When the Rockville Mayor and Council set out to update the 1989 Rockville Pike Plan in 2007, Apple released the first iPhone and the New Horizons space probe was passing Saturn. In 2015, Apple is working on the iPhone 6s and New Horizons just passed Pluto–but the Rockville Pike Plan is still incomplete. It’s a complex area but something is definitely wrong with the planning process in the City of Rockville if it takes eight years to revise a plan for an area of 410 acres. What happens when Rockville tackles the Comprehensive Plan for the 14 square miles of the City of Rockville? Will it meet the state deadline to update that plan every ten years?
When you look at the timeline for the project, it’s pretty clear that the Pike Plan is languishing with the Planning Commission. A closer looks shows they’ve held six public hearings, 32 work sessions, and formed two sub-committees and they’re still not done. In contrast, the Mayor and Council have held five public hearings and one work session. Looks like the Planning Commission is suffering from “paralysis by analysis.”
What is extremely puzzling is that the Planning Commission is taking as much time or more than the consultants who were hired to develop the plan. In 2007, the Mayor and Council hired experts in urban planning to conduct studies, hold public workshops, and use their expertise to develop a draft plan over a course of four years. Now the Planning Commission seems to be repeating the same cycle, conducting their own studies, holding public workshops, and using their expertise to prepare a revised plan, so far adding another four years. And that’s in addition to the research, analysis, and recommendations from the City’s own staff, who have their own expertise in urban planning and design. The 2014 plan is a significant improvement over the 2010 version, but it looks like the process will continue on into 2016. Something has gone terribly wrong. It’s consuming lots of time and lots of dollars, plus keeping the property and business owners on Rockville Pike in limbo and delaying investment because the City hasn’t made a decision. In the meantime, the Pike is being developed according to the 1989 Plan, now 27 years old. Will it reach 30 years before it’s replaced? Is the perfect driving out the good?
When the City Councilman Tom Moore recently sent a letter to the Planning Commission encouraging them to complete their revisions to the revised draft Rockville Pike Plan with the current Mayor and Council before change occurs with the November 2015 election (the letter not provided with the online agenda and no minutes are available, so I had to deduce what it was about from the discussion), the response bordered on the indignant. At the July 22, 2015 meeting (at 1:47) they discussed the letter and had several responses (excerpted from video of meeting):
Commissioner Jack Leiderman: Mr. Chairman, we did speak to that I believe [at] the last meeting, where we presented a number of issues that remain and some of them are fairly weighty. As Commissioner Tyner pointed out, there may even be a requirement for another public hearing, so this may take a little while to go through these issues. I pointed out two things about the time frame coming from the Mayor and Council. We sent it to them last summer. They took the better part of a year to get back to us with their comments and then we painstakingly went through their memorandum. It took us a couple of months to answer their questions about it. So some of the delay is actually been from the Mayor and Council. In a second way, I pointed out at the last meeting, that when the Mayor and Council unilaterally changed the APFS standards, it sort of changed the groundwork upon which our plan had been developed. We did warn them in advance that it would be disruptive to the planning process for the Mayor and Council to move propitiously in that area. They chose to go ahead and do that and this Commission reserves the right to reassess the plan in light of what now needs to be discussed because the APFO and APFS are repeatedly referred to in the plan. I don’t make any apologies to anyone on the Council who’s asking why is there a delay because the Council majority is the cause of the delay. Thirdly, the Mayor and Council as a body is a continuous process through time and the term of any given Mayor and Council is a rather artificial line. We on this Commission serve in rolling five-year terms and there is no term that we serve and our function is continuous regardless who is its membership. The Mayor and Council similarly while they do serve concurrent terms and are elected, the fact that their term of the currently elected Council is about to come to a close is not a deadline for the rest of the City to “hop to” to make sure. Because, you know, if they want to be part of the decision-making process, if we get this to them after their term expires, then let them run for re-election.
Commissioner John Tyner: I quite agree. I think we’ve really put this to bed as far as we’re concerned and as so eloquently you put in the letter to the Mayor and Council about several significant issues we’re going to be working on. I think the easiest way to put it is that when we’ve completed our deliberations and have come up with a plan that’s in the best way for the needs of the citizens of all of Rockville, then we would send it forward.
Commissioner Anne Goodman: The Mayor and Council is the Mayor and Council. Doesn’t matter who’s on it and I don’t think that we should choose our Mayor and Council and that would be a choice we would be making, I think, if we tried to complete this by that particular date. It’s going to be a Mayor and Council; it doesn’t have to be this one.
Commissioner John Tyner: I would just note that while he [Councilman Tom Moore] was thanking everyone in the City, I did note that he didn’t thank the members of the Planning Commission for their four years of work on this project. Ahem.
Commissioner David Hill: When you mentioned the idea of writing a letter, I was going to bring up the great point you said. I’d like to suggest the statement that the Mayor and Council perform a public service in providing a public opportunity to be heard in a different forum, and provided very thoughtful and thorough comments to us about the document. I don’t think that’s a waste of time in any manner. I agree with the other comments [inaudible]. These are good ideas. If the merits of this plan stand up, it doesn’t matter if its this particular set of elected officials or the ones that succeed them then take this up. [inaudible] Commissioner Leiderman and Commissioner Tyner said [inaudible] a particular point about the wasted effort.
The Planning Commission will be meeting again tonight at 7:00 pm, but the Rockville Pike Plan is not on the agenda. Looks like this project will continue into September and they’ll finish when they finish. 2016? 2017? Isn’t there a reasonable deadline they can set for themselves–and for us?
Members of the Planning Commission are appointed by the Mayor and confirmed by the Council. The only qualification is that they are residents of the City of Rockville.
The Mayor and Council amended the APFS to ensure consistency with the APFO on October 28, 2013 with Councilmembers Hall, Moore, Newton, and Pierzchala approving and Mayor Marcuccio abstaining. The Planning Commission discussed the impact of these changes on January 14, 2015 and sent a letter expressing their concerns with unanimous support on February 3, 2015 (letter not provided with online agenda or minutes). The Mayor and Council revised the APFS in 2015, including an alignment of school occupancy from 110% to 120% to align with the county, which went into effect on June 1, 2015.
In the 2014 draft of the Rockville Pike Plan, the Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance (APFO) is mentioned on six pages and the Adequate Public Facilities Standards (APFS) are not mentioned in its 132 pages.
Special thanks to RockvilleNights.com for raising this topic online.