A ‘slow growth’ county shifts to smart growth

Author:  Philip Langdon
Ten years ago, the catch phrase in Montgomery County, Maryland, which borders on Washington, DC, was “slow growth,” The Washington Post recently observed. Now, however, the catch phrase is “smart growth.”

The affluent, 972,000-population county, which ranked 13th-highest in per capita income nationally in 2008, wants to encourage development—especially commercial and mixed-use projects. The County Council has approved rules intended to bring about walkable development in areas around transit stations.

The new set of regulations for mixed-use development won approval after debate lasting more than year. “Developers have been at odds with civic associations and some municipalities over how to urbanize parts of traditionally suburban Montgomery,” said Post reporter Victor Zapana.

“With the finalized proposal, the council struck a balance between the interests of the civic associations, whose members have worn green T-shirts with the slogan ‘Don’t Urbanize MoCo,’ and the developers, who have said they need the flexibility to build during the current economic downturn,” Zapana wrote before the final vote.

The county will provide incentives for the establishment of public amenities such as libraries and child-care centers.

The Montgomery Gazette editorialized that the new rules are “a good step toward ensuring that development in Montgomery is centered near mass transit and that residents will have greater opportunities to live where they work.”

In commercial-residential zones, formulas specify how many dwelling units can be built, how high the buildings can be, and which amenities the developers must provide in return for being allowed to construct projects.

The Gazette noted:

Such a zone has already been approved for White Flint, where the most recent plan calls for 10,000 new apartments and condominiums and more than 6 million additional square feet of commercial space over the next few decades.

The zone will concentrate density near Metrorail stations, where people can walk or bike to transit options. This will help slow the rate of growth of vehicular traffic and encourage more environmentally-friendly commuting options.

Posted by Philip Langdon on 15 Nov 2011