Daily journals, 11-27/28-11

Monday began with a briefing from council staff about the health care and wellness task force that the council convened this year. The task force identified some helpful information, such as: the expenses per person for health care in MCPS and the county are basically the same, the county in total insures about 100,000 lives, roughly 20% of the insured population accounts for 80% of the expenses (which mirrors national trends), and the only real way to save money in health care spending over the long term is to reduce the growth of total county spending per plan member. The council and particularly the Gov Ops committee will return early next year to this topic. We need to find better ways to manage the spending of what is nearly $500 million per year on health care benefits and we do not invest enough to do that job right.

Monday evening I went to Clarksburg for a meeting with the Clarksburg Civic Association. We had a colorful and even contentious discussion over whether Clarksburg development has collapsed or not (I said it has, while some residents asserted that Clarksburg is booming; I believe the number of housing units that have been constructed in Clarksburg vs. the number approved supports my point), and talked about issues such as the proposed M-83 highway, sidewalks on 355, and so forth. Years ago, Montgomery County residents agreed to establish Clarksburg on certain terms, such as a development tax district that is higher than anywhere else in the county, in order to ensure that the new infrastructure in Clarksburg would be paid for by tax revenues generated in Clarksburg. Now, with rising energy costs and without the benefit of a real estate bubble, it is a question whether this model of development is fiscally sustainable.

Today’s highlight was passing the Wheaton Sector Plan, a document that describes how we want development to proceed in the future, largely in the Wheaton central business district. I am very happy about the plan on several fronts, including the more aggressive approach to job growth that it embraces for the downtown, the environmental protections that it encourages including in the Westfield green buffer, and, particularly, the neighborhood protections that it codifies. I listened closely to advocates from the surrounding neighborhoods and urged the council to find solutions for reversing the dismal commercial developments that have encroached on their single family neighborhoods — truly, there is nothing more depressing than having a storage facility in your single family neighborhood. I was glad to see that Council staff and the PHED committee found a great solution by putting in guidance and a zoning formula that will hopefully result in those properties being redeveloped in a town home style, which would be much more compatible with the neighborhood.

Daily journal, 10-14-11

Today I spent some time in Clarksburg with my friend and planning
board member Casey Anderson and separately with District 2 County
Councilmember Craig Rice.

In this picture, note the grassy expanse in the middle of the picture.
That is where the Clarksburg town center retail center is supposed to
be — the grocery stores and so forth that were promised to the
community and have not been delivered.

The sense I get in that part of the county is that the development
moved way too fast, leaving no room for error. The intention was to
build out to a city of more than 40,000 almost overnight. It was all
predicated on infrastructure that was a long way off, such as the
Corridor Cities Transitway, or may never come at all, such as the “mid
county highway”.

Today, as residents will tell you its a land of broken promises. Not
the only one in Montgomery County, but the wounds are fresh.

This year the Council jumpstarted some convenience retail such as a
grocery store in Clarksburg Village with a zoning change, in response
to a citizen suggestion at a town hall that Craig Rice organized.
Hopefully this will help.

Fantastic Parks in Germantown and Clarksburg

Today I got the chance to go behind the scenes at the Parks Department. I spent the day touring a number of parks and maintenance facilities in the up-county area with Mary Bradford, our exceptionally pleasant and highly accomplished Parks Director, and a number of her staffers.

I particularly appreciated learning how the parks connect in the various communities around Clarksburg and how the Parks Department thinks about expanding park land. I always enjoy a stop at Black Hill Regional Park, where I am intent on taking a boating trip soon, and Little Bennett Regional Park, where I about ready to get the family out for a camping trip. The East Germantown Recreational Park — aka SoccerPlex — is astounding, as anyone who has spent time there knows. Some say its the best soccer facility in the country.

With Mary or one of her colleagues at the wheel, I took the chance to assess the state of roads and other infrastructure in the Clarksburg area. I am voting soon on a proposal to provide additional public subsidies into Clarksburg to get various road projects going.