Wednesday, October 19, 2011

New Zoning Means Montgomery is Open for Business

Check out my opinion piece which appeared in today's edition of The Gazette. I have reprinted it here for your convenience:

We have a new tool for economic development, and it comes from a place you wouldn’t suspect — the zoning code. In this case, changes to the zoning code represent modern and innovative action that helps the private sector create jobs and commerce right here in our communities. The new tool is what we call the commercial/residential, or CR, zones.

After months of study, the Montgomery County Council made bold changes to a complicated and sometimes inconsistent zoning code that has been characterized as unfriendly to both businesses and communities.

The new family of CR zones can strip away much of the red tape that has hindered business, particularly small business, for decades. By allowing a hodgepodge of commercial zones to be replaced with three flexible CR zones, we’re making our standards clearer, more predictable and ultimately more accessible to those who can create jobs and housing.

The CR zones do away with the traditional approach of land use planning by specific uses, such as commercial or hotel, and replace it with zones that allow commercial and residential uses to coexist in the same street or block. The zones strictly regulate the height and density of buildings, thereby creating attractive communities where people can pick up a pair of shoes, grab a bite to eat and catch a movie on their way home from work, all without getting in a car.

Some people have expressed fears that skyscrapers will go up right next door to their single-family homes. That couldn’t be further from the truth. CR zones provide incentives for 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. It is important to note that the zones will place absolute limits on the allowable total density and building height.

The original CR zone already has been applied to the White Flint Sector Plan, which centers on the White Flint Metro station and which the council adopted in 2010. That ambitious and complex plan soon will transform the White Flint area along Rockville Pike into an exciting destination where strip malls are replaced by housing, stores and restaurants located together. Now the CR zones, which include lower-density provisions for towns and neighborhoods, are ready for other locations to be determined through our master planning process.

My hat is off to the Planning Board, planning staff, community activists, council staff, the council’s Planning, Housing and Economic Development Committee and all who participated in creating the family of CR zones. This new tool is an action statement to the business community that Montgomery County’s doors are indeed open for business, while at the same time serving as a commitment to residents and communities.

Nancy Floreen, Garrett Park

The writer is chairwoman of the Montgomery County Council’s Planning, Housing and Economic Development Committee.

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