Montgomery in Focus Masthead
November 2011

 

New Zoning Means Montgomery is Open for Business

Check out my opinion piece which appeared in The Gazette. I have reprinted it here for your convenience:

We have a new tool for economic development, and it comes from a place you wouldn't suspect--the zoning code. In this case, changes to the zoning code represent modern and innovative action that helps the private sector create jobs and commerce right here in our communities. The new tool is what we call the commercial/residential, or CR, zones.

After months of study, the
Montgomery County Council made bold changes to a complicated and sometimes inconsistent zoning code that has been characterized as unfriendly to both businesses and communities.

The new family of CR zones can strip away much of the red tape that has hindered business, particularly small business, for decades. By allowing a hodgepodge of commercial zones to be replaced with three flexible CR zones, we're making our standards clearer, more predictable and ultimately more accessible to those who can create jobs and housing.

The CR zones do away with the traditional approach of land use planning by specific uses, such as commercial or hotel, and replace it with zones that allow commercial and residential uses to coexist in the same street or block. The zones strictly regulate the height and density of buildings, thereby creating attractive communities where people can pick up a pair of shoes, grab a bite to eat and catch a movie on their way home from work, all without getting in a car.

Some people have expressed fears that skyscrapers will go up right next door to their single-family homes. That couldn't be further from the truth. CR zones provide incentives for business to develop in ways that benefit neighborhoods and focus density near transit. They are designed to create interactive streetscapes where people can live, work, shop and play all within one neighborhood. It is important to note that the zones will place absolute limits on the allowable total density and building height.

The original CR zone already has been applied to the White
Flint Sector Plan, which centers on the White Flint Metro station and which the council adopted in 2010. That ambitious and complex plan soon will transform the White Flint area along Rockville Pike into an exciting destination where strip malls are replaced by housing, stores and restaurants located together. Now the CR zones, which include lower-density provisions for towns and neighborhoods, are ready for other locations to be determined through our master planning process.

My hat is off to the Planning Board, planning staff, community activists, council staff, the council's Planning, Housing and Economic Development Committee and all who participated in creating the family of CR zones. This new tool is an action statement to the business community that
Montgomery County's doors are indeed open for business, while at the same time serving as a commitment to residents and communities.


 

Council Approves Commercial/Residential Zones

2 people shoppingAfter months of work, we approved Zoning Test Amendment 11-01 that adds changes to the County's Commercial/Residential Zone (CR Zone) and will greatly influence the scope of future development near Metro stations. The changes will encourage more urbanized, mixed-use development in those areas, allowing neighborhoods to evolve with retail, restaurants, services, entertainment and offices near public transportation.

The Planning Board proposed ZTA 11-01. In our reviews, we made significant changes in the ZTA. Our revisions better protect communities by limiting land uses in CR Neighborhood zones, increase respect for master plans by implementing them through site plans, add increased incentives for affordable housing and create more certainty for communities and developers by clarifying the sketch plan process.

The ZTA provides incentives for developers to build near Metro stations. Current Commercial/Residential Zones allow for buildings in some circumstances to be between 16 and 27 stories high. To get permission to build, developers must meet specific criteria, which award "points." Developments closer to Metro stations qualify for more points than those further from the stations. The new regulations clarify the criteria to get points, while also adding more options for developers to add points. For example, making buildings more environmentally friendly would earn additional points.

By this week's adopting of two additional series of zones with lower building heights and density than allowed by current mixed-used zones, the Council will have more flexibility to respond to the competing demands of commercial and residential property owners reflected in master plans.

Future development will be required to get site plan approval to a greater extent than current standards, providing increased opportunities for the involvement of neighbors.

Those developing under the new zoning will be able to choose from a longer list of land uses. Dense development will still be required to provide public benefits, but development in the new zones will have to provide fewer public benefits than currently required on higher density mixed-use development.

The Commercial/Residential Neighborhood (CRN) and Commercial/Residential Town (CRT) zones were developed for areas where there are smaller properties, lower densities and more challenging economic conditions than where the Commercial/Residential (CR) zones apply.

The new zones are structured like the current CR zones. The total floor area ratio (FAR), the residential FAR, the non-residential FAR and the maximum building height are identified with each zone.

One zoning series will apply to areas where existing commercial zones are located next to single-family residential neighborhoods. Another zoning series will apply to areas where requiring too many public benefits might impede redevelopment.

The allowed land uses and development standards vary with each zone. The CR Neighborhood zones would have the most limited land uses of the three commercial/residential zones.

Optional method development--where developers are often granted permission to build higher structures than would be permitted under regular zoning in exchange for providing certain public benefits--would not be allowed in CR Neighborhood zones.

The CR Zones will apply in some aspects to the future stops along the planned Purple Line and Corridor Cities Transitway, depending upon provisions of master plans for those areas.


 

Montgomery Business Development Corporation Delivers Report

members of the montgomery business development corporationI introduced legislation which formed the Montgomery Business Development Corporation last year and established the overall goal to promote practices that will help sustain current businesses and encourage new businesses to locate in the County.  From its origin, the MBDC has sought to engage executive level business leaders to establish a vision for the County's long-term economic future; to develop and articulate strategies to achieve that vision; to advocate for strategic changes in practices and policies; and to set performance metrics and report on their achievement.

Now the MBDC has delivered its first year's report, saying the County must work to encourage the growth of for-profit businesses, advocate for increased transportation options and work collaboratively with educational institutions to develop needed workforce.  In delivering its report, the corporation, whose board includes members of some of the County's most prominent businesses and representatives of businesses of all sizes, pledged to work with us to achieve those goals.

We are currently in an economic era unprecedented in our lifetimes, so we are grateful that key people in some of the County's most significant business enterprises have volunteered to serve on this corporation. We have asked the MBDC how we can better send out the word that we are open for business, and now they have delivered the outline of a plan that can help do that.

MBDC board members who presented the report to the Council included Brian Gragnolati, president and CEO of Suburban Hospital (and chair of the MBDC board of directors); Robert Brewer, principal, Lerch, Early & Brewer Chartered; Deborah Marriott Harrison, senior vice president for government affairs of Marriott International; Brett McMahon, vice president of business development, Miller & Long; Mathew Mohebbi, vice president/general manager of Mobile Satellite, Hughes Network Systems; Susan Nemes, president and CEO, Social Solutions International, Inc.; and Lawrence Shulman, president, Shulman Rogers.

Other members of the board include Bryant Foulger of Foulger-Pratt; Douglas Liu of Qiagen Sciences, Inc.; Ron Paul of Eaglebank; and Daisy Wallace of Computer Technology Services, Inc. Ex officio members of the board are DeRionne Pollard, president of Montgomery College; Steve Silverman, director of the Montgomery County Department of Economic Development; Rollin Stanley, planning director of the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission; and Joshua Starr, superintendent of Montgomery County Public Schools.


 

Town Hall Meeting for Wheaton/Northern Silver Spring

Let us know what matters most to you at our Town Hall Meeting for the Wheaton/Northern Silver Spring area on Wednesday, November 2, at Mario Loiederman Middle School (12701 Goodhill Road in Silver Spring) beginning at 8 p.m. with a pre-meeting reception at 7:30. You can voice your opinions on specific issues and ask questions of us in an organized, but informal, setting. I hope to see you there.

The meeting will be taped for later broadcast on County Cable Montgomery (CCM--cable Channel 6 on Comcast and RCN, Channel 30 on Verizon). For more information about the Town Hall Meeting or about the broadcast times, call 240-777-7931.


 

Helping Neighbors Celebrate the Holidays

There is no better way to share in the holiday spirit than to help make the holidays better for our neighbors in need.  For more than 30 years, the Holiday Giving Project of Montgomery County has helped low-income residents celebrate Thanksgiving and the December holidays.  A coalition of non-profit agencies, local governments and faith groups collect and distribute donations those in need.  To find out how you can help, visit A Wider Circle, the Holiday Giving Project's coordinating agency.


 

Fast Fact

Our Commission on Veterans Affairs invites active duty military personnel, guard members, reservists, veterans and family members to a free resource fair on Saturday, November 5, 11:00-4:00 at White Flint Mall.  More than two dozen organizations will be on-site to provide information and resources about veterans' service organizations; non-profit organizations serving military veterans and their families; and federal, state and local government agencies providing services.  For more information, call 240-777-1724.


 

Green Tip of the Month

Our Department of Transportation's Division of Highway Services will conduct its annual vacuum collection of leaves in the southern part of the county from November 7 through mid-December.  DHS makes two collections on every street in the vacuum leaf collection district during the fall.

Look for signs posted along the streets announcing the collection dates in your neighborhood.  The green signs indicating the first collection should be posted this week.  Red signs indicate the second and final collection. Place your leaves in piles or containers on the grass or behind the curb.


 

Let's Talk

Is your community organization hosting a public meeting?  Please let me know how I can help.  I am happy to assist residents in understanding pending bills or in finding ways to get involved in the political process.  Even more important, I want to hear about what matters to you.  Send your meeting notices to councilmember.floreen@montgomerycountymd.gov or call 240-777-7959 if you would like me to address a particular topic with your group.