County Considers Putting Brakes on Development

County Considers Putting Brakes on Development

Changes could be in store for the way developers do business in Montgomery County.

The Montgomery County Planning Board on Thursday, Jan. 11 weighed proposed legislation that would suspend approvals of most new residential and commercial development while the county council reviews the policy that regulates growth and new development in the county.

The Annual Growth Policy analyzes the impact of developments on the county's infrastructure — particularly the effects on road and school capacities - and the newly-elected council is expected to place stricter regulations on developers.

The county's revised Annual Growth Policy would guide the approval of all preliminary development plans submitted to the planning board after Dec. 5, 2006.

After nearly five hours of testimony and deliberation the board neither recommended approval nor denial for the proposal, voting instead to draft a letter to the County Council that will voice the mixed views the board has on the matter.

The moratorium was proposed by Marilyn Praisner (D-4), the president of the Montgomery County Council. It would last until Aug. 15, 2007 during which time the county council will revise the Annual Growth Policy. The Annual Growth Policy regulates development in the county, and the newly elected council is expected to take steps to slow growth.

If approved, the plan would put a halt to 72 projects currently under consideration by the Maryland National Parks and Planning Commission that total about 5,100 residential units.

Fortune Parc, a growing subdivision at the intersection of Seven Locks and Montrose roads in Potomac, could be affected by the moratorium, said Karl Moritz, Chief of the Research & Technology Center at the planning board. The proposed project would add 600 residential units and 8,500 square feet of commercial space to the ongoing development, but that plan would be stalled if the moratorium is approved.

Exemptions to the plan would include some small subdivisions and development in and around Metro stations, such as planned development around Grosvenor and White Flint Metro stations and a proposed development near Westfield Montgomery Mall on Democracy Boulevard, said Moritz.

While planning board staff supported the proposal for a moratorium, more than a dozen people testified in opposition to the proposal and no one appeared to testify in favor of it.

“The real issue is not growth, the real issue is that the [county] government has not made real decisions on transportation in the county,” said Jane Redicker, president of the Greater Silver Spring Chamber of Commerce.

THE PLANNING commissioners acknowledged that the new growth policy will be more restrictive, but had mixed views over the merit of the moratorium.

“I felt the growth policy in the last few years was ineffective,” said commissioner Meredith Wellington who favors the moratorium. “It almost wasn’t a growth policy at all — the gate was open almost all the way.”

Wellington said that a moratorium would prevent the Planning Commission from giving approvals that could be revoked when the new growth policy is approved by the County Council.

Chairman Royce Hanson expressed skepticism about the proposal.

“There is no emergency,” Hanson said, adding that the moratorium would not stop any of the subdivisions currently under construction and would essentially be a symbolic gesture.

The main benefit of a moratorium would be preventing a rush of applications from developers trying to gain approval before stricter regulations are in place, Hanson said.

Commissioner Allison Bryant strongly opposed the idea. Bryant said he was worried the moratorium would send the message that Montgomery County was anti-business.

The letter was drafted over the weekend and submitted to the county council for review.

The County Council was to vote on the moratorium on the evening of Tuesday, Jan. 16, after the Almanac’s presstime.