Category Archives: Zoning

Bridget Newton at RCC

Councilmember Bridget Newton at Rockville Community Coalition meeting.

On May 3, 2012, Councilmember Bridget Newton joined the the quarterly Rockville Community Coalition meeting at the Unitarian Universalist Church to discuss various issues facing the City of Rockville, including:

Charter Review Commission:  she supports opening the commission membership to applications from citizens and at the last Council meeting it was decided that each Councilmember could appoint one person and that together they would appoint another five, plus the Mayor would appoint the Chair.  She doesn’t have any problems with the current charter, although she noted that a few years ago there were some discussions about whether to continue the Manager-Council form of government, but she had no issues with that.  She also had no preconceived outcomes, such as a 7-member council, and wants the commission to be an independent group who would do their own research.  She’s committed to holding a referendum on any changes to the Charter before Council makes a decision.

Council conflicts:  she stated that her goal is to work together and there would no major/minority divisions.  It’s not productive to have a divided Council and she looks forward to more 5-0 votes.  Newton mentioned that when she first moved to Rockville, it seemed that despite the diverse perspectives and opinions, people got along but now discussions seem to be mean-spirited.  She would like things to Continue reading →

Chamber of Commerce discussion at Rockville Community Coalition meeting

Andrea Jolly, executive director of the Rockville Chamber of Commerce (center) at the Rockville Community Coalition meeting.

At the April 5 meeting of the Rockville Community Coalition, Andrea Jolly shared that the Chamber of Commerce is becoming more active in local advocacy and that the Chamber cares as much about the community as it does business.  She’s the executive director of the Rockville Chamber of Commerce, an organization that now claims 185 members, a dramatic turnaround from its nearly lifeless condition just a few years ago.  As examples of their reinvigorated stature, she noted the public stand they’ve taken on behalf of Pumphrey’s; the support for environmental causes that affect the community as a whole (such as the bag tax and storm water management fees); and the sponsorship of the Rockville Economic Summit.  She expressed her concerns that the community seems to be artificially divided between businesses and residents and while the Council claims to be business-friendly, their actions have indicated otherwise.  Most members of the Chamber are small businesses that are locally owned and operated and rely heavily on local residents as both customers and employees.  She also voiced a desire that there be good relationships throughout the community rather than irreconcilable differences–we may disagree at times, but we should always be willing to work together to solve shared issues.

During the discussion:

  1. she clarified the relationship with the Rockville Economic Development, Inc. (they attract and retain businesses but cannot advocate; Chamber provides ongoing services to its members and the current business community, can advocate for a business-friendly atmosphere).  She also mentioned that REDI may have a new executive director in place in May.
  2. she was unaware that the City didn’t collect Continue reading →

Exploring Rockville’s Downtowns on May 7

I’ll be leading a 1.5-hour walking tour of Rockville’s downtowns for Peerless Rockville on Saturday, May 7 at 10 am.  Wear comfortable shoes, be prepared for the weather, and consider enjoying lunch afterwards (unfortunately, some of the tour is not accessible to persons with limited mobility).  Space is limited so please register in advance with Peerless Rockville.

Rockville’s Year 2010 in Review

Usually this type of post goes up on January 1, but I always prefer a bit of distance to identify the biggest stories of past year.  Although this is admittedly from my limited personal perspective and is bound to generate controversy (but hey, that’s what these lists are supposed to do), here’s my list for Rockville in 2010:

1.  Red Gate Golf Course.  This is continued to be a thorny issue and made have seen its thorniest moment when the City Council used $2.4 million in “surplus” money to pay off past debt and the anticipated shortfalls for 2011, and also (once again) punted the decision to another time.  Despite countless meetings and studies, for years the Council has been astonishingly agonized about making a decision on whether to commit to an annual subsidy, integrate it into the recreation program, levy a tax to support it, or to close it down.  Meanwhile, the golf course continues to bleed money and participation rates continue to slide.  Perhaps we need to start over:  if we were offered 130 acres today (Red Gate is the second largest park in Rockville), what would most benefit the community?  I don’t think most people would say golf course.

Welcome to (snowy) Twinbrook

2.  Snowpocalypse.  Who can forget this snowstorm? There was so much snow it closed the federal government for a week.  The adventurous walked and explored the city in a new quiet way and neighbors found a new reason to talk and help each other.  There was a lot of frustration with snow clearing and the City wasn’t prepared, but remember, the city worked around the clock and conscripted employees into snowshoveling duties to deal with this record snowfall.  We also improved our abilities to monitor and respond to these situations so when this happens again (and it may not be for another fifty years), we’re prepared.  And someone at the City gets two stars for Continue reading →

Free Parking in Town Square: A New York Perspective

Town Square parking garage

In case you didn’t catch the August 14 edition of the New York Times, it includes an economic evaluation on parking which might bring a different perspective on our perennial debate on Town Center parking.  In “Free Parking Comes at a Price,” Tyler Cowen, a professor of economics at George Mason University, suggests that while many people see a free parking space as an entitlement, it’s actually a subsidy that wastes space and money:

Many suburbanites take free parking for granted, whether it’s in the lot of a big-box store or at home in the driveway. Yet the presence of so many parking spaces is an artifact of regulation and serves as a powerful subsidy to cars and car trips. Legally mandated parking lowers the market price of parking spaces, often to zero. Zoning and development restrictions often require a large number of parking spaces attached to a store or a smaller number of spaces attached to a house or apartment block.

If developers were allowed to face directly the high land costs of providing so much parking, the number of spaces would be a result of a careful economic calculation rather than a matter of satisfying a legal requirement. Parking would be scarcer, and more likely to have a price — or a higher one than it does now — and people would be more careful about when and where they drove.

He goes on to note that a parking space may cost more than the vehicle that’s parked in it, especially when you consider a car’s rapid depreciation.  So I decided to do some quick calculations based on our situation for the three city parking garages in the Town Center based on the City’s FY2011 budget: Continue reading →

Planning Commission approves Senior Housing Complex

The controversial Victory Court, a senior housing complex, achieved a major victory at the August 12 Planning Commission meeting.  The property is bounded by Maryland, Fleet, and Monroe streets on the western edge of downtown in a Mixed Use Transitional (MXT) Zone, which permits such uses as a single family home, live/work unit, child care center, hospital, church, bar, pet grooming, clothing store, restaurant, and a medical office.   “Housing for senior adults” is allowed only as a special exception.  With sixteen conditions, the Planning Commission agreed that this land could be used for senior housing.  Although the applicant crossed an important threshold, they have other hurdles to face, including approval from agencies outside of Rockville.  Last month the project was reviewed by the Historic District Commission (it is adjacent to an Historic District on Fleet Street) and now moves to the Board of Appeals.

The room was packed with supporters on both sides of the issue and when I arrived, the parking lot was full and I Continue reading →

New Urbanism video includes Rockville Town Square

Built to Last recently won first prize in the Congress for the New Urbanism video contest.  It’s a three-minute video explaining how the principles of New Urbanism – density, design and walkability – can effectively respond to the current environmental challenges that we face.  It may be a bit controversial in suburban Rockville but if you watch closely, you’ll see our Town Square flit by as an example (perhaps New Urbanism is already here?).

Today’s Issues

Tonight the Historic District Commission held its regular meeting and encountered a few issues that touch the larger community:

1.  The new “Green” section of the Building Code has been long overdue but as a result, should be easily adopted.  Indeed, it probably doesn’t go far enough.  The code has different levels of expectations (e.g, Rockville Certified, Rockville Silver) based on the number of points scored on a menu of tasks (e.g., if you install solar panels, you get X points).  To achieve the “certified” level, you must have a minimum number of total points, and for “silver” it’s a bit higher.  What level you need to achieve is based on the size of the building.  What’s odd is that non-residential (aka, commercial) and multi-family (aka, apartments) need to achieve “certified” if they’re larger than 7,000 sf.  Low rise residential (aka, single family homes) must “certified” no matter the size.  Actually, certified shouldn’t be that hard to reach, especially if you have any interest in saving energy.  For me, all new construction–residential or commerical–should reach the lowest “certified” level no matter the size.  Why are small office, retail, and apartment buildings exempt? Aren’t we all supposed to be good citizens and save energy?  If you have comments, send them to the City by the end of May so they can be incorporated into the next draft in June.

2.  We recommended that a home at 224 Elizabeth Avenue in Lincoln Park be designated historic.  It wasn’t a unanimous decision and I predict that the Mayor and Council will have a difficult time deciding this one.  However, what did come up was that the Zoning Code allows churches in every zone of the city, including residential.  Coming from California, this is a strange notion.  My former hometown only allowed churches  in residential zones as conditional uses because of the traffic and parking lots–it really disrupted a neighborhood, especially on weekends.  In Rockville, I’ve become accustomed to churches tucked in neighborhoods and it seems to be a good thing.  But once they reach a certain size (say, over a capacity of 100-200), they really need to move to a more suitable location on a highway or in a non-residential zone that can handle the traffic and parking, or receive a conditional use permit to demonstrate they won’t have an adverse impact on nearby homes.  Right now, churches can buy adjacent houses and turn them into parking lots, or simply grow in size on their existing lot and leave the parking on the streets.  That doesn’t seem right. (And just to confirm, I’m not opposed to churches, just excessive traffic, noise, and congestion in residential neighborhoods.)

3.  The historic Pump House in East Rockville is finally being rehabilitated into a proper community center.  There will be very few changes to the exterior but many improvements inside to allow it to be used for meetings, workshops, and classes for the neighborhood.  Historic buildings can often be reused for new purposes rather than demolished, and this distinctive industrial building provides a great example.  Isn’t this much better than constructing a concrete block box with steel windows for a community center?

And I’ll make my apologies now.  The story of the community coming together to provide a home for a single mother,  her eight children, a nephew, and a grandmother in the 1950s (this is the house at 224 Elizabeth) was remarkable, and I went so far to say that you don’t see that today.  I was wrong.  Actually, it does happen all the time, but usually not as dramatically as the moving of a house.  In Twinbrook, neighbors get together to clean up the parks and streams, work on community plans and policies, lobby for neighborhood improvements, and much more.  And it happens throughout Rockville as well.