Land Use Alert: Expanded Silver Spring Master Plan Boundaries, SSP Testimony, and COVID-19 Outdoor Café Seating Policy

Montgomery County Updates

Subdivision Staging Policy Public Hearing Testimony

The Montgomery County Planning Board held a public hearing on the Subdivision Staging Policy (SSP) on June 11, 2019. Several of our land use attorneys testified and the Lerch Early Land Use Group collectively submitted detailed written testimony on the recommendations contained in Staff’s Public Hearing Draft. It was encouraging to see that many individuals expressed support for eliminating the County’s residential moratorium policy, but that is just one of the significant changes recommended by the SSP. As detailed in our letter, there are several other proposed modifications that we, as a group, have serious concerns with. If you would like to learn more about the County’s current proposals and how they may impact your property or project, please contact one of our land use attorneys.

Silver Spring Downtown Plan Boundaries Expanded

In a break with tradition and disagreeing with the original recommendation of its Planning Staff, the Montgomery County Planning Board voted last week to vastly expand the boundaries of the upcoming Silver Spring Downtown Plan beyond the boundaries of the existing Silver Spring CBD Sector Plan. The expanded areas include portions of the residential communities that border the CBD, including Woodside, Woodside Park, and East Silver Spring.

The Planning Board encouraged Staff during its original presentation on March 26 to consider expanding the boundaries of the Downtown Plan to address the need for “missing middle” housing and the opportunities to provide affordable and diverse housing types for a diverse community close to public transportation.

On June 4, Staff returned to the Board and presented four possible boundary options, labelled “Options A through D” – with Option “A” being the least expansive, with minimal changes to the existing Sector Plan boundary, and Option “D” greatly expanding the boundary to capture properties within the half-mile/10-minute pedestrian walkshed from the Silver Spring Library Purple Line Station. The majority of individuals who testified before the Planning Board were in favor of Option “D”, and the Planning Board voted unanimously (with one commissioner absent) to adopt the boundaries reflected in Option “D”.

Option “D” generally includes whole blocks that are within the walkshed, extending into Woodside, Woodside Park and East Silver Spring. This expanded boundary presents new opportunities for owners of those properties to enhance their real property investments and takes an important first step toward implementing the County’s ambitious housing goals and targets.

The schedule for future work on the Downtown Plan is set forth below:

Existing Conditions Analysis/Commence Engagement: June 2020 – October 2020
Visioning and Preliminary Recommendations: October 2020 – June 2021
Development of Staff Draft Report: June 2021 – September 2021
Planning Board Work Sessions and Public Hearing: October 2021 – January 2022
Planning Board Draft: February 2022
County Executive Review, County Council Review/PHED Work Sessions: February 2022 – June 2022
Commission Adoption of Plan: June 2022
Sectional Map Amendment: September 2022

The Lerch, Early & Brewer Land Use Practice group will be actively monitoring the Downtown Planning process. Our attorneys are experienced in helping clients obtain successful outcomes and favorable property recommendations through the master planning process. Should you have questions about the Downtown Plan or the opportunities that is might present for your property, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Expanding or Adding Outdoor Café Seating in Response to COVID-19

Outdoor café seating has long since been recognized as an important amenity to restaurant tenants and a successful way to activate the public realm. Outdoor café seating has taken on a new level of importance with the COVID-19 public health crisis. Recognizing this importance, the County has created a series of steps that restaurant tenants can take to expand or establish outdoor café seating areas, and potentially to create “streeteries,” like can now be seen along Bethesda Row.

Restaurants interested in providing new or expanded outdoor dining areas must generally register with the County’s Department of Permitting Services, comply with the requirements listed on the reopening “restaurants checklist”, and apply for a “temporary business modification” for extended outdoor space with the County’s Alcohol Beverage Services unit.

DPS’ application for a Temporary Permit for Outdoor Dining can be found here and the Montgomery County Alcohol Beverage Services’ Temporary Business Modification form can be found here. Please feel free to contact us for help navigating the County’s process, or assessing how additional outdoor café seating may or may not impact the underlying development approvals for a given project.

Significant Rezoning Approved

On June 9, Pat Harris secured approval from the County Council for the rezoning of the existing 33 acre Marriott Headquarters’ site at 10400 Fernwood Road, in the heart of the Rock Spring Sector Plan area, that allows for an additional 1 million square feet of residential development on the property. The rezoning paves the way for ELP Bethesda’s (an affiliate of Erickson’s Living) development of a continuing care retirement community on the property.

While the overall allowable density on the property did not change, the County Council agreed to increase the allowable residential density from .75 FAR to 1.5 FAR to accommodate the senior living use. The project provides a significant benefit to the Rock Spring area by backfilling the site upon Marriott’s relocation to downtown Bethesda, reducing the number of automobile trips and providing a residential component without generating any school-aged children. As one of the first land use related actions by the Council in the last three months, it is encouraging to see the Council begin to focus on zoning and economic related (non-COVID) issues.