|MoCo Planning Board|
Chair Casey Anderson (L) and
Westbard developer EYA shake
hands minutes after plan passes
Anderson should have headed for the exits early, to avoid yet another gaffe that simply reinforces the growing realization that planning in Montgomery County is being controlled by councilmembers who approve plans and projects that benefit developers who write them checks - and a Planning Board now becoming equally cozy with development interests.
A "mission accomplished" handshake was the last optic Anderson needed, after it was revealed just last week that he had met privately with EYA partner Equity One during the sector plan process. Such meetings should have been disclosed under ex parte communications rules. They were not.
There was much for developers to celebrate yesterday. But the battle won may be a pyrrhic victory for developers countywide, and their friends on the Council and Planning Board.
The arrogance of the Council emanates from the dais, and can be felt several rows into the audience. Highly-paid councilmembers, and their even more highly-paid staff, repeatedly laughed about their reluctance to ever deal with the Westbard sector plan in their careers again. It's not funny, guys.
Giddiness only added to the palpable smugness at the front of the room. Alas, even as our elected officials smirked and pontificated their way through the afternoon, the political ground was shifting beneath the Montgomery County political cartel.
Even as the Council defeated their own constituents who pay their six-figure salaries yesterday, other communities across the County announced they were joining the Save Westbard resident group to battle the corrupt planning process going forward.
They include Rosemary Hills, Lyttonsville, the Luxmanor Citizens Association, and Keep Damascus Rural. All are in some stage of a sector plan or controversial development project. In Damascus, residents have sued to stop an urban-style, low-income apartment building approved by Anderson & Company for the small rural town that has only one, weekday-only, bus line. Lyttonsville is currently in a sector plan process that threatens many small businesses and needed services currently located there.
In a letter to the Council, the groups stated that, "we, the undersigned communities, are united in our opposition to the Montgomery County planning process, and we invite other communities to join us in opposition."
"Communities across Montgomery County are equally dismayed by a County-wide planning process that favors developers over communities, and that consistently results in outcomes that communities do not want. The County Council and Board, in apparent partnership with major developers, are now engaged in a full-fledged effort to urbanize rural, sub-urban, and local communities through overbuilding and commercialization of public space, at great profit to developers, but to the detriment of our public schools, the environment, traffic congestion, community diversity, and social services. This will not stop until we unite."
As yesterday's vote and media coverage proved, it will take a Herculean effort.
The local media is also in the back pocket of the same developers. I witnessed at least four Westbard residents being interviewed by Chris Gordon of Channel 4. Only one of them made the final report, which was dominated by Councilmembers congratulating themselves on what a great plan it was, and a patron of the Westwood Shopping Center who was clearly responding to the typical misleading question of "wouldn't you like a new shopping center?" Great, everybody does, but how about the big buildings across the street that are coming with it? Hello? Hello?
I thought there was trouble when the promo for the NBC4 piece used Equity One renderings. But then it got worse - the voiceover proceeded to say, "Coming up next, find out why residents say new shops and restaurants will destroy their neighborhood."
That is a well-established talking point of the development interests at Westbard - that citizens who oppose the plan oppose updating the shopping center.
Developers and the Council also have developer-funded choruses who hang out at the Greater Greater Washington blog, and who were mobilized to comment in droves on a Washington Post article about the Westbard controversy. GGW's founder, David Alpert, was asked what the sources of funding are for his expensive-to-operate, pro-developer website. Alpert pointedly declined to answer that question from a Post reporter. But he and his site are relentlessly promoted by the Post.
In fact, GGW posted a rosy endorsement of the Equity One plan and expected Council approval on Monday. It was written by a former staff member of George Leventhal, who failed to disclose that connection in his piece.
One reporter was doing his homework. Bill Turque of the Washington Post fact-checked Councilmember Hans Riemer's outright lie, Riemer's claim that Westbard is "just a mile from two Metros." As Turque noted, the Equity One site is 2.2 miles from the Friendship Heights station, and a whopping 3.3 miles from the Bethesda station. Whoops! Even a prepared text laboriously read aloud couldn't help Riemer keep the facts straight, as he delivered a rambling monologue that covered presidential politics, Maoist ideology, and "social justice." Did somebody write it for him?
Why flat out lie to your constituents like they're preschoolers who can't figure it out? It's that arrogance again. That supreme overconfidence that comes from a one-party system that doesn't even let large factions of that one party get into office. This sense of invincibility may now be misplaced given the increasing number of their constituents who, through the cartel's breakneck speed to update zoning all over the County, have had a chance to witness how the sausage is made. And how corrupt the sausage makers are.
This battle over approval of the Westbard plan has ended. But something new has started as a result. A citizen uprising that is growing in scope and volume. The 2018 election could be reminiscent of the last citizen revolt against development in 1990. Count on this website to continue to bring you "the rest of the story" on development in Montgomery County. We're all in this together.