THE RULES used by Montgomery County planners to ensure that road and school capacity keep pace with growth were drafted for a different time, when new areas of the sprawling suburbs were being developed. Today, with much of the county developed, rules are needed to regulate infill development and redevelopment. A proposal before the County Council is on the right track, but care will be needed to make sure that its implementation produces realistic outcomes.
The council has until Nov. 15 to act on a proposal developed by the Planning Board to update policy measuring the impact of growth and the adequacy of public facilities. A series of public hearings and work sessions went into the drafting of the Subdivision Staging Policy (formerly called the Growth Policy), a complex but critical document in determining if development can go forward and what developers should be obligated to do.
Most of the debate has centered on transportation and proposals to get away from car-centric tests of adequacy in favor of an emphasis on access to transit. This means, as The Post’s Katherine Shaver reported, that instead of focusing on how many vehicles would be added to roads as the result of a development, the measure would be the development’s access to transit. Critics worry this could be a recipe for more gridlock, because it is fanciful to think that a commuter’s access to Metro automatically translates into forgoing use of a car. Think, for example, of a resident who would take Metro to work but use a car to drop a child off at day care or for errands.
Planning officials seem to have acknowledged these concerns. The plan not to require transportation studies for development around Metro areas has wisely been taken off the table. Instead, there would be smarter types of traffic analysis. Officials have used data to analyze the travel behavior in various parts of the county and argue convincingly that a one-size-fits-all set of rules doesn’t make sense. They have divided the county into four groupings — from least to most auto-dependent — and propose different standards for how much congestion is allowed and what steps should be taken to address it. A developer seeking to redevelop in Friendship Heights might be required to install bike racks, employ a design that encouraged walking or subsidize ride sharing, while a developer in Damascus might have to pay for a road widening.
Debate about development is a staple of Montgomery County civic life and is generally accompanied by strong passions. This plan provides a thoughtful framework for that debate.