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Update: County Council To Discuss Sector Plan Next Week

Councilmembers wanted more time to discuss zoning, Konterra.

Update, March 1, 8 a.m.: The County Council has scheduled its straw vote on the Kensington Sector Plan for its March 6 meeting, starting at 9:30 a.m. 

Original post, Feb. 29: The Montgomery County Council put off a straw vote on the Kensington Sector Plan at its Tuesday meeting, as members asked for more time to strengthen the plan's language and consider the zoning for the Konterra property.

Konterra is asking for a 75-foot high maximum for its parcel on Metropolitan Avenue, and the Kensington Town Council recently as long as the developer hosts a charrette and proposes a design the community likes. The area was initially zoned for 60-foot maximum building height.

But some on the county council weren't sold that the extra height is necessary.

Councilmember Marc Elrich, who called the proposed plan "the worst we've ever done," said changing the plan's zoning for its first project sets a bad precedent for future plans. If the county allows Konterra to build up to 75 feet, future developers will ask for up-zoning, too, he said.

But Councilmember George Leventhal, who for Konterra in a committee meeting, said compromising with the developer may be the only way to kick-start redevelopment in Kensington where there are few foreseeable projects in the future. If Konterra can't make money at 60 feet, the company won't invest, and Kensington will stay the same, he said.

"Revitalization just won't occur unless developers find it profitable," he said. "If you want to call it greed, you can call it greed, but that's the way it is."

Most attendees of the packed meeting were in opposition to the plan's current draft, with many holding signs that read "Revitalize, Don't Supersize, Kensington," and some with signs implying that they'd vote out councilmembers who support the plan.

The current draft of the plan does not require first-floor commercial space for potential projects, and Elrich said that will allow developers to fill the town with large apartment buildings and negate the plan's goal of a vibrant, walkable community. Elrich said the council should make ground-floor commercial mandatory in the town's core.

"If you don't get retail, you reduce Kensington to a bedroom community," he said. "This ought not to be left to chance."

However, requiring ground-floor retail can in fact discourage it from happening, Planning Director Rollin Stanley said. Some areas just can't support it, he said, and mandating it across the board would make certain parcels impossible to develop.

County Council Analyst Marlene Michaelson said the plan's current language only allows developers to build to maximum heights and densities if they construct first-floor commercial, but that the council staff can strengthen the language before the next meeting.

After delaying the straw vote, Council President Roger Berliner said that while final action on the plan has long been put off, it's important for the council to hear all sides of the issue and approve a plan that will result in positive change for Kensington.

The council will discuss the plan again at its March 13 meeting.

Darin Bartram March 06, 2012 at 02:31 AM
1. The revitalization committee has a diversity of viewpoints, not just one. 2. When I said, "we are not hearing about project," I meant to convey that they don't exist; I'm not sure how you think I have inside information suggesting they do. I don't; I truly don't think much will change for a while based on what is presently on most of these sites. But, the Sector Plan is not about this year and next. It has a 20-30 year horizon. 3. Let's not get too caught up with important-sounding credentials. NCI certification appears to be a 1-3 day process which requires no prior background. A robust process is going to require a lot of preparation and communtity involvement.
Not Lydia Sullivan March 06, 2012 at 01:46 PM
Underground parking is extremely expensive and probably not economically feasible in a surface parked market like Kensington. Which is why you don't see underground parking in most suburban areas. Someone has to rent the retail space and make enough money to survive. The cost of new construction makes space extremely expensive in a new building. Retailers survive on visibility and walk in traffic, neither of which exist in large quantities at this location. This again is not economically feasible - there is little to no chance that retail will succeed at this location. Nothing new has been built in Kensington in over 25 years. At the current rate, nothing new will be built in the coming 25 years. Developers will just move on to greener pastures, as they have in the recent past in Bethesda, Rockville and Silver Spring. We would all like to look like Brad Pitt and have Warren Buffett's brains and bank account, but at some point you have to be realistic. We're not them.
Not Lydia Sullivan March 06, 2012 at 02:00 PM
Many of the sites in question have had similar FAR and height limitations under the current sector plan. With none of the conditions that you suggest, no one has stepped up to develop a single site in Kensington for over 25 years. The period of easy money and massive development has come and gone, with not a single project ever even being proposed in Kensington. That while all of the surrounding areas (including even Wheaton) saw massive change. What leverage do you honestly think actually exists here? Konterra is the only real project on the horizon and would transform what is now an eyesore. The people who are mounting the fight for lower densities and height limitations are virtually all completely ignorant to the economic realities of redevelopment. If you want Kensington to remain as it is - full of 7/11's, gas stations and Cash for Gold shops, you should listen to them. Otherwise, you should ignore them.
jivan17 March 06, 2012 at 02:36 PM
Darin, I did misread your comment now that you've explained it. I'm glad to hear you are backing a robust charrette process. The only word I would add to that is "professional." This isn't for the do-it-yourselfers. And again, with Konterra paying, we can afford to have the best, most skilled impartial mediation to help us manage something so important to the future of Kensington.
Stowe Locke Teti March 06, 2012 at 08:57 PM
The County Council has adopted language that I think can result in a very successful project. Now the question is whether or not we can come together around a truly representative, professionally executed process. The challenge is to structure this process so that it is unbiased yet representative.

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