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Pop quiz: match the zone categories with the acreage for Montgomery County (this excludes municipalities with their own zoning authority).

Click to enlarge:

zoning tableThe answers, which may surprise you, are on the next page along with graphic representations.


berstein panel 01

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As many of you know, two streetcar lines are proposed for Arlington County: one along Columbia Pike and one through Crystal City.

Many of the benefits of the transit system are laid out in the planning vision for Columbia Pike & Crystal City, including:

  • Encouraging smart development;
  • Providing attractive, comfortable, affordable transit,
  • Encouraging revitalization, preservation, and affordability, and
  • Spurring investment.

 Arlington Streetcar Map

Another aspect of the project, however, is a commitment to integrate public art.  In this case, Barbara Bernstein has been commissioned to create works for several bus shelters along the Crystal City line.  Prototypes, renderings, and sample designs were on view until recently at the Arlington Arts Center, but information can still be found on their website.

bernstein plan view

The proposed artworks are large glass panels that will provide windscreens in addition to enhancing the beauty and interest of each stop.  The designs themselves are swirling, waving, looping, interconnected lines meant to serve as a metaphor for the interconnected layout of the system and the lives of the passengers.  As the lines randomly intersect they create shapes – some of which are filled with color, while others create a background of negative space.  Each station will have a distinct color palette that will provide a visual means of identification for each stop.

berstein panel 01 berstein panel 02 berstein panel 03

The panels are pretty, well-composed, and eye-catching but also serve a functional purpose as wayfinding guides.  Like many transit-oriented artworks, the identification of a site with a motif or specific installation is an important piece of a well-integrated and designed transit system.

Of course, Montgomery County is in the midst of planning a wide-ranging rapid transit system.  We would be wise to encourage public art integration in our system for many reasons, some of which were discussed in a recent panel discussion at the National Building Museum on Cultural Investments: Economic Impact of the Arts.  This discussion was part of a three-part series, Culture as Catalyst: Past, Present, Future.  (The third program, Industry to Art: Revitalizing Cities through Culture will be held on April 10, 2013.)

Robert Lynch, President and CEO of Americans for the Arts, summarized the basic economic impact of the arts industry at the discussion and also in an article at Huffington Post last June:

“Of the $135.2 billion of economic activity generated by America’s arts industry, $61.1 billion comes from the nation’s nonprofit arts and culture organizations and $74.1 billion from event-related expenditures by their audiences. This economic activity supports 4.1 million full-time jobs and produces $22.3 billion in revenue to local, state, and federal governments every year — a yield well beyond their collective $4 billion in arts allocations.”

See the Arts and Economic Prosperity IV website for more information on national and specific local findings.

There are, however, numerous other reasons why the integration of public art is important to vital transit systems; for example:

  • Establishing “brand” and community identity;
  • Making use of and beautifying infrastructure;
  • Creating vibrancy and interest;
  • Provoking emotional investment;
  • Enhancing pedestrian and user comfort; and
  • Telling stories of culture, history, process, or environment.

If we ever get the Silver Spring Transit Station finished, maybe another icon of transit-related public art, “Penguin Rush Hour” by Sally Callmer, can be renovated and reinstalled.  Let’s start the fund-raising now!

penguins 01 penguins 02

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On March 7th the Planning Board began the final phase of its worksessions on the proposed zoning code: implementation and impacts of the new code. After more than 4 years of blood, sweat, and tears (mostly figuratively speaking), a Revised Preliminary Planning Board Draft has been released. After several final worksessions and concluding public hearing, a Planning Board Draft Zoning Ordinance will be sent to the County Council for introduction in early May.

During the past few years Planning Department Staff has followed an extensive outreach strategy that has included:

  • Over 80 public meetings,
  • Dozens of Planning Board worksessions,
  • Numerous Council presentations,
  • Regular email “blasts” to hundreds of parties following the project,
  • Press releases for project milestones,
  • Almost weekly web site and agenda updates, and
  • Direct mailings to over 9,000 property owners of commercial, industrial, and other properties.

This outreach has led to great input and a lot of good ideas have been incorporated into the zoning ordinance. But we would like to get even more input in order to produce the best document we can for the Council’s consideration. Please take the time to look through the draft ordinance, take a look at the material on our website, or give us a call or send us an email with any particular questions. We even have office hours set up for you to come in and discuss what implementation of the new ordinance may mean to you.

To encourage further discussion and to explain a few particularly complicated and misunderstood issues, I will be posting a series of blogs over the next couple months. I will at least cover the topics listed below, but am happy to post on other topics that folks have questions or concerns about.

Zoning Rewrite Blog Topics

  • How is the County Currently Zoned?
  • Zoning Text and Zoning Map Amendment Public Notice Requirements
  • The Difference between Building Types and Uses
  • The Difference between Permitted, Limited, and Conditional Uses
  • What Changes are Proposed to the Small-Lot Residential Zones?
  • Why do the Proposed Zones Have So Many Letters and Numbers?
  • Sustainability Initiatives in the Proposed Code
  • Agricultural Support in the Proposed Code

We look forward to continued dialog; schedules on worksessions, hearings, and comment periods will be posted as dates are set.

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Good things are happening in Twinbrook, the small community sandwiched between White Flint and the city of Rockville, and planners can take some credit. Three years after the Twinbrook Sector Plan was approved, the area has seen a number of positive changes:

  • More housing in an area that lacked housing
  • Service-oriented retail, also previously scarce
  • Green features, like a bike-share program
  • Office construction

The Twinbrook Metro Station makes the community a natural place for growth, particularly residential growth. The Sector Plan calls for more residential units, and they have come.

Residents of the new Twinbrook Commons, in the city of Rockville, are just steps from the Twinbrook Metro Station, making it a green development even without the bike share program and solar-powered trash compactor. Planners set the stage for Twinbrook Commons, a medium-density, mixed-use development, before Rockville annexed the area.

The Alaire is a swank new apartment building a block from the Twinbrook Metro Station.

The Alaire is a swank new apartment building a block from the Twinbrook Metro Station.

Beyond residential development, the 18-story landmark Parklawn Building has been a catalyst for spin-off office development. In 2011, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services decided to relocate to the Parklawn Building. The HHS decision provided Twinbrook with a serious jobs boost. Across the street, a mixed office and retail building is under construction, and an agency within the National Institutes of Health is building on the large HHS surface parking lot.

Construction across from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services building

Construction across from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services building

Home to one of Montgomery County’s few light industrial areas, Twinbrook’s service industry includes a bevy of practical uses, from kitchen counter fabricators to automotive repair.

Twinbrook's light industrial area thrives

Twinbrook’s light industrial area thrives

We were out in Twinbrook recently to film a Montgomery Plans cable show walking tour. Take the tour, with details provided by planner Fred Boyd, to see Twinbrook’s progress.

MP39- Around Town:Twinbrook from M-NCPPC on Vimeo.

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Join us for the Coalition for Smarter Growth’s panel discussion on the need to “invest in transit to improve our quality of life, protect our open spaces, and do our part in stopping climate change,” on Wednesday. February 13th from 6-8 pm at the Silver Spring Civic Building.

The Planning Department will be part of the panel, discussing the update to our Master Plan of Highways, which will move that functional plan beyond roadways to address bus rapid transit, bicycle-pedestrian priority areas, and MARC service.

The Coalition shares some interesting data about bus rapid transit:


and provides a good description of bus rapdi transit (it’s not what you might expect from buses!):


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Tucked in among subdivisions and stream valleys, the County’s historically black settlements reflect a history that traces back to the County’s earliest days.

In 1790, local tobacco plantation were worked by slaves, who made up one third of the County’s population. Josiah Henson, whose memoirs inspired Harriet Beecher Stowe to write Uncle Tom’s Cabin, described the conditions.

“In a single room were huddled, like cattle, ten or a dozen persons, men, women, and children. All ideas of refinement and decency were, of course, out of the question.”

But alongside planatations, the County’s Sandy Spring Quaker community freed its slaves in 1770, conveying to them land for a church and dwellings. Sandy Spring would also become a key stop on the Underground Railroad.

150- 2

courtesy: Lincoln Park Historical Foundation/Society March 2001

After the Civil War, in 1870, the black population was still about a third of the County—36 percent. Freed slaves bought or were given land, sometimes by former owners—and transformed scrub fields into agricultural homesteads. Over 40 African-American communities have been identified, often anchored by churches that were used as schools and social centers, surrounded by log and later frame houses.Today, many of these communities retain their strong cultural identification, associated with generations of families. As the County developed, these agricultural communities were surrounded by new development, yet they live on, as tight-knit and distinct communities. Some like Lyttonsville, celebrate that history. Others, like Tobytown, struggle with it.

Community history exhibit at the Coffield Community Center

Community history exhibit at the Coffield Community Center

Lyttonsville historic image (3)

Visit here, for more Black History Month events in Maryland

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In response to the article, “The year ahead: A top 10 list of transportation projects to watch“, I have to say I’m quite disappointed. Not by the content per se, but the title.

Of the 10 projects listed, only 4 are truly “transit” projects; the other 6 are highway projects/roadway improvements (all 10 of which are “transportation” projects). The problem that drives some of us in the design and planning business crazy is that it is precisely because these two concepts are conflated, that we miss the opportunity to truly assess progress for more sustainable, congestion-reducing transportation solutions. Words matter because there is so much baggage attached to them.

While, broadly speaking, “transit” is the movement of something from one place to another, it should be understood more narrowly in these conversations. And transit is not just “mass-transit”, it should cover bikes, buses, light rail, heavy rail, bus-rapid-transit, or any tool to decrease travel by one driver in one car; so maybe we add HOV, or car/van-pooling. Transportation, then, should cover these, plus improvements for the average driver. And a separate argument should be pointed out that roadway improvements – adding lanes, widening roads, installing interchanges – rarely actually improve traffic flow; they typically just fill up with more cars: if you pave it, they will drive.

We fight for hard-earned victories when we can persuade policy makers to think more like transit planners rather than traffic engineers and require transportation departments to focus more on the transit side of the equation. Given the 4/6 ratio of the projects you’ve mentioned, we still have a lot to do. Thus, I think the article – in pointing out the pending projects that will impact our daily commute – you could have been more aggressive in showing that the projects that really could positively influence the environmental impacts and congestion issues are not getting the attention they deserve. For example, in our jurisdiction, the Corridor Cities Transitway, the Purple Line, and the Bus Rapid Transit Amendment to the Master Plan of Highways. These plans, and similar ones in surrounding jurisdictions need more attention and a more critical eye from journalists; we can’t pave our way out of our congestion problem and we need everyone to look at the issues more carefully and analytically.

Apparently, however, the print edition was corrected for the online version; but I think my argument is still valid.  But to prove I wasn’t going nuts:

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Rendering submitted with the Pike & Rose application

Since it was approved in 2010, the White Flint Sector Plan has received much praise. The sector plan establishes the framework to transform a car-centric suburban shopping district known for a sea of under-used parking lots and one of the worst stretches for traffic in Montgomery County into a dynamic mixed-use center.

The plan also envisions new housing options, retail, greatly expanded public use spaces and, above all, a favorable environment for walking and cycling.

Aurora House at North Bethesda Center

In December, planners were pleased to learn that the Maryland Sustainable Growth Commission recognized the implementation phase of the sector plan with a 2012 Smart Growth Communities award. Implementation includes a special taxing district to pay for new transportation infrastructure, a new mixed-use zone, and several innovative development applications.

The award is well deserved. Since the plan was passed, things in White Flint have gotten off to a quick start. The project plans submitted to the Planning Department go a long way toward changing the look and feel of White Flint, particularly Rockville Pike.

Check out the applications:

Each development plan looks to remake aging shopping centers into mixed-use communities with public amenities, new streets, urban plazas, open spaces, and parks. They will place more than 3,000 new residential units on the ground or above ground in sleek high rise and mid-rise buildings within 10 years.

North Bethesda Market II

Thanks to the White Flint Metro Station, the plan area is strategically positioned for growth. With the convergence of public transportation, state roads and jobs, as well as a sense that White Flint is Montgomery County’s Next Big Thing, development in the area is taking off.

Buzz about White Flint growth has appeared in myriad regional and national news outlets, such as The Washington Post, American Public Radio and the American Planning Association magazine.

During the creation of the sector plan, a swell of community support emerged. Several large property owners formed the White Flint Partnership to support the plan vision and drive its implementation, including the tax district. The Partnership worked closely with residents, many of whom expressed eagerness for positive change in White Flint.

A few hundred residents attended the County Council public hearing on the sector plan, many testifying in support in an unusually positive hearing.

In 2011, planners drafted – and the Planning Board and County Council passed – the Commercial Residential Zone, which provides developers with options to increase density if they create extra amenities for the public. Those might include payment into a farmland preservation fund, constructing energy-efficient buildings, creating more tree canopy and vegetative plantings, and installing green roofs, among other measures.

Current applications in White Flint include public amenities such as:

  • A pedestrian walkway with wayfinding signs, tree canopy, public parking and artwork
  • Aggressive stormwater management, including green roofs, bio-filters and underground filter systems
  • Innovative building design, including a modular 300-foot glass tower
  • Public park expansion
  • New urban plazas and open spaces
  • Enhanced streetscape and tree canopy
  • Public art

Another key to change in White Flint was creation of a special taxing district to pay for the plan’s transportation improvements. Envisioned is a street grid that alleviates traffic and converts large parcels into walkable, urban-style blocks.

A major improvement is called for on Rockville Pike, envisioned as a boulevard lined with trees, wide sidewalks, bike paths, and transit lanes.

A re-envisioned Rockville Pike

The emphasis on mixed use development leads to less reliance on driving – and resulting carbon emissions – as the main way of getting around. Local residents and workers can walk to services and the Metro, while those traveling to the area by car can park once and walk to multiple destinations.

Planners will receive the award in Annapolis in February.



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Park and Planning’s own “Edenic plot”

How strongly do you feel about your front yard? Is it a reflection of you and your family; the landscape equivalent of putting on a clean shirt in the morning?

As we’ve said before, there are rules for life in suburbia, some written and many more unwritten. And lately, some of the more obscure written rules about front-yard vegetable gardens are being read and interpreted, not always in favor of cucumbers. As this New York Times article points out, one neighbor’s “suitable” groundcover is another’s eyesore.

And as we’ve pointed out before, there are plenty of personal and community benefits to front-yard  vegetable gardens. In fact, some communities, like Santa Monica, encourage digging up the lawn for a more food- and environment-friendly landscape.

In Montgomery County, they’re legal by code. Typically, it’s HOA covenants that restrict them. One of the progressive pushes we made in the Zoning Ordinance rewrite is for more forms of urban farming and local food production.

Community Gardens, Farming, Animal Husbandry, and Farm Markets are allowed in all zones – albeit with some restrictions in the non-Agricultural/Rural zones.


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Over the past few decades, Montgomery County has seen a steady rise in the number of public art pieces, bringing artistry and creativity to spaces large and small. We see sculptures, art-enhanced plazas, benches and more in schools, libraries, parks, retail centers and office buildings. The collection provides a set of assets that contribute an extra appeal to the look and feel of our communities.

The Planning Department helps build the collection by encouraging developers to contribute public art in exchange for density.

Thus, we have an outdoor pool with real waves correlated to the tides outside the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration building in Silver Spring.

Pool outside the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration building in Silver Spring

An outstretched palm with birds at a busy Silver Spring intersection.

Catching the eye of motorists and pedestrians at East-West Highway and Colesville Road, Silver Spring

And a set of three oversized granite block chairs that are both eye-catching and a respite for pedestrians on a well-traveled avenue in Bethesda.

Solid granite seats on Old Georgetown Road, Bethesda

Just how art commissioned through private development should work, and how it fits in with the broader public art agenda will be the subject of Planning Board review next week of a public arts policy drafted by The Montgomery County Arts and Humanities Council.

The public arts policy aims to manage, maintain and add value to the full collection. Council members say a more systematic approach to managing and maintaining the artworks will add value to the collection as a whole.

Planners work with professional artists on a review panel that looks for pieces that help build a sense of place. They analyze art and placement with an eye toward access, lighting, durability and other factors. Where pieces are located and how they connect to their surroundings and engage viewers, they say, can be as important as the design of the artwork itself.

The policy has several goals, among them:

  • Promoting culture, community identity and civic pride
  • Celebrating Montgomery County heritage and ethnicity
  • Integrating art into architecture and the landscape
  • Enhancing the image of the county locally as well as nationally
  • Encouraging federal, state and private support for public art


Above all, it’s intended to help place art where it will be enjoyed by many rather than just a few by placing art throughout the county. A consistent approach would help develop art as a true county asset, rather than a sporadic set of pieces.

The Board will review and adopt the document as the standard for managing public art pieces for private development. Other county agencies and organizations, such as Montgomery College and the County’s Executive Branch, also will weigh in.

It is no accident that the developer-placed art appears mainly in down-County locations like Silver Spring and Bethesda. Since 1974, when the optional method of development was created, property owners in high-density zones have been able to apply for additional density if they create more attractive urban environments. Among their options is installing art.

Last year, the County Council approved the Commercial Residential Zone, which provides a list of public amenities for developers opting to earn bonus density. Among the amenities is supplying public art or pay a fee in lieu of providing a new piece.

Also on tap is creation of a Public Art Road Map, intended to provide a big picture look at existing art in the county and point out gaps.

Art has more of an economic impact than most people realize. Statewide, the nonprofit arts sector has a $1 billion impact on the economy, supporting more than 11,000 jobs, according to a just-released report by the Maryland State Arts Council. The report analyzed the impact of performing arts, visual arts, and multidisciplinary arts by region and found that the Capital Region, which includes Frederick, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, was second to the Central Region (Baltimore, Anne Arundel and surrounding counties) in contributing revenue ($431.2 million) and arts-related jobs (4,865) compared to $495 million and 5,745 jobs.

One might conclude that Montgomery County could do a better job in supporting the arts. Art makes communities distinct, but needs curation and care. The public art policy is one step toward making that happen.