Land Use Alert: Area Master Plan Updates & Traffic Counts

Montgomery County Updates

Master Plans

As we mentioned in previous editions of this newsletter, the Montgomery County Council recently approved the work program of the Montgomery County Planning Department for the upcoming fiscal year in connection with its preliminary approval of the FY21 M-NCPPC Annual Budget.

Notably, the approved work program includes several master plans for specific areas of Montgomery County including downtown Silver Spring, the Great Seneca Science Corridor (including the former Life Sciences Center), the Shady Grove Metro Station area, and the Fairland/Briggs Chaney area. Property owners with real estate holdings in these areas should expect to receive notice from the Planning Department in the coming months about opportunities to participate in the County’s master planning efforts for these areas, if such notices have not already been received.

Among the specific area master plans that have been included in the approved Planning Department work program are:

  • The Shady Grove Sector Plan Minor Master Plan Amendment, with Planning Board review ongoing at this time and a Planning Board Draft anticipated in November 2020;
  • The Ashton Minor Master Plan Amendment, currently under Planning Board review with a Planning Board draft anticipated in December 2020;
  • The Great Seneca Science Corridor Plan Amendment, with Planning Department Staff review to commence in the near future and a target date of August 2021 for the Planning Board draft; and
  • The Silver Spring Downtown Plan, to commence in the near future with a Planning Board draft expected in April 2022.
  • The approved work program also includes other area master plans that are expected to begin in the fall of 2021, such as the Takoma Park Minor Master Plan Amendment (expected to begin in November 2021) and the Fairland/Briggs Chaney Minor Master Plan Amendment (beginning in October 2021).

Each of the above master plans will potentially affect the zoning and permitted land uses of the properties within their respective planning areas, as well as the densities, heights, and other development standards applicable to future development. Additionally, the master plans will dictate necessary dedications for public rights of way, required public facilities and amenities, and other such characteristics. These master plans are likely to remain in effect for at least two decades. For these reasons, we encourage affected property owners to monitor these planning processes and to participate, as necessary.

In addition, each of the above-referenced master plans may present opportunities to enhance real property investments. For example, we understand that certain properties in Silver Spring may be poised to benefit from proposals to potentially expand the boundaries of the planning area (outside the CBD), so as to encourage new residential development. Similarly, certain properties in the Great Seneca Science Corridor may benefit from potential revisions to the applicable development staging criteria of the current master plan, which will potentially allow new commercial and residential development to proceed in areas where such development is currently prohibited.

The Lerch, Early & Brewer Land Use Practice group is actively monitoring each of these County master plans. Our attorneys are experienced in helping clients obtain successful outcomes and favorable property recommendations through the master planning process. Should you have questions about a particular master plan or the opportunities that it might present for your property, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Traffic Counts

On May 7, Planning Staff presented recommendations for obtaining traffic counts to be utilized in Traffic Impact Studies (TIS) given the substantial reduction in motor vehicle traffic attributable to COVID-19-related restrictions. Staff recommended a two-prong approach:

  • No new traffic counts may be conducted until Fall 2020 when restrictions are eased and schools reopen.
  • Until new traffic counts can be collected, a TIS for a Site Plan or a Preliminary Plan may be based on existing traffic counts for critical intersections provided that the existing count was collected no more than three years prior to the date on which the applicant is required to submit final drawings for review by Staff. Existing counts collected within a year of the deadline can be utilized without adjustment. Existing counts collected within three years (but over a year prior) must be modified based on a growth factor developed based on the historical traffic volume data from the past 10 years for the nearest SHA roadway.

The Planning Board supported staff’s approach, but indicated an openness to some flexibility where unique circumstances present. Staff concurred.

Montgomery County Council Updates Legislation for Obstructions and Closures of Right-of-Way

The Montgomery County Council adopted Bill 38-19, which revises the County Code provisions related to temporary closures or obstructions within County public rights-of-way. The purpose of this bill was to address concerns about pedestrian safety surrounding construction sites, particularly sidewalk closures in downtown Bethesda and other urban areas.

Often during construction projects, adjoining rights-of-way such as sidewalks, on-street parking, and traffic lanes are used for construction activity and need to be closed temporarily to the public. The Department of Permitting Services (DPS) issues permits for these obstructions within the right-of-way. The new legislation addresses how long County rights-of-way can be closed and requires alternative paths under certain circumstances. With certain exceptions, a temporary closure to reconstruct or repair a sidewalk or shared use path must not exceed six months without the provision of a safe alternative path. Any other temporary closure must not exceed 15 days without the provision of a safe alternative path.

The legislation applies within Central Business District planning policy areas, Bicycle-Pedestrian Priority Areas, areas within a half-mile of a Purple Line Station, and areas within a half-mile of a Bus Rapid Transit Station. The requirements apply to permit applications submitted to the County on or after June 26, 2020. DPS is tasked with creating executive regulations for the legislation, which will provide greater detail on permit requirements.