 1983!"

Too funny. Whom does Dyer's shill think that he is fooling?

Anonymous said...

10.36 pm here again: most of the development is along a .4 mile stretch of Westbard Ave (both sides) and around the corner on Ridgefield Road (Manor Care site, Westbard II site), and across River Road at/near the Washington Episcopal School.

Hence my estimate of .6 miles of road. Most of the new buildings will be constructed along Westbard Ave, .4 miles-- very small area for the new construction proposed.

Anonymous said...

I don't condone the POS reference, but there's nothing funny about long-time taxpayers being upset.

I've been living near Westbard and paying MoCo taxes for over 20 years. That gives me (and other taxpayers) "skin in the game" and the right to comment.

Anonymous said...

Too bad that the majority of comments on this blog add neither to reasoned discussion nor substance.

Stick to the issues and stop the name calling. If you call others names, you're automatically a troll.

Whatever your position, Westbard is an important issue that deserves reasoned discussion.

Anonymous said...

@4.24: The Berliner compromise retains most of the previously-announced projects, and imposes very little pain on developers.

The Berliner compromise also permits new construction of up to 110 feet (most residential construction at 75-110 feet.)

And no one is against the shopping center redevelopment. The controversy is about building heights and the number of new housing units to be added (~1,380 under the compromise, versus 580 suggested by Save Westbard.)

There is room for additional compromise. Next time, get your facts straight.

Anonymous said...

The gentleman with the Monopoly board (local resident Robert Lipman) made a great point: Westbard is being bought and sold as if it was a square on a Monopoly board, and MoCo planners and County Council members are facilitating this.

In most communities, public officials seek to find a good compromise between developers an residents. In the case of Westbard, not so much.

Anonymous said...

Teachers and parents in the Whitman and BCC clusters oppose the Westbard plan. However you slice it, these districts are overcrowded and MoCo Public Schools (MCPS) still needs a credible capital plan to meet growth needs.

As a Whitman cluster resident, I want all McCO development planning to incorporate MCPS planning for school needs.

Anonymous said...

@ 3.51: You are a troll who relies on name-calling. How about taking a bold step and trying to focus on actual issues?

Anonymous said...

Not a good sign about Councilman Berliner's plan. When a developer endorses a plan, I think we can surmise that the developer has not been asked to give up very much.

Anonymous said...

"Westbard is being bought and sold as if it was a square on a Monopoly board"

It's private property.

Anonymous said...

@5:04 Really? Who knew?
Then they can build private roads and private schools and private firehouses and set up private police departments to serve their private property! Problem solved!

Anonymous said...

It is true that these mixed use town center developments are failiures. There are many commercial/retail vacancies. Here in Silver Spring along East West Highway walking distance from Metro, we had several apartment/condos built. The sidewalks were improved, fountains were put in, a public plaza/parklette was installed, lots of public art, all the supposed vibrant placemaking live work play elements in place...and it's close to a ghost town. One of the luxury condos was turned into subsidized housing for low income, 80% of commercial spaces remain vacant for years now. There is a sterile uninviting feel to the streetscape and I never see anyone hanging out in the park, just the occasional dog walker who gets in out at the conclusion of "the business" at hand.

When you say these retail vacancies are the developer's problem, well, that's not exactly true. Developer's take it as a loss, which works out ok for them at tax time. But for the community, we are left with no services, no practical shopping, and a lot of empty promises. This is clearly not just a Silver Spring problem. It is happening all over the County, PG too, and DC, where they cleverly have dissimulated the empty retail with grayish blocks that look more like a wall then a CRY For Lease sign.

And yet, elected and appointed officials continue to push this failed mixed use vision on the people.

The emperor has no clothes. Eyes do not deceive.

Anonymous said...

"80% of commercial spaces remain vacant for years now."

Address, please?

Anonymous said...

6:29 AM Did you not read the post? The 3rd line? "Here in Silver Spring along East West Hwy walking distance from Metro."
Why do you need more? Are you interested in renting some of the space? Where do you live? What's you're concern?

Anonymous said...

That's funny, I spend a lot of time along that stretch of East-West Highway, and I've never noticed that all the shops there comprise only 20% of the available commercial space there.

"Why do you need more? Are you interested in renting some of the space? Where do you live? What's you're concern?"

You seem... defensive.

Anonymous said...

1201 East West Highway area. Look around. 80% vacant.

Anonymous said...

@ 9:37 AM - Looks just fine to me.

https://www.google.com/maps/@38.9900711,-77.0290367,3a,60y,180h,90t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sePrw6O-ox6idUpHxLGQBiQ!2e0!7i13312!8i6656

Anonymous said...

@9:50 Seriously?

You were stupid enough to put up a picture with a LEASE sign in the window. Confirmation of comment above.

Can Democrats really not do math?
They do not understand the word vacancy?
When did this problem start for the party?

Anonymous said...

"a LEASE sign in the window"

That's proof of your supposed "80% vacancy"? Really?

Anonymous said...

Equity One using Berliner as their whore. Paid cash money. Unbelievable.

Anonymous said...

How much did Dyer receive in contributions to his unsuccessful campaigns in 2010 and 2014? And if his unsuccessful campaigns were actually completely self-funded, what is his source of income?

#DodgingDyer

Anonymous said...

"...mposes very little pain on developers."

What's the point of "imposing pain" on developers? On anyone? Do you have anger issues?

Anonymous said...

The great thing about the paid commenters on this site is they greatly up the site in Google searches. They increase the chance of these articles coming up in news feeds and in searches. The paid commenters are actually working for this blog by increasing it's popularity.

Anonymous said...

I would be holding a sign "dump Berliner" if they tried to widen River Road.

Anonymous said...

Lots of folks gonna be holding that sign regardless.

#Throwthebumsout
#DoTheMath

Robert Dyer said...

3:27: What are the sources of income for other local reporters? Have you found out yet? How are they staying afloat?

Anonymous said...

The other local reporters didn't run for Council.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry, that should have been "the local reporters", not "the other local reporters".

Robert Dyer said...

10:20: Irrelevant. We need to know who's funding them, and how it affects the coverage. Who are the angel investors, and what are their interests in funding coverage? The greater public is glad you brought this topic up, and is now eager to hear what you've been able to find out about the reporters bringing us the local news. Do tell.

10:21: No, you had it right the first time: "the other local reporters." You're having almost as many Freudian slips as Hans Riemer.

G. Money said...

6:17 - Commercial businesses along EW Hwy near SS Metro:

Rite Aid, FedEx, Blairs Shopping Center (Giant, CVS, Mama Lucia's, Oriental East, Pete's, a bunch of other small places), the NOAA sandwich shop by the Metro, 'tis Cafe, a dry cleaner, Ikko Sushi, Scion, Nai Nai's, Bump & Grind, Papa John's, several auto shops, and Denizen Brewing. Plus a bunch of occupied office space. In one block.

So please, point out where we can find the 4x greater amount of vacant commercial space along EW Hwy within walking distance to the Metro. Maybe you are referring to the trees fronting the Blairs, which seem to be wholly without a lemonade stand? Or is there some sort of spatial anomaly in the set back portion of the Veridian that makes up 80% of commercial space in this area?

G. Money said...

Dyer: "Even if X-amount of people traveled here, if we don't build housing for them, they will leave - and take their classroom and road-congesting selves to be another jurisdiction's problem. Period. They aren't going to camp out in the woods."

This is completely unsupported by fact, and works counter to your economic arguments (flawed though they are) about job creation in MoCo. If no new housing is built, and people want to move here, then people will compete for limited supply of housing, thereby driving up housing prices. This will disproportionally impact lower income residents. For evidence, look at housing prices in SF, where new development has been heavily restricted, over the past 15 years.

As you know I don't have a stake in the Westbard development and I favor increased transit and public services as part of a package deal for any further development, but simply not building housing for a growing population is demonstrably a plan for failure.

Anonymous said...

I worked in Silver Spring near the Metro last year and was surprised to find the development effect on the neighborhood. There is, to be sure, a strip of stores and restaurants but just a block away there's very little. These new developments are so sterile and soul-less. People laugh at Westbard's lack of style but a whole lot of people would keep it with minimal upgrades in order to retain free parking and a big sky. I live there, that's my opinion. I don't care if you agree or not.

Anonymous said...

@ 6:59 AM - Re Silver Spring, you need to walk about one block farther. There's plenty of stuff once you get to Georgia Avenue. The Silver Spring station

Also, when you park in an indoor garage, you need to validate your ticket when you shop. Most shopping centers with indoor parking do this.

But I love the way you compare the parking lot in the Westwood shopping center to the plains of Montana.

Robert Dyer said...

5:44: Westbard is already out of the price range of low-income homebuyers, so it's not going to make any difference if home prices escalate in 20816. That's why we should be focusing on the urban areas, and also preserving existing low-income units in areas like Wheaton, Glenmont, and - yes - Bethesda.

G. Money said...

6:59: "A block away there's very little."

What are you talking about? A block in which direction? In two directions going away from the Metro it's strictly residential (although if you turn up 16th St. there are a number of small businesses up the block). If you continue past Georgia on EW Hwy it's a bridge over rail tracks and then more residential. If you turn either direction on Georgia you'll find a vibrant mix of businesses. And if you walk two blocks up Colesville you find a thriving downtown outdoor mall, an indoor mall that after many years of total failure is finally being renovated and repopulated with real stores, one of the best movie theaters in the region (AFI), and a major concert venue (Fillmore). You probably also missed the many successful small business along Fenton, the brand new public library, etc. And all of this positive growth has occurred despite the Transit Center fiasco sucking the energy out of the middle of Silver Spring for several years.

You may have worked near the Silver Spring Metro, but clearly you didn't see much of Silver Spring.

Anonymous said...

Shorter Dyer: "Don't build any new housing near me."

Anonymous said...

G. Money - that "strip of stores and restaurants" that 6:59 mentions is most likely Ramsey Street. Probably he never went beyond there.

Regarding "new soulless and sterile developments", I guess he is nostalgic for the days when East-West Highway was a string of car dealerships.

Anonymous said...

Sickening to watch Equity One use Berliner as their puppet.

Anonymous said...

But the planning and zoning process-- to which the Monopoly comment refers-- is *public*

Anonymous said...

"Imposes very little pain on developers" is a metaphor for "doesn't make the developers give up much of anything".

Your command of the vernacular must be rather limited.

Anonymous said...

How do we promote an alternative candidate to Berliner in the next election. I am ready to put my wallet where my mouth is and support a candidate that knows how to listen to his constituents.

Berliner said in 2014 that he would not vote for a plan that did not provide for the schools. At one of the chairettes, he publicly stated that he was very concerned with the school situation. Now, he is using smoke and mirrors to claim we should not be concerned with the schools.

Is there a fund to promote alternative candidates to this person who is clearly in the pocket of the developers???????