Stalled Transportation Projects Might Not Delay White Flint Development

As featured in Bethesda Magazine.

Lack of funding for transportation projects might not hold up development allowed by the White Flint 2 Sector Plan.

On Thursday, the Montgomery County Planning Board took a look at the checkpoints for each stage of the drafted plan, which opens the way for up to 5,938 new homes and 3 million square feet of nonresidential space.

Going into the meeting, the proposal included hard-and-fast criteria for pacing the three phases of development. For instance, after 1,800 new homes and 900,000 square feet of nonresidential construction, development would pause until funding was available to build a protected bikeway on Executive Boulevard and East Jefferson Street, establish a shuttle or circulator for the plan area and conduct a design study for Rockville Pike Bus Rapid Transit. The state would also have to complete a feasibility study for putting a MARC station inside the plan area.

Once those and a few other goals were fulfilled, development could move on to the second phase, which allows another 1,800 homes and 900,000 square feet of nonresidential space.

However, Planning Board member Norman Dreyfuss said this arrangement would leave growth in White Flint at the mercy of state officials. If the Maryland Department of Transportation killed the MARC station project or other initiatives, the entire plan could grind to a halt, he said.

His concern kicked off a robust conversation about ensuring adequate infrastructure without ceding too much control to state or federal decision-makers.

Ultimately, the board members directed staff to change the document’s language to remove the rigid funding requirement and to replace it with something more flexible.

One of the staging goals is to achieve certain benchmarks for use of shared transportation, biking and walking. Instead of a blanket requirement for project funding, the amended proposal would only demand it if those overarching targets are unmet.

Planning Board Chairman Casey Anderson said he’s not a proponent of project staging in general.

“I didn’t write them. I didn’t support them. I’m not here to be their defender,” he said.

However, he offered the idea for a more relaxed version of the project staging, contending that the White Flint plan, which covers about 460 acres arranged around Rockville Pike and Montrose Road, should have some safeguard to prevent growth from overburdening local transportation systems.

The document will come back before the board on July 13 for consideration and then head to the county council for review.