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Montgomery Parks and Planning Present Newest Achievements to County Council

October 9, 2014

New Zoning Ordinance, affordable housing, urban parks and deer management are highlighted in Fall 2014 Semi-Annual Report

SILVER SPRING, MD – Montgomery Parks and Planning, part of the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, presented its Fall 2014 Semi Annual Report to the Montgomery County Council on October 7. The report features accomplishments from the past six months as well as work that will be completed over the next six months. Some of the key initiatives for the Planning Department include implementation of the county’s new zoning ordinance and revamping the development review process to be more efficient. The Parks Department highlighted their urban parks initiative and expansion plans for park trails. The 36- page Fall 2014 Semi-Annual Report is available online for review.

This progress report is the first to be submitted by Chair of the Planning Board Casey Anderson, who was appointed to his current position by the County Council in July 2014. Anderson outlined several initiatives aimed at meeting the county’s demand for housing and jobs in close proximity to retail and public transit, as well as the creation of recreational spaces and protection of natural resources.

In addition, the report focuses on both Department’s major goals for the coming months, including the following:

-The Planning Department is providing extensive training to staff, citizens, developers, and others as it begins to  implement the county’s new Zoning Ordinance, which takes effect October 30. The revised code provides more understandable and coherent regulations that are easier to use and to enforce. It offers a better organization of uses and zones, greater certainty to the approval process, and incorporates modern principles of planning and design.  As part of this effort, non-residential areas of the county were remapped to enable more mixed use zones.  The new official zoning map, which also takes effect on October 30, will be digital for the first time.

-In line with the stringent new processing times required by the new Zoning Ordinance, the Department is working to revamp the development review process in order to make doing business in Montgomery County more predictable.  A specific, written schedule for each development project will allow review of the project to be accomplished in 120 days. A voluntary concept plan process will allow plans to be reviewed at a very early stage so that major concerns can be identified early so as to not slow down the review process.

-One of the county’s toughest problems, the lack of affordable housing, is being addressed by the Planning Department in a study of rental units. This report will examine the factors contributing to increasing housing costs and recommend potential changes to current policies and programs to guarantee long-term affordability of rental housing.

-Better forecasting of traffic conditions is being advanced through new performance metrics that will evaluate transportation adequacy in existing and emerging transit-oriented developments.

-More comprehensive design guidelines are being developed to improve streetscapes, amenities and public spaces through the Planning Department’s Design Excellence Initiative. As part of this effort, a Director’s Advisory Panel on design issues, similar to the current panel for reviewing public art, is being considered.

-County planners are experimenting with new ways to reach out to community members who do not typically participate in the planning process. Social media, participation in happy hours and interactive presentation tools are being used to improve the quality and quantity of public engagement, making participation in the planning process more informative, interesting and meaningful for citizens.

Master planning efforts highlighted in the Fall 2014 Semi-Annual Report include:

-The White Oak Science Gateway Master Plan, approved by the County Council in July, reflects policies aimed at the investment and job creation in the life sciences.

-The Clarksburg Master Plan Limited Amendment, adopted in April for the protection of the Ten Mile Creek watershed, reinforces the county’s commitment to preservation of natural resources and environmental health.

-The Aspen Hill Minor Master Plan Amendment, presented to the Planning Board in July, demonstrates a willingness to adapt to the county’s changing local office and retail market.

-The Sandy Spring Rural Village Plan public hearing draft, approved in July by the Planning Board, shows an appreciation for mixing land uses in a rural village setting while preserving the area’s cultural history.

-Work on the Bethesda Downtown Plan is building on the success of the area’s vibrant, walkable district. Scenarios for several areas were advanced through feedback from happy hours attended by millennials at several local restaurants.

-The Greater Lyttonsville Sector Plan is considering ways of preserving the village character of the area while upgrading the transportation network and residential neighborhoods. Innovative engagement efforts, including events aimed at business owners and families, helped guide the planning efforts.

-Technical assistance provided by the Department of Planning for the Purple Line and the inclusion of pedestrian-oriented streetscapes in area master plans are improving the quality of the public realm while offering new transportation options.

Parks initiatives over the past six months include:
-The Urban Parks Initiative is being implemented to plan, construct, renovate and activate public parks in Bethesda, Germantown and other county communities.

-New revenue sources to support renovations at Brookside Gardens and educational components at Josiah Henson Park are being created through the Montgomery Parks Foundation.

-Responding to the need for urban parks and new amenities in the county, a dog park abutting downtown Silver Spring was approved and the Carroll Knolls Neighborhood Park was opened.

-Multi-use trails for walking and biking were expanded, renovated for sustainability and improved with signage to better connect people to nature.

-The county’s deer management plan was advanced through deer population surveys, with new programs proposed at Cabin John Regional Park and other locations.

Major park projects now underway include:

-Nearly $425,000 in private donations were raised for the transformation of the Brookside Gardens Visitors Center, now in the planning stages. Also, a $1 million dollar donation was secured to help construct a new growing greenhouse at Brookside Gardens.

-Renovation of the historic stone barn at the Woodlawn Visitor Center at Woodlawn Park in Sandy Spring has begun and is expected to open in spring 2015.

-Construction of Potomac’s Greenbrier Local Park, a recreational area with a soccer field and basketball and volleyball courts, will be completed in spring 2015.

-Renovation and expansion of North Four Corners Local Park is underway and expected to be completed in winter 2015.