The community is therefore seeking "more of a joint effort going forward." Good luck. All three councilmembers and all of their colleagues just voted to approve the Westbard sector plan, which jacked up allowed density and heights to urban levels in a single-family home, squarely suburban area. If they would do that there, what might they do for a similar, established neighborhood that is actually walking distance to Metro?
Resident frustrations were clear at the meeting, which was organized by the East Bethesda Citizens Association. But there were zingers directed from the front of the room, as well. Leventhal's perplexing insistence on turning the forum into an early County Executive candidate debate backfired, and he was rebuked by residents.
After listening to speeches of varying lengths by the elected officials, residents began to wonder when they would get the floor - that was the original point of the meeting, right? For Leventhal, the night seemed to be about scoring early points against his presumed rival in the 2018 County Executive race, Elrich.
Elrich, who received the most votes of any councilmember in the last election, was the only of the three to declare his support for the wish list the EBCA approved on September 28. That list asks the Council to:
- Ensure data used to justify the plan is accurate (the data in the Draft Plan currently is not)
- Authorize creation of a Citizens Advisory Committee, which used to be a required step in the sector plan process
- Reduce building heights near the edges of East Bethesda down to those given in the 1994 Bethesda Downtown plan, utilizing a "tent" concept stepping down from the highest heights around Metro
- Support a proposed Eastern Greenway, which would turn parking lots the County built between Wisconsin Avenue and East Bethesda homes into parks, and not in exchange for greater building heights near East Bethesda
- Restore a $25.81 Park Impact Payment tax that was originally proposed by planning staff
- Correct errors in the plan's borders, which have mistakenly drawn some residents' homes into the urban plan area
- Require delivery lanes/zones on the property at downtown Bethesda high-rises; some residents complained about trucks blocking traffic on Woodmont Avenue outside the Harris Teeter
- Add more green and open space to the plan
One reason we sit in traffic so long heading north on 355 out of downtown Bethesda, is because the planned Northwest Freeway that would have run in a trench behind businesses on the east side of Wisconsin Avenue out to I-495 - with an interchange between Pooks Hill and Connecticut Avenue (look at the green strip around Elmhirst Parkway that leads to the Beltway) - was canceled decades ago. Now that traffic is funneled through city streets instead.
By the way, the bank-busting "BRAC" road improvements related to Walter Reed FAILED BIG TIME. Jones Bridge Road is backed up for blocks at Connecticut in the afternoon. One of the biggest boondoggles and wastes of taxpayer money in history, which could have been entirely avoided by digging out the buried off-ramp that leads directly into the Walter Reed/Naval Hospital site.
Leventhal's claim earns him another Four Pinocchios/Pants on Fire rating.
Then, Leventhal absolved himself and his colleagues of their responsibility for the mess we're in today with traffic and schools by claiming, "We're not developers. We don't build buildings." We just set the zoning code. That elicited a crying-foul "oooooooooooh" from the crowd, and a pained, "Ugh," exclamation.
Berliner decided to try the false statement game then, claiming his recent update of the sidewalk closure law - which requires signs to be posted so citizens can theoretically report sidewalk closures - has solved the problem mentioned by one attendee, sidewalks closed during construction of buildings downtown. "Who the hell gave them permission to close off my sidewalk," asked the resident, who had experience in city management. FACT CHECK: Berliner's statement is false. There are several sidewalks closed for construction downtown at the moment, and they will remain closed for months or years. Claims that sidewalks can't close can be easily debunked by a simple walk around downtown (which the Council never does, having to be bused around like tourists during sector plan updates to learn about the County they get paid 6-figures to rule). Berliner's claim also earns a Four Pinocchio, Pants on Fire rating.
Leventhal had put aside his feud with Elrich long enough at this point, following up Elrich's report on Fairfax County limiting its smart growth walkshed to a half-mile from Metro for new residential. Leventhal erupted, complaining that he had had to listen to Elrich "wax rhapsodic all afternoon on Tysons."
"I feel betrayed by the process," a resident said, trying to switch back from County Executive Debate 2018 to the topic at hand. He cited the lack of delivery lanes for trucks at Flats 8300/Harris Teeter, and the lack of green space at The Lauren. And he said he cannot bring his children to "the park behind CVS. It's gross. Go to that park, and you'll see why I don't want to bring my children there. I feel betrayed."
"What we experience on a daily basis does not give us any trust in you," a resident told the councilmen in an appropriate close to the meeting.
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