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Master Plan Reality Check Findings Will Be Presented to Planning Board on May 4

May 2, 2017

Analysis of three plans reveals that expectations for residential development and public improvements were met, but some plan goals were not achieved as hoped

Silver Spring, MDThe Montgomery County Planning Department, part of the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC), will present the findings of the Master Plan Reality Check to the Planning Board on Thursday, May 4, 2017. The study undertook a rigorous analysis of three plans, the 1989 Germantown Master Plan, 1997 Fairland Master Plan and 1998 Friendship Heights Sector Plan.

“It’s important that we take stock of our past plans to see if development and public investments have happened as envisioned,” said Planning Director Gwen Wright. “It is by analyzing our past work that we can make more informed, data-based decisions on master planning efforts for the future.”

View the May 4 Planning Board Staff Report on the Master Plan Reality Check.

Background on the Master Plan Reality Check

The purpose of the Master Plan Reality Check is to gauge how the goals and visions expressed in master plans have been carried out and evaluate why expected outcomes were or were not met. Each plan studied involved an in-depth analysis of indicators in six categories, including residential and nonresidential development, transportation and the environment, and community facilities, such as parks. The results of this study, directed by the Planning Department’s Research and Special Projects Division, will help guide the development of future master plans and master plan monitoring.

When embarking on the study, Research staff looked for and found few precedents for such a reality check. According to a 2003 article in the Journal of the American Planning Association, it is quite rare for planning departments to undertake this type of work. Barriers cited include the challenging nature of the work itself, unsupportive cultures and resource constraints.

The Montgomery County Planning Department is breaking new ground by advancing this type of analysis and self-assessment. While the study addressed just three plans, the insights are applicable more broadly.

Key findings from the Master Plan Reality Check

-Residential development achieved overall unit goals, but was less effective in altering unit mix in Germantown and Fairland.

-Commercial build-out depends on the market; on a floor area ratio (FAR) basis, it differs for plans in urban vs. suburban areas.

-Public sector commitments for parks, recreation facilities, schools and road improvements were delivered.

-Public benefits contingent on private sector investment didn’t always materialize.

-None of the plans indicated concerns about school overcrowding.

-Investment in transit and bikeways has not progressed as quickly as hoped.

-Stronger design standards help with the implementation of higher quality developments.

Key implications from the Master Plan Reality Check for future planning efforts

-Preserve data used at the time of the master plan analysis for documentation of baseline assumptions.

-Undertake a more detailed market analysis as part of a master plan to provide more quantitative data on baseline conditions and support for plan recommendations.

-Understand that plans reflect the time and place in which they are completed, as well as the unique plan area characteristics.

-Perform a master plan reality check before the horizon date of the plan to determine if incentives or other interventions should be considered to stimulate development and realize plan recommendations.

Consult the  Master Plan Reality Check staff report for more information.