Wednesday, July 25, 2018

here’s where Montgomery County is — and isn’t — growing

As in previous years, growth and development was a big issue in this year’s primary election in Montgomery County, and some candidates ran on a platform of slowing or stopping it. However, that growth doesn't look the same across the county — nearly all of it has been crammed into a few areas, leaving most parts of the county unchanged.

Areas like downtown Silver Spring are building lots of new homes, but most of Montgomery County isn’t. Image by the author.

Here’s where the county is growing

Montgomery County’s planning department is in charge of figuring out how many people will move here, how many homes and jobs we’ll need (among other things), and where they have to go. Each area of the county has a dedicated plan for future growth called a “master plan” or “sector plan” which is updated every 20 to 30 years.

If you add all of the county’s master plan or sector plan areas up, there were about 47,000 homes that have been approved to be built as of May 2018. This is what county officials call “the pipeline." Of those 47,000 homes in the pipeline, 15,000 of those homes have building permits and are in some stage of construction. That leaves about 32,000 homes that are waiting to be built.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

your presence in this room is a radical act (12 years)

Burtonsville Crossing Charrette
East County residents gathered this month at a workshop on the future of Burtonsville Crossing. Photo by the author.
Twelve years ago today I started this blog. Since then, I’ve written over 1,700 blog posts, started Facebook and Twitter pages with a combined following of over 8,500, and met hundreds if not thousands of awesome people in our community. But the accomplishment I’ve been proudest of has been helping to build a network of people promoting positive change in this community, and encouraging others to not only speak up, but take leadership roles as well. Here are just some of the projects that our friends and neighbors in East County are working on this year:

These efforts will help make our communities safer, give people more and more reliable ways to get around, bring new life to our older neighborhoods, and provide crucially-needed housing and economic opportunities for our growing population. I’ve offered my time and advice to these folks, and consider them my friends, but otherwise I can’t take much credit for these efforts.

And that’s the best part! I’m excited that there are so many other leaders in this community, because together we can do so much more. The crucial part about these projects is that they’re bringing out people who don’t look like the “usual suspects” who get involved in Montgomery County affairs: young people and families, people of color, first-generation Americans, women, queer people, and people from underprivileged backgrounds. Judging from what we know about early voting, these groups are starting to make themselves heard.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

downtown silver spring could get a business improvement district. what is a BID, anyway?

In order to attract new businesses and residents and better maintain the downtown area, a group of local businesses and property owners in Silver Spring want to start a business improvement district, or BID. But what is a BID anyway?

Downtown Silver Spring at Night
 A group of businesspeople and property owners want to give downtown Silver Spring a Business Improvement District. Photo by the author. 
A business improvement district is basically a nonprofit organization that manages a commercial area. They can provide a variety of services, like sidewalk cleaning, capital improvements, security, parking and transportation management, and social services. But they also work to market and promote an area, recruit new businesses, and retain current businesses. BIDs are created by local governments, and are given the ability to raise funding through taxes on commercial property owners.

GGWash editorial board member Payton Chung used to serve on the board of a BID. “I like to think of them as micro-local governments — like taking an homeowners' association (HOA) and having it cover a whole Main Street,” he says. “In practice, what they usually do is give your area chamber of commerce some taxing and spending authority. They're not quite as intrusive as an HOA, because they don't have regulatory or policing mechanisms.”

BIDs are pretty common in DC and Arlington, covering areas like downtown DC, Golden Triangle, Rosslyn, and Crystal City. Dupont Circle just started one, and at least five new BIDs are under consideration in Brookland, Congress Heights, H Street NE, Shaw, and MidCity (covering the area around 14th and U streets).

Thursday, April 12, 2018

wheaton woods residents are upset about plans to build rain gardens

Montgomery County has plans to build gardens that collect and clean stormwater on the street in front of homes in older neighborhoods. Residents, however, are up in arms.

A rain garden on Dennis Avenue in Silver Spring. Image by Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection.
Whenever a new development is built, the developer is usually required to plan for getting rid of rainwater from big storms. They regrade the land so water flows away from houses, and often create a stormwater management pond where all the water can go.

Older neighborhoods frequently lack those things. Many streets in older neighborhoods don’t have good drainage, or have streets with no curb and gutter. After a storm, water can collect in people’s yards, causing erosion or flooding. Or, it flows directly from the street into a storm drain, collecting a lot of pollutants before dumping the water into local waterways.

Several years ago, Montgomery County started the RainScapes program to address this issue by building rain gardens on public property, including parks and schools, and giving private property owners rebates for building them on their land. Also called a bioswale, a rain garden is basically a landscaped area that’s designed to collect rainwater after a storm. They include a mix of plants, rocks, dirt, and even sand that filters the rainwater before it seeps into the ground below or is directed to a storm drain. Native plants give pollinators and other animals a welcome habitat.

People are mad

Currently, the county is working on plans to build them in Wheaton Woods, a 1950s-era neighborhood between Wheaton and Rockville where flooding is an issue. However, some neighbors are fighting it. One resident told Channel 7 that the gardens are dangerous because people will fall in them. Another claimed that they would hurt his property values, while a third worried that stormwater pollution will somehow end up in his yard instead.