White Oak master plan updates may speed up development -- Gazette.Net


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Planning officials want to remove certain limitations to future development in the White Oak area by amending the White Oak Science Gateway Master Plan.

According to Nancy Sturgeon, the master planner supervisor for the area, changes to the plan will allow slightly more traffic and remove a staging policy that slows down development by dividing projects into three stages of approvals and requirements.

The Montgomery County Planning Board approved the changes on Dec. 19.

Next, the County Council will review the amended plan before finalizing it in the coming months. The council has scheduled a public hearing for Feb. 4.

The recommended plan makes White Oak a new policy area with urban congestion standards, which allow a higher volume of traffic.

Previously, the area was part of a larger policy area considered suburban. Development projections for White Oak were expected to outgrow suburban traffic standards.

With the new classification, and removal of the staging policy, the Planning Department aims to prioritize development by removing pre-emptive limitations.

“We’re trying to stimulate new development in White Oak,” Sturgeon said. “The concern was the staging plan was going to be a disincentive and was going to limit something that we actually wanted to see.”

The staging policy slowed down development by breaking projects into three phases, allowing only certain steps in each phase, and requiring infrastructure and transportation capacity to keep up with development at a certain standard.

The amended plan “doesn’t put a cap on the amount of development that can occur within any given time frame,” Sturgeon said.

Staging policies can protect a community from growth outstripping capacity, Sturgeon said. However, all new projects still will go through the regulatory review process, which includes traffic and capacity studies, prior to approval.

Future Bus Rapid Transit, an improved bus system planned throughout the county, also will help to provide more transportation.

Potential construction that has been discussed for the area includes a new campus for Washington Adventist Hospital and a new county Life Sciences Center.

The urban classification doesn’t necessarily mean more traffic; Sturgeon emphasized that real future development is unknown. Recommended congestion limitations don’t meet those of the busiest areas in the county, but fall in line with areas like Wheaton, Kensington and Germantown Town Center.

The County Council likely will make a final decision in February or March, according to council staff.

sscully@gazette.net