Montgomery legislators approve amended development proposal

October 11, 2011

The Montgomery County Council approved a controversial proposal to spur county development Tuesday — but not without adding a few important last-minute tweaks.

The proposal, intended to lead to the development of walkable cities around proposed transit areas, has drawn the ire of civic activists and some community organizations because they fear it does not have enough restrictions to protect suburban residents.

The council passed the proposal in a straw vote last Tuesday, but civic activists later pushed through an amendment that would allow for smaller, less dense developments on the edges of the cities.

The amendment, council members said, helps to ease concerns that high-rises will pop up across the street from single-family neighborhoods. Other amendments will allow public input in more development plans.

Council members, many of whom were weary after scores of meetings involving hundreds of pages of arcane regulations, said they are satisfied with the proposal. While last week’s straw vote split 6 to 3, only Marc Elrich (D-At Large) voted against the measure during Tuesday’s official action.

Elrich acknowledged there are positive aspects of the proposal, which the county planning staff hopes to use to help streamline the zoning process and spur commercial development.

“It’s certainly not the worst zone we’ve ever created,” he said at the meeting. “But I think that holes in this [proposal] are too vast, and they should have been more constrained than they are.”

Council member Nancy Floreen (D-At Large) said at the meeting that despite flaws, the proposal is a “far clearer, more transparent thing that we have today.”

With the agreement on a new set of rules for mixed-use development, the council seemed to put an end to a debate that has lasted more than a year. Developers have been at odds with civic associations and some municipalities over how to urbanize parts of traditionally suburban Montgomery.

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