Category Archives: Montgomery County Planning Board

Greater Silver Spring Chamber Unhappy with Planning Board, Councilmembers

The Greater Silver Spring Chamber of Commerce’s (GSSCC) county council candidate questionnaire (embedded in full below and also viewable at this link) contains statements revealing deep frustrations with the county’s approach to planning and development extend to the business community.

Though Silver Spring is widely viewed as one of the most vibrant parts of the county, the lack of commercial development outside of restaurants and retail remains a real problem:

The Silver Spring Central Business District was envisioned to become a smart-growth, live, work, and play community.  However, in the past 10-plus years, Silver Spring has evolved into a primarily residential neighborhood (bedroom community), with virtually no commercial office development.  At this point, the County seems to be focused on just the “live” and “play” aspects.  But local retailers and restaurants are feeling the brunt of having fewer and fewer customers during office hours.

If efforts to build what the Planning Board terms “complete communities” with places to live, work and play fall short even in Silver Spring, one wonders how well they can succeed as the model for the whole county as envisioned in Thrive 2050. GSSCC also sees the Planning Board’s approach to this problem as inadequate:

The Planning Board’s Silver Spring Downtown and Adjacent Communities Plan’s sole answer to reviving and expanding Silver Spring’s office market is to simply “improve the public realm (i.e., build more sidewalks, bikeways, parks, etc.).

This is part of GSSCC’s support for a “balanced approach to transportation” that includes roads and parking as well as transit and bike lanes. It clashes with that articulated by the Planning Board in Thrive 2050 as well as some members of the County Council:

The Chamber supports a balanced approach to transportation policies that takes into account the needs of our member businesses, their employees, their customers, and their vendors. That balance must accommodate those who use public transit, drive on our roads, travel by bicycle and on foot, and need sufficient parking options at their destination.

Finally, even in liberal Montgomery County, the focus has shifted from “defund the police” to rising crime:

In recent months, Silver Spring has experienced a dramatic increase in violent crime, which threatens our economy, our business owners, and our residents.  The expansion of our “nighttime economy” has been accompanied by some unintended consequences.  Two recent surveys show that the top concern of most residents is crime and safety.

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Planning Board Proposes to Redefine “Public Hearings” Instead of Holding Them

Yesterday, Montgomery County Council President Gabe Albornoz sent a letter to the Planning Board demanding more transparency, including that they cease abusing their Consent Agenda for discussions of “major amendments” to plans that require public hearings.

They don’t seem to have received the message.

Instead of offering a mea culpa for their past flagrant violations of the zoning code, they excuse themselves, claiming: “Items are placed on the Consent Agenda for votes when they have not generated controversy.” Except that how do you know there is no controversy without holding a public hearing? And if there is no controversy, why not just put it on the regular agenda and just move along if no one wants to testify instead of signalling and pre-judging the question?

Beyond offering no apology, the Planning Board’s proposed “solution” is to redefine “public hearing” to include Consent Agenda items:

“Public Hearing” or “hearing” means a duly-noticed Summary Hearing (emphasis added) or Full Hearing held before the Planning Board, open to the public, and providing an opportunity for any Person, including the general public or Applicant, to appear and present written or oral evidence, cross examination, or rebuttal, all subject to the provisions in these Rules.

Buried in the Rules of Procedure are also new explanations that items can easily be moved from the Consent to Regular Agenda. However, unless a member of the public goes spelunking in the Rules, they are unlikely to know. Meanwhile, the item remains on the Consent Agenda even though the clear intent of the Code is to require genuine public hearings on major amendments.

Poof! Problem solved!

If Planning Board members were really interested in transparency, they could start by providing a tracked changes version of the document, instead of forcing the public to suss out the changes. These legalistic changes might not even solve their problem as they may still violate common law–not to mention common sense–definitions of a “public hearing.”

It is clear that Planning Board Chair Casey Anderson and possibly the rest of the Board have missed Council President Albornoz’s message. After all, Albornoz could have proposed an amendment to the zoning code instead of pushing for transparency. Nevertheless, the Board has chosen the route of less transparency by redefining “public hearing.”

The Planning Board’s statement begins “We take transparency very seriously.” They then proceed to provide excuses for all of their violations of lobbying registration and open meeting requirements along with this “fix” of their Consent Agenda problem. Their response further undercuts confidence in the ability of the Planning Board to conduct the public’s business in a genuinely fair and transparent manner.

If you wish to testify regarding the proposed changes on February 10 at 9am, you can sign up here. Perhaps the Planning Board might consider holding the hearing on this issue before it goes through its lengthy Consent Agenda.

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Council Investigating Planning Complaints

Montgomery County Council President Gabe Albornoz sent a letter to Planning Board Chair Casey Anderson looking for answers on a series of complaints regarding transparency at the Board, including M-NCPPC’s failure to register lobbyists as required under law, and violation of the Open Meetings Act, and inappropriate use of the Board’s Consent Agenda for matters requiring a public hearing.

He concludes by writing:

In isolation, any of these procedural concerns would be troubling. Taken together, it creates an impression that the Planning Board’s procedures are lacking in transparency and public participation. Please outline the specific steps that the Planning Board has undertaken to respond to each of these complaints and create an environment that will encourage transparency and facilitate public participation.

The full letter is posted below (pdf first, images follow):

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Thriving Together

The Tweeters have been active since the Coalition for Smarter Growth (CSG) condemned me. I’ve been threatened with physical violence and another prominent smart growth blogger says I “must be stopped.” Twitter suspended the account of the person who threatened me.

While not pleasant, a friend with good sense reminded me to “ignore the trolls” and that the “Twitter echo chamber is not representative of the real world.” The bile seemed to go far beyond anger at my criticizing a lobbyist for not filing required reports.

What I rapidly learned is that my series of posts about problematic ethics at the Planning Board and lobbying raised the ire of advocates for Thrive 2050 —the county’s general plan that the County Council is set to consider. Apparently, similar treatment has been meted out to others deemed to be critics, though I have literally not written a word on Thrive prior to today.

Well, they got me much more interested. I have not followed the Thrive debate closely. Like many, I’ve been focused on my job and getting through the pandemic, so I stopped blogging completely. Over the weekend, I’ve started to gain a quick education.

The key takeaway so far is that new County Council President Gabe Albornoz and Vice President Evan Glass have their work cut out for them. The intense divisions and acrimony around Thrive mirror the ugly mood and tenor of debate in the country. Confidence isn’t increased by the Planning Board’s failure to register lobbyists, violations of the open meetings law and abuse of the consent calendar to constrain public input on other matters.

The good news is that I cannot think of two people more suited to address it. While I sometimes disagree with them strongly, you won’t find two more fundamentally even-keeled public officials than Councilmembers Albornoz and Glass. As a result, I remain optimistic that they can lead the county to a document that brings people together. Put another way, I hope they can move the process forward to a conclusion but in a way that makes residents feel included and heard.

That doesn’t mean “paralysis by analysis”—the county’s unfortunate moniker for its tendency to study matters into eternity—but it does mean heading towards the end in the right way. How can that be accomplished?

It’s an unfortunate truth of public policy that many people only start to pay greater attention once matters come to a head. (Consider me Exhibit A in this case.) This is especially true because the key parts of the process took place during the pandemic and the 2020 election. So many people still have a lot of questions they would like answered, and many would like to know how the comments they have already provided will be incorporated.

Thrive proponents may be technically correct that the document itself changes nothing with respect to zoning, but it is strongly linked to potential major zoning changes (zoning text amendments) that have also been proposed and are already under discussion. So saying it has no impact on zoning comes across, intentionally or not, as too clever and insincere.

It’s especially important because the Planning Board, led by Casey Anderson, removed certain references to the importance of the Master Planning process. The document is now written to pre-determine outcomes, while simultaneously claiming not to have decided anything. Put another way, we are now being told that it is too early to know its impact on zoning but, once Thrive is passed, it will be too late because “Thrive says . . .”

People want to know what Thrive means for them—how will it affect their home and their neighborhood? What about nearby areas? People care a lot about how changes impact their family and their largest investment or their rent. Using plain language and including specific metrics would go a long way to help residents better understand outcomes Thrive expects to realistically achieve,

In my time as mayor and other leadership positions, I’ve found that listening is far more important than talking. I’m not saying it’s easy or my natural strength, but I work on it. People like to be heard. They also justifiably loathe performative “consultations” where leaders claim to want input, but the outcome has been pre-determined. Councilmembers must incorporate comments from the very broad range of opinion thoughtfully with an open mind.

Which brings me to why this effort is needed to get the process back on track. Many in the community believe that the process has been highly structured to produce a particular outcome supported by a nexus between the Planning Board Chair, activist/business groups like CSG, and certain councilmembers.

The Planning Board staff presented a draft that was amended “in a very surgical way” at the behest of Planning Board Chair Casey Anderson according to insiders. While avowedly done in response to community comment, for example, it’s hard to imagine that this very pro-environment county demanded the excision of Thrive’s specific environmental chapter. Did anyone actually request this? The changes reflect exactly what one would imagine Casey Anderson preferred.

The Thrive appendix outlining planned outreach states:

Blog and vlog: To get involvement from and perspectives of different people in the community — residents, community leaders, business leaders, county officials — we’ll ask different people to be involved in writing or being interviewed for Thrive Montgomery stories to share on the blog.

But the blog is uniformly supportive of Thrive and the concepts behind it. If you do a search for “Thrive” in the blog, almost all of the posts are written by Casey Anderson or other people at the Planning Board. This is what an orchestrated campaign looks like–not an effort to involve diverse voices and different perspectives.

The three-member Council Committee which then reviewed Thrive for the Council is chaired by Hans Riemer, a very good friend and close ally of Casey Anderson. People happier with the original staff document, such as the Civic Federation, understandably see the consultation process as set up to emphasize supporters and limit input from people who might have a contrasting vision.

Former Council President and powerful PHED Committee Chair Riemer’s statement that CSG, a regional organization fiscally sponsored by an out-of-state group with substantial contributions by developers, has been “chairing the conversation” confirms their fears.

Anderson, Riemer and CSG are understandably happy with a document which utterly mirrors their views. That doesn’t make it a bad document in terms of public policy per se, or any of their policy preferences “wrong,” and it certainly doesn’t make any of them remotely bad people. It’s a fine example of structuring a political process to achieve one’s preferred outcome. But it doesn’t provide for an open, transparent, and inclusive process that achieves buy-in from the community.

Finally, as the Council goes through the document, they should go through section by section with both the PHED version and the original Planning Staff version on hand. That will allow the Council to better discuss whether they agree with the changes. Again, they need to discuss how the feedback they’ve received that differs from recommendations is considered and incorporated. This sort of deliberative work session process, conducted in public, will allow for an open process that permits a variety of issues and concerns to be discussed and considered.

There shouldn’t be a complete restart. We need to answer questions, to consult meaningfully, and then the Council can make the decisions we elected them to do. Not everyone will be happy with their decisions, but they’ll likely feel much more included and respected if they are genuinely heard and the document reflects the diverse views in the county.

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Planning Board Abuses its Consent Agenda

Increased attention is being paid to how the U.S. Supreme Court uses its shadow docket to make decisions without public argument. One Montgomery County equivalent is how the Planning Board uses its consent agenda to evade public hearing requirements in apparent violation of the Code.

The Montgomery County Zoning Code requires public notice along with “the same hearing procedures” as for the original site plan when there is a major amendment to a site plan. The code defines a “major amendment” as “any request to increase density or height; change a use; decrease open space; deviate from a binding element or a condition of approval; or alter a basic element of the plan.” (See Section 7.3.4. “J. Amendments.”)

Under the leadership of Planning Board Chair Casey Anderson, the Montgomery County Planning Board has been declaring changes that appear to fit the legal definition of “major amendment” as minor amendments and then approving them on its consent agenda, which excludes opportunities for public comment. Unless an especially perspicacious and tenacious resident requests its move to the regular agenda, the amendment will almost certainly sail through with the blessing of the Planning Staff as a “minor change.”

The resulting Planning Board resolutions approving the amendments nonetheless often falsely state that they did hold a public hearing despite having been dealt with on the consent agenda. These resolutions all had to go through the M-NCPPC Legal Department and were signed by Planning Board Chair Casey Anderson.

I imagine that these matters were placed on the consent agenda to keep the process moving or to ease the passage of potentially controversial items favored by the developer. But these goals don’t allow the Planning Board to evade the commands of the Zoning Code.

If these items are truly not controversial or on the border between minor and major amendments, why not just place them on the regular agenda? If no one shows up to testify, the Planning Board can move through just as speedily. And why lie about holding public hearings in the resolution if they aren’t legally required?

Where is this Happening?

Examples of affected site plans placed on the consent agenda despite involving changes that seemingly “deviate from a binding element or a condition of approval” or “conditions of use” or alter building footprints in a way that impact open spaces as well as density have occurred all over Montgomery.

Montgomery Village Center

Request to modify condition no. 4 to reflect the revised/approved stormwater management concept; reduce building footprint for the main retail building; minor modifications to the three retail pad sites; shared-use path will be revised to avoid existing streetlights; and slight modification of the property lines for the condos. (Plan Amendment #82018002A, April 25, 2019 Consent Agenda.)

Randolph Farms

Request to move MPDU designation from Lot 109 to Lot 46; revise Lot 109 from 16′ to 20′ wide; revise Lots 45-47 from 4/3-story units, to 3-story units and remove retaining walls/stairs in front of units; revisions to the central recreation area; and other minor alterations. (Plan Amendment #82017002A, October 3, 2019 Consent Agenda.)

Chevy Chase Lake Block B

Request to reduce required onsite parking, eliminate garage access on Chevy Chase Lake Terrace, revise the Manor Rd./Connecticut Ave. intersection improvements, make changes to the secondary driveway at the Manor Rd. intersection, modify bio-retention planters, relocate transformers, and make associated modification to the site design of sidewalks, landscaping and lighting. (Plan Amendment #82016019B, October 10, 2019 Consent Agenda.)

850 Sligo Avenue

Request to remove the age-restricted use from the multifamily portion of the project. (Plan Amendment #82019005A, October 10, 2019 Consent Agenda.)

Dowden Station

Amendment to delay the construction trigger from the 14th to the 31st building permit for the multi-age playground area located in the northern portion of the property. (Plan Amendment #82016006C, April 30, 2020 Consent Agenda.)

Fairchild Apartments

Request to modify the approved setbacks as well as the location of outdoor grills. (Plan Amendment #82018022B, December 17, 2020 Consent Agenda.)

Poplar Grove

Amend condition 15 to clarify that rough grading, stockpiling, sediment and erosion control, re-grading for stockpiling and interim uses are allowed without amending the Site Plan or entering into a Surety and Maintenance Agreement for the Site Plan. (Plan Amendment #82019006A, January 21, 2021 Consent Agenda.)

Mt. Prospect (Hanson Farm)

Request to modify conditions for development triggers and modifications conditions requested regarding stormwater, landscaping, recreation area, lighting, limits of disturbance, and forest conservation. (Plan Amendment #82017016B, January 27, 2022 Consent Agenda.)

Resolutions Incorrectly Stating Public Hearings were Held

These Planning Board resolutions giving approval appear for requested changes appear to state falsely that public hearings were held:

Chevy Chase Lake Block B

WHEREAS, on October 10, 2019, the Planning Board held a public hearing on the Application at which it heard testimony and received evidence submitted for the record on the Application.

850 Sligo Avenue

WHEREAS, on October 10, 2019, the Planning Board held a public hearing on the Application at which it heard testimony and received evidence submitted for the record on the Application.

Fairchild Apartments

WHEREAS, on December 17, 2020, the Planning Board held a public hearing on the Application at which it received evidence submitted for the record on the Application.

Poplar Grove

WHEREAS, on January 21, 2021, the Planning Board held a public hearing on the Application, and at the hearing at the Planning Board heard testimony and received evidence submitted for the record on the Application.

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Planning Board Violated Open Meetings Act

Like many institutions, the Montgomery County Planning Board has taken to holding meetings online during the pandemic. Incredibly, they chose not to give public notice about how members of the public could attend the meeting online.

Del. Al Carr (D-18) filed a complaint on November 1 alleging that the Development Review Committee (DRC) of the Montgomery County Planning Board repeatedly violated the Open Meetings Act by failing to provide the public this information.

Unbelievably, the Planning Board Counsel, overseen by Planning Board Chair Casey Anderson, defended this decision as acceptable because there was no physical location for the meetings:

Since March 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the DRC meetings have been held via Microsoft Teams. Someone wishing to join the Teams meeting would call the Information Counter (number provided on the website) and request to be added to the Teams meeting. There was no in-person option so no “location” was required.

The Open Meetings Compliance Board did not agree:

We believe the DRC construes the Act’s notice requirement too narrowly. The purpose of § 3-302(b)(2) is to ensure that members of the public who would like to attend a public body’s meeting have enough information to be able to do so.

An individual cannot attend a meeting without knowing where the meeting will take place. And while a virtual meeting may not happen in a physical location in the traditional sense, a person hoping to attend the meeting must still know where to go to observe the public body’s business. . .

The notices further indicated that “project applicants and their team” would receive information about “how to participate in the DRC meeting[s]” remotely. But the notices gave no indication of how an interested member of the public could obtain access information for the meeting. In its response, the DRC asserts that “[s]omeone wishing to join [a] Teams meeting would call the Information Counter” and “request to be added to the Teams meeting.” But the DRC fails to explain how an individual interested in attending such a meeting would even know to call “the Information Counter” or where to find that number, as such details are missing from the meeting notices.

Notice that the Board not only called out the Planning Board for failing to provide the information but also for their disingenuous claim that members of the public would somehow magically know to call the Information Center to be added to the meeting.

As with M-NCPPC’s complete ignoring of lobbying disclosure requirements and failure to address this ongoing violation despite their assurances, the Planning Board’s failure shows contempt for ethics laws and the public that they are supposed to serve.

In this case, the Planning Board finally altered its behavior in response to Del. Carr’s complaint But it should not take action by a member of the General Assembly for the Montgomery County Planning Board and M-NCPPC to comply with ethics laws.

And why didn’t the County Council, which has responsibility for appointing and overseeing the Planning Board, take action? Or do they condone this illegal nexus between the Board and the interests that they are supposed to regulate.

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M-NCPPC Violating Ethics Laws and its own Lobbying Policy

Maryland Public Ethics Law mandates that the Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC), a bi-county agency which includes the Montgomery and Prince George’s Planning Boards and other departments, require disclosure by lobbyists.

Towards that end, M-NCPPC adopted a policy on lobbying disclosure in 1983, which was amended in 1985. The policy requires lobbyists to register with M-NCPPC and to file a report annually with the Commission. Paid lobbyists should be reporting expenditures on meals, entertainment and gifts to Commissioners or their employees in addition to their compensation and monies spent on lobbying materials and research subject to certain regulations and thresholds.

The current Commission does none of this.

That means that lobbyists before the Planning Boards, which handle decisions with incredible monetary impact, aren’t registering or filing reports. A recent evaluation in by the Office of the General Counsel in response to a citizen complaint, reveals that even the old policy doesn’t fully comply with current law.

You can read M-NCPPC’s Office of the General Counsel’s recent report and review the 1985 policy below. Even their own counsel says that M-NCPPC is way out of compliance: “no lobbying registrations had apparently been filed in recent memory.”

Montgomery and Prince George’s need to wake up. Montgomery has always prided itself on being a squeaky-clean reform county, but its own Planning Board has failed to enforce any of its own or Maryland’s ethics requirements even though its decisions and recommendations can provide many millions in benefits to people invested and involved in property development.

This raises serious questions. Why hasn’t the Commission or either Planning Board done anything to enforce ethics regulations related to lobbying? Why has Planning Board Staff failed to carry out the Board’s adopted policy? Why didn’t the Office of the General Counsel make sure that M-NCPPC was in compliance up until now?

At the end of its report, the Office of the General Council states:

OGC recommends that the Commission promptly complete the process for a substantial overhaul of its lobbying regulations. The Commission’s executive team has made a commitment to revise and adopt new, clarifying lobbying regulations before the end of the 2021 calendar year, and to launch an energetic campaign of public education to introduce them after adoption.

None of that has happened.

The report was supposed to be discussed finally at the December 2021 M-NCPPC Board meeting but was yanked from the agenda at the last minute. In other words, M-NCPPC has already failed to honor its “commitment” to clean up this ethics mess by the end of 2021.

The Montgomery and Prince George’s County Councils, which fund and appoint each county’s Planning Board, need to investigate quickly and ensure that a new, cleaner regime arrives at the Planning Board’s new Wheaton headquarters with officials and planners willing to abide by and to enforce the law.

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Planning Board Chairman casey anderson calls county exec. Marc elrich’s idea “Dumb”

Though he doesn’t say his name, Planning Board Chairman Casey Anderson disparaged County Executive Marc Elrich at the Board’s Thrive Montgomery meeting, saying it was a “dumb idea” for Elrich to suggest that the Purple Line be single tracked under Wisconsin Ave. to save money. Just to make it extra clear who he is thinking isn’t too bright, Anderson references an Elrich proposal from 2009.

Only the discussion doesn’t make clear that the idea now is simply to single track under Wisconsin Ave.–a distance of 900 feet–to save money rather than all the way from Bethesda to around Connecticut Ave. as in the idea from over a decade ago. [Note: The Purple Line was originally planned as entirely single track.]

No discussion of the merits of the idea occurs. Nor does the Planning Board Chairman suggest a means to fund this expensive project. Anderson’s comments would likely have been even worse if a planning board staffer had not cut him off in the midst of another negative comment.

When asked for comment, Chairman Anderson said:

Well, I said it, and if I had it to do over again I might say it’s a bad idea, or even a terrible idea, but whatever word is used to describe it the fact is that It was suggested in 2009 and rejected for reasons that were pretty obvious at the time and I don’t think it has improved with age.

Not exactly an apology. Even worse, it reiterates the false claim that this is the same as the 2009 proposal. It’s not. The 2009 proposal planned for single-tracking over a much longer distance, so I queried: “Except that Elrich’s proposal in 2009 had a single track to CT—not just under Wisconsin—so that’s not true, right?” Anderson texted back:

It’s pretty obvious that it creates the same problem – single tracking limits the ability to improve frequency of service because it limits the number of trains you can run. In places where it’s been tried the result has been to come back later and make expensive fixes to add back the second track.

Except that what’s more far obvious is that single-tracking over a very short distance at the end of the line could well have quite different effects than doing the same over a much longer distance. It’s a very strong, unsupported assumption in service to his preferences. More to the point, repeatedly stating that the two proposals are the same is not playing straight with the public.

Around the same time as I heard back from Anderson, I also received a comment from County Executive Elrich:

Not quite sure what Casey’s referring to but when it was first suggested, the single track went all the way to the country club. We’re talking about pulling into and out of the station on a single track. It’s nine hundred feet – a fraction of the distance to the country club. And the trains have to switch tracks over there any way because the train entering on the westbound track has to leave on the eastbound track.

At the headway’s the system uses, there’s no way that two trains would conflict and there would be no bottleneck or degradation in service. It would save $50 million that could be spent on other important things. And without a second track you get a nice wide path.

Of course, the state would have to study it, I can’t mandate it, so we’ll see if it works. And if it does, why would a sane person say no. In the meantime his policies of developer giveaways is wrecking our ability to build the capital projects we need. Which schools, libraries, or public facilities should we kill to spend $50 million on a 500 ft tunnel if you can solve the problem and get the project done faster for far less cost. I’m trying to get it done quickly, without damaging our budget.

I don’t think many would contest that the two-track tunnel would be better. The question that Elrich raises is whether it’s worth studying the alternative in light of other pressing needs demanding the county’s scarce capital dollars. He also points out, correctly, that we’d get a much better bike path and trail through the tunnel.

Bottom Line: The public contempt by the Planning Board Chairman for an idea proposed by the County Executive to deal with the decline in projected capital funds is irresponsible and inappropriate for an official chairing a public meeting. Indeed, it’s the sort of remark that the Council reacted to sharply when Elrich said something similarly tactless–and, unlike Elrich, Anderson knew he was being taped.

What’s even worse, however, is intentionally misleading the public into believing that Elrich’s current proposal for single tracking just under Wisconsin had been studied when he could have simply said that he didn’t think it is a good idea. The Planning Board Chair should not misrepresent facts. It undermines the public trust.

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Lucrative Waiver to Chevy Chase Land Company Scrutinized

Today, I am pleased to present a guest post from Del. Al Carr (D-18) on an issue that the Planning Board is taking up today.

The Montgomery County Council approved the Chevy Chase Lake Sector Plan in 2013 after a lengthy process of gathering public input.

The plan contains environmental provisions requiring developers to restore the local tree canopy which has been ravaged over the years by road construction, development, Pepco, and clear cutting for the Purple Line. It requires that utility wires be buried allowing for the planting of large overstory trees. A healthy tree canopy is vital to protecting water quality in Rock Creek and its tributaries.

Unfortunately, the Montgomery County Planning Board quietly waived these environmental provisions for the well-connected developer in 2017. The developer successfully lobbied to be released from the requirement to bury the wires on the east side of Connecticut Ave. As a result, the developer is not planting tall overstory street trees on Connecticut Ave and Manor Rd to maximize the restoration of the tree canopy.

In the 2017 staff report, planning staff used the following rationale when recommending the waiver: “Although undergrounding of utilities is typically required for site plan applications in Chevy Chase  Lake Sector Plan area, this application is not required to do so because the electrical utilities along the property frontage are high-voltage transmission lines that are not routinely buried.”

However the exact same “high-voltage transmission line” was recently buried immediately to the south where the purple line bridge will cross Connecticut Ave. Identical lines are routinely being buried in the county including in Silver Spring (Linden to Sligo project) and in White Flint (new substation).

There is a long-shot opportunity to correct this mistake when that same developer returns to the Planning Board on July 23rd for amendments to their plan. The Planning Board has the opportunity at that meeting to mandate that the wires be buried at the developer’s expense and that tall overstory trees be planted where possible along the site frontage on Connecticut Ave and Manor Rd.

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