This has been a very difficult time for all of us who care deeply
about our County. In short order, we lost three wonderful public servants
my colleague and dear friend Marilyn Praisner; our outstanding State
Delegate and County Cable Office leader, Jane Lawton; and an invaluable
member of our Park & Planning Commission, Gene Lynch. Losing any
one of them would have been a blow; losing the three of them has been
On the Council, we will soldier on, but it will certainly not be the
same, personally or professionally. No one knew as much about county
government as Marilyn. With every passing day, her expertise is missed
more and more. She was the go-to person on so many different issues.
We will all have to step up in her absence.
So, in my not too brief manner, let me share with you what will, and
has been, the focus of my work on your behalf.
Folks, let me be blunt: this could be a nightmare. The
order of magnitude of the deficit staring us in the face, estimated
to be $300 million, isn't going to be solved easily or without pain.
It is the largest deficit since the early '90s, and that wasn't a pretty
time either. And, given the current arc of the economy, this year's
problem isn't going to be an isolated one year kind of deal. The best
guess by the experts is that this is a two-tothree year issue. My overarching
approach to challenges of this magnitude is that the sacrifices must
be shared. But I do want to hear from you. Send me your thoughts on
how you think we should make ends meet at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Preservation of Open Space in
A proposal by a team of developers to construct a hotel,
condos, and retail space at the corners of Woodmont and Bethesda Avenues
in downtown Bethesda an area I consider the heart of Bethesda provoked
a storm of controversy among District 1 residents. The Capital Crescent
Trail bisects the site and trail users protested the developer's initial
suggestion to close the trail during construction. Other residents were
upset at the loss of one of the remaining undeveloped green spaces in
this rapidly developing area.
I also had many concerns about the project and organized
a September 2007 public roundtable to allow residents to hear first
hand about the project from the development team. In response to the
presentation and the many comments and questions from the audience,
I took the unusual step of sending a public letter last November to
Royce Hanson, Chairman of the Montgomery County Planning Board outlining
my reservations about the proposal. Attached to the letter were drawings
done at my request by a highly talented Bethesda landscape architect
that showed images of the kind of a "green commons" that the
space could one day become. I am pleased to report that in the face
of critical questions from the Planning Board, the development team
withdrew the proposal from consideration and promised to rework their
plans. The Planning Board's message to the developers was that Woodmont
East needed to be designed with the public use given first priority
this site was too critical to the community to let the public interest
On January 8th I hosted another public roundtable to
allow community members to review the revised proposal. At that time,
the developers acknowledged that the public's adverse reaction resulted
in a much better project. They were grateful that the community forced
them back to the drawing board. Woodmont East now includes plans for
an urban park at this critical intersection and the buildings have been
scaled down to better fit within a small urban space with multiple users.
While some residents and trail users still express concerns about the
proposal, most people applaud the significant changes and believe the
new plans better serve the interests of the community. The new plans
will be resubmitted to the Planning Board this month and, if approved,
they will present to Bethesda residents and trail users a much improved
vision of what this site could be.
Scotland Community Center
Early in my tenure on the Council, I, along with the
County Executive and many of my colleagues on the Council made a promise
to the residents of the Scotland Community to support and fund the renovation
of the Scotland Community Center. It was a promise to renovate the Center
so that the children and residents of this historic, underserved, African-American
community may enjoy access to safe, healthy, and productive activities
and programs. I gave my word to support this project, and I plan on
honoring that word.
On the evening of February 25th, I had the pleasure of
attending a meeting at the Scotland Community Recreation Center where
I reiterated my commitment to the Scotland community. After personally
touring the community center, I can attest to the need for a larger
gym, a meeting room, a larger computer lab, and an expanded, modernized
exercise room. I am also keenly aware that the residents of this neighborhood
have been waiting patiently for over a decade for their community center
to be renovated and improved.
Fortunately, the residents of Scotland are not alone
in their fight to obtain the funding needed to renovate the community
center. Present at the February 25th meeting were principals, teachers,
counselors, and PTA members from the neighborhood public schools, numerous
residents of Scotland, and dozens of members of Action in Montgomery,
a grassroots organization comprised of faith-based groups in Montgomery
County. In that crowded meeting room, people gathered as one community
to bring energy and focus to a need that has been overlooked for far
too long. It was with great pleasure that I was able to reaffirm my
commitment to fund the renovation of this community center in the fiscal
year 2009 - 2014 capital budget.
Infill Development: Striking
a Better Balance
Last June, I convened the Infill Development Task Force
with the goal of identifying ways to allow County neighborhoods to age
more gracefully. The task force was composed of representatives and
dedicated members from all sectors of our community neighborhood activists,
builders, realtors, engineers, architects, and county government experts
who worked over many months on a range of issues related to infill development.
The premise of our work, not universally shared, was that the rules,
particularly as they relate to how much you can build on small lots,
are out of date given the trend toward larger homes and smaller yards.
In my view, the Task Force made substantial progress
by the time it held its final meeting in December. Consensus was reached
on a wide range of issues that will result in greater community input
and protection, greater flexibility for builders, and a reduction in
building heights in the R-200 zone. Further, the group made a significant
conceptual break-through on the issue of how much of a lot may be covered
by a house. To date, that issue is determined by the particular "zone"
your home is on. There are different sizes permitted on R-60, R-90,
and R-200 zones. Yet, the fact is that there are some R-60 lots that
are larger than lots zoned R-90, and some R-200 lots smaller than R-90
lots. The group decided that it makes much more since to determine the
size of home by how large the lot is irrespective of the zone.
I am currently in the final stages of preparing legislation
that will incorporate these recommendations and will propose a new lot
coverage regulation that I believe best strikes the balance between
neighborhood preservation and the rights of property owners to build
new homes. I believe that all of our hard work over the last eight months
has made a difference and that the work of the Infill Development Task
Force will make a lasting contribution to the evolution of Montgomery
Bethesda Naval Medical Center
Under the mandate of the Defense Base and Closure and
Realignment Act of 1990, Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington,
DC will close, and many of the hospital s functions be relocated to
the National Naval Medical Center (NNMC) in Bethesda. The new medical
center will see an increase of approximately 2,500 employees while outpatient
visits by patients and family members are expected to double, to nearly
900,000 per year. This will obviously have a major impact on the hospital's
neighbors and MD Route 355 commuters.
On December 14, the Navy released its Draft Environmental
Impact Statement (EIS) which details the effect of this relocation and
proposes limited mitigation measures to reduce these impacts. The Navy
rejected requests from me and the County Executive to extend the 45-day
comment period to the EIS, leaving County officials and members of the
public with a brief time frame to read and respond to a lengthy document
which contained proposed recommendations that could affect the quality
of life of thousands of Bethesda residents.
My staff and I worked closely with residents of the neighborhoods
surrounding NNMC, who devoted a month to reviewing the EIS. Their comments
and my own review of the EIS led me to conclude that the Navy needs
to fundamentally rethink, revise, and rework its plan. The bottom line
is that the plan does not mitigate the impact of this project on the
community. The overarching goal of the plan must be to reduce single
occupancy vehicle trips to NNMC world class medical institutions function
only when patients and staff can arrive in a timely and safe manner
to the campus. The families in surrounding neighborhoods must be allowed
to enter and exit their homes without fear of round-the-clock gridlock.
I was pleased that the County's formal response to the
Navy s DEIS focused on the following issues:
- Most significantly, the federal government must assume its financial
responsibility to pay for the road improvements needed to mitigate
the effects of greatly increased traffic in one of the most congested
areas of the County. Failure to do so creates an unfunded mandate
for local and state communities already facing drastic budget shortfalls.
- Mass transit use would increase with a second Metro entrance on
the east side of MD 355. Construction of a pedestrian bridge or tunnel
across MD 355 would also provide safe passage across a road most pedestrians
find harrowing to traverse.
- Creation of mandatory Traffic Demand Management practices which
discourages the use of single occupancy vehicles. The strategies discussed
in the EIS are illustrative only and include no specific actions to
implement the goal of reducing vehicle trips.
- The proposed MD 355 Corridor Study should be extended north to
Montrose Road and south to MD 410. A study should also be conducted
to evaluate the impacts of a "slip ramp" exit off the Beltway
that would enter and exit NNMC.
- Construction impacts on neighborhoods surrounding NNMC should be
evaluated and best management practices implemented to reduce the
effects of excessive noise, air pollution, and truck traffic.
- NNMC should appoint a Community Liaison Group to create dialogue
and resolve issues with residents of surrounding communities during
construction and through the relocation of Walter Reed.
Bethesda is a welcoming community and will provide our wounded soldiers,
sailors, and Marines with the hero's welcome they deserve. It is my
hope that the Navy takes the opportunity to listen to residents as they
share their voices for how to make this welcome possible.
Global Warming and the Role of
On November 20, 2007, I introduced seven bills to address the very
real and urgent problem of global warming. Collectively, this comprehensive
package of 26 initiatives is designed to attack the issue of global
warming at its source in our transportation, building and utility sectors
through energy efficiency, renewable energy, alternative fuels, trees,
land use, and utility advocacy. The following are some examples of the
initiatives included in my global warming bills:
- Require new home construction to meet EPA energy star standards
- Require the sale of low carbon gasoline at retail stations County-wide
- Increase fuel economy standards and use of biofuels for County
- Elimination (or justification for use) of SUVs in the County fleet
- Development of a Renewable Energy Action Plan, including exploration
of creating a Sustainable Energy Fund
- Provide property tax credits for solar and geothermal energy uses
Include climate change as factor in drafting of County Planning Board's
master and sector plans
- Create a new Office of Ratepayer Advocate to advocate for the lowest
energy rates consistent with environmental stewardship
- Request recommendations from the Executive regarding conversion
of the current energy tax into a carbon tax and joining an emissions
"cap and trade" program
As you can see from these examples, the legislation is focused on
what we can do with our own County facilities, both as a model for our
community and as the source of approximately 4% of the County s overall
greenhouse gas emissions. But more importantly, it includes many measures
that will put us on a path to making real progress in reducing the 96%
of emissions that are attributed to the private sector. I believe that
this is a serious package that sets in motion both the process and the
substance of fulfilling the pledge we made as a County this spring to
reduce our emissions 20% in 2020 and by 80% in the year 2050.
The urgency of this task is no longer a matter of serious debate.
Recently, the Washington Post and the New York Times have had major
articles on the latest warnings from the top scientists in the world,
the UN s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. In their opinion,
what is at stake is nothing less than the widespread extinction of species,
the loss of the Artic ice cap, flooding, killer heat waves, and the
transformation of the Amazon rainforest into a savannah. What is at
stake is nothing less than the fate of our planet.
To meet this challenge, every jurisdiction, at every level of government,
must do its part. That our own federal government has failed to meet
its responsibility given our nation's contribution to the crisis is
almost too depressing for words. Yet now, local governments around the
country are responding to the threat of global warming in new ways that
offer a glimmer of hope, both in terms of real reductions and creating
a more favorable climate for national legislation. Global warming has
galvanized the public like nothing else before, and we must seize the
moment. This package of bills reflects those efforts, drawing wherever
possible from best practices that have been employed elsewhere and making
them our own.
We are not starting from scratch. Our County has been at the forefront
of this effort thanks to the extraordinary work of the past Council,
led by my colleague George Leventhal. What I, along with my numerous
co-sponsors, introduced on November 20th is what I would call the second
generation of energy and environmental policy initiatives, building
upon what we have done, and going to the next level.
And while many, many months of work, including our global warming
public forum, have gone into this effort, it is by no means a perfect
package or the limit of what we can or should be doing. Four of the
seven measures have been reported out favorably by the committees of
jurisdiction, and three more remain to be worked through and perfected.
My goal, which I believe my colleagues share, is to have all seven measures
on the County Council's agenda for approval on April 22nd Earth Day.
What a nice Earth Day celebration that would be!
Goldilocks Growth Policy
Last November, the Montgomery County Council overwhelmingly approved
a new growth policy for the County. Developers have complained that
it is too tough; some community activists have argued that we could
have done more. I personally think the end result would have made Goldilocks
happy -- it was just about right. Before explaining three major improvements
over the status quo, let me first say what we didn't do. We would all
be better served if we started calling our biannual review something
other than a growth policy. Growth in Montgomery County has recently
been under 1 percent. The Council's focus was not on our growth per
se, but instead on the adequacy of our public facilities.
As many citizens appreciate, in Montgomery County we have an Adequate
Public Facilities Ordinance. This ordinance calls upon the County to
ensure that are roads and schools are adequate in areas under development
pressures. Our work every two years is designed to update our implementation
of that ordinance. And needless to say, we have much work to do: our
public infrastructure falls far short of adequate. To help address this
inadequacy, this County Council voted to require that developers pay
90% of the marginal costs of the transportation and school infrastructure
that their development would require. Recovering costs on the basis
of marginal costs is widely accepted by economists in many regulatory
arenas and is designed to prevent cross-subsidization.
In this context, recovering infrastructure costs on the basis of marginal
costs ensures that developers, and not taxpayers, pay their fair share.
It is, as the Washington Post editorialized, a sound principle upon
which to base our impact fees. It is also true that as a result of our
action, developers will pay substantially more than they have in the
past. However, that doesn t make the increase unfair; it simply underscores
how much less than their fair share developers were asked to pay in
Another major improvement over the status quo was the Council's adoption
of a new transportation test that development must pass that focuses
broadly on an entire area as opposed to a few intersections. Our County
has been without an area test for the past four years, when the previous
County Council eliminated it. As a result, it has been much easier to
get approval for new projects, and I pledged during the campaign that
I would make putting a new area transportation test in place a high
I am pleased to report that the new transportation test adopted by
the Council was a version that I proposed to my colleagues. Our new
test, for the first time, establishes a floor below which traffic will
not be allowed to deteriorate, a floor calculated to equal 40% of the
speed that you would move were you in a free flow condition. The test
will also ensure that even in areas surrounding our metro stations,
where traffic has been intensifying, developers will be required to
mitigate their traffic impacts. As Planning Board Chairman Hanson observed,
this test is more rigorous than the test the Planning Board proposed.
Given the traffic nightmare that our community faces every day, I thought
it was entirely appropriate to adopt a more rigorous test and my colleagues
The third major improvement over the status quo that is part of our
new approach is that for the very first time in Montgomery County --
we will establish quality of life indicators. So often during our discussion
about growth, the lament is heard that our quality of life is deteriorating.
Yet, to date, we have not attempted to define the characteristics that
make Montgomery County so desirable, let alone measure these qualities
over time to assess the effect of growth.
At my initiative, we will now be in a position to do precisely that.
The Planning Board, with input from the community, will now identify
elements -- such as traffic, trees, parks, the arts, and our schools
-- fundamental aspects of our community that define Montgomery County.
Having identified the right indicators, the Planning Board will then
be in a position to advise us as to whether, over time, we are improving
the quality of life that we all seek for Montgomery County.
If you add to these three major improvements, the Planning Board's
new commitment to sustainability with a particular focus on the environment
and a real commitment to design excellence, plus a tougher local area
traffic test for communities such as Potomac, I think it is irrefutable
that the policy that we have adopted this year puts us on the right
Our new policy is by no means perfect. It will require ongoing monitoring
and improvement. But the perfect is often the enemy of the good. This
is a good start by the Council to rebalance the development scales and
move us in the direction of providing more infrastructure and more traffic
mitigation when development is proposed. Not too draconian, yet not
too timid. Just right.
Constituent and Community Services
We continue to make every effort to be available and
responsive to the problems and concerns of District 1 residents. If
you are one of the hundreds of constituents who have contacted our office
since my last newsletter, I hope that you have found this to be the
case. We will be happy to address your concerns in whatever way we can,
as well at to facilitate your communication with the various executive
agencies, M-NCPPPC, MCPS and the local utility companies. It is our
pleasure to address your concerns about pedestrian safety, traffic and
bus route problems, handicap access, unsafe and unsightly road conditions,
dangerous trees and many other individual issues.
Ride-On Route 37
I heard from dozens of concerned District 1 residents
about the County Executive s proposed cut of Ride-On bus route 37, an
important part of the public transportation system between Potomac and
the Grosvenor Metro station. I strongly believe that it is in the best
interest of District 1 residents and the county to continue this route.
We need more bus service, not less. Accordingly, I wrote to Mr. Leggett
on February 4 setting forth the numerous reasons in favor of keeping
route 37 and requesting that he do so, at least on a reduced frequency
schedule. I am pleased to report that the County Executive changed his
mind, and adopted my suggestion that, rather than eliminate the route,
the County modify the schedule slightly but continue service.
Battery Park Citizens Association
I am very pleased to report our success in helping the
Battery Park Citizens Association access a long-awaited County payment
for a storm drain right-of-way that had been promised several years
ago. My office was able to get the amount of the payment increased by
50% because of the delay. Please let me know if you have any concerns
or problems with which that my staff can help you. You are our eyes
and ears throughout the County, and we need your help to know what needs
to be improved, changed or otherwise fixed.
The residents of the Luxmanor Citizens Association have
long-standing concerns over the problem of cut-through traffic in their
neighborhood. My office arranged a meeting with the Director of the
Department of Public Works and Transportation and his senior staff,
the Chief of Transportation Planning at the Maryland National Capital
Park and Planning Commission, representatives of Community Based Planning
at MNCPPC, and an aide to County Executive Ike Leggett to discuss the
County s response to the traffic woes of this community. I am pleased
to report that DPWT has promised to put in place traffic calming measures
and conduct additional studies to measure the amount of cut-through
traffic in the neighborhood. It is my hope that the additional steps
taken by the County will help alleviate the traffic concerns of this
neighborhood which sits at the junction of several of our most clogged
As always, my staff and I look forward to hearing
from you and to seeing you at community events. Reggie Oldak
is my Chief of Staff; Rebecca Lord, our Policy Analyst focusing on Land
Use; Karen Williams, our Policy Analyst focusing on Transportation and
the Environment; Cindy Gibson, our Policy Analyst focusing on Education
and Public Safety; and Colleen Lauer handles much of our constituent
work and also will be happy to schedule your meeting with me or my staff.
All of them will try to facilitate your interaction with County government
in any way that they can.
Thank you for your trust, and please let me know what
I can do for you. It is truly a privilege to do this work, and I thank
you for the opportunity.
Councilmember, District 1
Lead Member for Libraries and Cultural Affairs
If you are having difficulty opening any of the links in this newsletter,
please visit my website: http://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/content/council/mem/Berliner/index.asp.
There is a direct link that will take you to my current and past newsletters.
I always welcome your views and comments.
Councilmember Roger Berliner
100 Maryland Avenue
Rockville, MD 20850
Phone: (240) 777-7828
Fax: (240) 777-7989
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