After a full day of debate on two major development issues yesterday, the Montgomery County Council ended up in a stalemate, sending one of the matters to a committee for further study and postponing action on the other.
The moves drew strong criticism from both sides of the issues over the council's apparent inability to respond to a development boom that is causing unprecented congestion on local roads.
The council sent back to the drawing board a proposal to curb development in the county by placing a three-year cap on building permits, prompting charges from David L. Scull, a sponsored of the measure, that the 4-to-3 vote was a "pathetic abdication" of responsibility and a "recipe for inaction."
It also delayed action on a major rezoning of county land that would have cleared the way for construction of the Washingtonian Center, a $500 million complex of offices, stores and homes along I-270 outside Gaithersburg, noting concerns about increased traffic congestion.
The cap on permits was aimed at reducing development by up to 28 percent the first year and by 40 percent after that in some parts of the county.
Neal Potter, the other sponsor of the proposal, accused the council of "stalling."
Planning Board Chairman Norman L. Christeller, an opponent of the measure, also criticized the council's decision to delay, saying it would prolong uncertainty about the issue, which neither citizens nor developers wanted.
Charles Ackerman, president of Ackerman & Co., the Atlanta-based firm that wants to develop the 211-acre Washingtonian Center, said delaying his project would have a "dramatic" affect on his ability to obtain financing.
"I don't really know what more we can do to satisfy the council," he said. "It's very frustrating."
The project, one of the largest ever in Montgomery County, would rival Tysons Corner in size and scale, with more than 1,400 residential units, hotels, restaurants, and 4.5 million square feet of stores and offices.
Some council members said the decision to delay action on both matters was a result of the divisive effect the debate has had on the county.
"This is a case where we have truly gotten two major segments of the community as polarized as they could ever be on one issue," said council member William E. Hanna Jr., whose motion for further study of the development issue was supported by Michael Gudis and Rose Crenca, who said the proposed building curb was not the most effective tool to handle traffic congestion, and by Scott Fosler.
"Voting on the bill would have created a terrible problem in Montgomery County, which we don't need," he said. Hanna's motion was opposed by Scull, Potter and Esther Gelman.
The study committee, which will be made up of citizens and developers, will be required to report back to the council with recommendations within 60 days, Hanna said.
Scull dismissed the action as "an elaborate burial."
A county hearing examiner approved rezoning for the Washingtonian Center development last week.
Although the zoning category requires the builder to stage development to coincide with the construction of six crucial roads in the area, council members expressed concern yesterday about the impact of traffic on the heavily congested I-270 corridor.
After Scull called for another detailed traffic analysis of the project, the council agreed to postpone action for a week to give the hearing examiner time to address the council's concerns.