Friday, September 30, 2011

Zoning as Economic Development

The Montgomery County Council stands poised to make bold changes to a complicated and sometimes inconsistent zoning code that has been characterized as unfriendly to both businesses and communities. The proposed family of Commercial/Residential (CR) zones strips away much of the red tape that has hindered business, particularly small business, for decades. By replacing a hodgepodge of commercial zones with three flexible CR zones, we’re making our standards clearer, more predictable and ultimately more accessible to those who can create jobs as well as the people living nearby.

The CR zones also incentivize business to develop in ways that benefit neighborhoods and focus density near transit. They are designed to create interactive streetscapes where people can live, work, shop and play—all within one neighborhood. After months of work on these new zones, the Council is scheduled to take action on October 4.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Council Holds Worksession on Commercial/Residential Zones

Tune in to today’s Council session on County Cable Montgomery (channel 6). Beginning at 10:15, the Council will hold a worksession on Zoning Text Amendment 11-01 that would amend provisions of the County’s Commercial/Residential (C/R) Zones. The discussion is expected to continue with the start of the afternoon session at 1:30 p.m.

The Planning Board proposed ZTA 11-01, to which the PHED Committee has suggested significant changes. The committee’s recommendations better protect communities by limiting land uses in C/R Neighborhood zones, increase respect for master plans by implementing them through site plans, add increased incentives for affordable housing and create more certainty for communities and developers by clarifying the sketch plan process.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Council President's Letter to Residents

Dear Friends of Montgomery County:

As the Council gears up for its busy fall schedule, we want to update you on some key issues the Council will be addressing. We also want to share with you our perspective on the Council's recent actions.

Issues we will consider this fall range from the curfew bill proposed by the County Executive to the post-Census redrawing of Councilmember district lines. We will also take up several land use master plans that are vital to strengthening our economy and improving our quality of life.

Our agenda so far this year has focused on the severe budget challenges that the County, like governments across the nation, has continued to face. The Council acted unanimously on issue after issue and approved a $4.4 billion County budget for Fiscal Year 2012. We listened closely to the comments we received from thousands of concerned County service recipients and taxpayers, we consulted extensively with our employee representatives, and ultimately we spoke with one voice on how best to close the huge gap between projected expenditures and resources.

The Council started with three priorities: to protect our core services - education, public safety, and assistance for our most needy residents; treat our taxpayers fairly; and provide equity among our employees. In a series of 9-0 votes on controversial issues, we did just that. Even though the overall approved budget was actually smaller than the budget approved three years ago, we targeted the reductions carefully. For MCPS and Montgomery College, we focused on areas that do not affect the classroom. For some core services, we felt that the reductions proposed by the County Executive cut too deeply, and so we restored limited funds to Police, Fire and Rescue, Health and Human Services, Libraries, and other key operations.

One of our top goals was to protect our hard-working employees and their families from layoffs. Another top goal was to ensure fair treatment for the employees of all County agencies. We felt that the County Executive's recommended changes to health and retirement benefits for County Government employees were too large, and so we made them more equitable.

Another essential goal was to protect classroom instruction in our world-class school system while ensuring that scarce resources are available for all our critical priorities. The $2.1 billion budget we approved for Montgomery County Public Schools will help create a stable future for our schools and all County agencies. The tax supported budget that we approved for the school system was an increase over the last fiscal year.

In June, despite these budget challenges, the three major bond rating agencies reaffirmed the County's critical AAA bond rating, but the continued turmoil in financial markets makes clear that our challenges are far from over.

We are proud of the way the Council came together to act unanimously on this year's difficult budget. We are deeply committed to progressive values, and all of us care deeply about the concerns of our taxpayers, service recipients, and employees in this economy. We will continue to do the best job we can for the County's one million residents.


Valerie Ervin
Council President

Roger Berliner
Council Vice President

Phil Andrews

Marc Elrich

Nancy Floreen

Nancy Navarro

Craig Rice

Hans Riemer

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Montgomery's Median Income Drops

The median household income has dropped in Montgomery County, according to new Census information and reported in today’s Washington Post. We’re in good company—company that includes most of the country as well as our neighbor, Fairfax County. This doesn’t come as a surprise as we have experienced decreased income tax revenue for the past couple of years, due in large part to drops in capital gains for our residents. We also know that our unemployment rate has hovered at twice our historical average, although well below the national average.

Certainly we need to take this information seriously, and we need to be thoughtful about the conclusions we draw. We also need to remember that we have some forward-thinking, long-range economic development plans in place, and these plans will take advantage of our changing demographics as well as our changing landscape. They include tax credits for the bioscience industry, transit-centered master plans and zoning code changes.

With a median household income of $89,000, we’re still in great shape. What’s more, we are poised and ready for the future, so I remain confident in Montgomery County.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Exchange with Chinese Delegation

Yesterday I had the pleasure of spending time with a delegation of Chinese auditors discussing the County’s perspective on auditing and budget oversight issues. The delegation was here as a part of a University of Maryland program that hosts delegations from foreign countries. During our discussion, we focused heavily on performance auditing and how the County goes about it. I shared my ideas on the structured and systematic auditing system we use in the County. It was a great learning experience and cultural exchange for all.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Deadline Extended for Board of Appeals Positions

The deadline to apply for a position on the Board of Appeals has been extended to September 28. We’re accepting applications for two four-year terms. The terms of Stan Boyd (Democrat) and David Perdue (declined to affiliate) expire in September 2011, and both are eligible for reappointment.

By law, no more than three members of the board can be from the same political party. These positions can be filled by a Democrat, a Republican, a voter who declines to affiliate with a party or a voter who is a member of another party officially recognized by the Board of Elections.

The Board of Appeals makes decisions on most applications for special exceptions as provided in the Zoning Ordinance; hears and decides requests for variances from development standards contained in the Zoning Ordinance; and hears appeals from certain administrative decisions rendered by county government agencies.

Send your letter of interest, including a resume listing professional and civic experience, to Council President Valerie Ervin, County Council Office, Stella B. Werner Council Office Building, 100 Maryland Avenue, Rockville, Maryland 20850.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Opening of Cancer Center of Gaithersburg

They say that cancer is a word, not a sentence. And that’s because of places like the Cancer Center at Gaithersburg, where I had the opportunity to participate in today’s ribbon cutting ceremony.

You may be aware that the Upcounty has seen a 20% increase in population since the year 2000, according to Census data. Germantown and Clarksburg, the County’s two fastest growing communities, account for most of the population growth. That’s why I am so pleased to see this facility opening in the northern part of the county. We really need it.

Now our Upcounty residents will have access to the same cutting-edge technology available at Johns Hopkins. And it is not just the technologies that will be great for our residents, but they will get resources on cancer treatments and side effects as well as an environment that promotes comfort and peace of mind.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Redistricting Commission Makes Recommendation

The Montgomery County Redistricting Commission voted to recommend a Democrat-proposed plan that would revise the boundaries of the five County Council districts. The Council’s public hearing on the plan likely will be set for early November, so stay tuned.

The recommended plan keeps all municipalities in single districts. It puts the unincorporated areas of Germantown, Clarksburg, Montgomery Village, Olney, Wheaton, Four Corners, Burtonsville, White Oak, Fairland and Potomac in single districts. Residents along River Road and Route 29 would be in single districts according to the plan, which uses 2010 precincts as its building blocks to districts.

The targeted population for each revised district was 194,468. The recommended plan is close in all five districts, ranging from being only 15 below the target (194,453) in District 5 to 2,060 below the target (192,408) for District 2. District 1 is 1,762 above the target (196,230), District 3 is 62 below the target (194,406) and District 4 is 373 above the target (194,481).

The Commission meets every 10 years to evaluate population shifts as indicated by the most recent Census. The mission of the Commission (as required by the County Charter) is to recommend five Council district boundaries based upon information in the Census.

The new districts will be in effect for the 2014 Council election.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

BSO Celebrates Women Leaders

As a member of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's Women's Leadership Forum, I am looking forward to the five BSO concerts at Strathmore and related activities celebrating women in music. The kick-off event on September 24 will feature the world premier of a special commissioned work, Chuphshah! Harriet's Drive to Canaan, depicting Harriet Tubman's journey from slavery to freedom. I hope to see you there.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Town Hall Meeting for Students

Join us for our second-ever town hall meeting for students on Wednesday, October 12. High school, middle school and elementary school students from across the County will be able to express views on issues and ask questions of councilmembers in an organized, but informal, setting.

When it comes to decisions affecting young people--whether in regard to schools, libraries, recreation, parks or the community in general--the practice too often is to have one set of adults talk to another set of adults. This Council will have many important decisions to make in the coming months--and many of these decisions could have significant impacts on people 18 and under. We think the best way to find out what this generation of Montgomery County residents need and want is to hear directly from them.

The meeting, in the Council's Third Floor Hearing Room, will start at 7 p.m. A pre-meeting reception will begin at 6:30 p.m. in the building's second-floor cafeteria. The meeting will be broadcast live on County Cable Montgomery (CCM--cable Channel 6 on Comcast and RCN, Channel 30 on Verizon) and rebroadcast at various times in the following weeks.

RSVP by calling 240-777-7931.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Another Year With the Transit Subcommittee

I've been re-appointed as chair of the Transit Subcommittee of the National Association of Counties' (NACo) Transportation Steering Committee, so I'm looking forward to another year of advocacy. In particular, I find talking with leaders from more than 2,000 counties across the country especially productive as we share best practices and common challenges related to transportation and transit.

NACo advances issues important to local jurisdictions with a unified voice before the federal government, improves the public's understanding of county government, assists counties in finding and sharing innovative solutions through education and research, and provides value-added services to save counties and taxpayers money. It's a great mission, and I'm glad to be a part of it.