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Montgomery County’s Mixed-Use Zoning Proposal Gets Mixed Reception
The areas around the White Flint metro would fall within the proposed commercial-residential zone, which aims to create mixed-use, walkable neighborhoods. Photo by M.V. Jantzen.

The areas around the White Flint metro would fall within the proposed commercial-residential zone, which aims to create mixed-use, walkable neighborhoods. Photo by M.V. Jantzen.

Earlier this week, the Montgomery County Council endorsed revisions to its zoning code that would include a proposed mixed-use zone. The Council is expected to approve the changes next week.

In an effort to update the zoning system to create denser, more walkable suburbs, the Council is supporting a “Commercial-Residential (CR)” zone that would encourage mixed-use projects while allowing taller buildings and reducing parking. The CR zone would be applied in areas with sector or master plans. Developers would be encouraged to contribute to the creation of public spaces and provide urban amenities in exchange for greater densities.

The proposed changes show Montgomery County’s commitment to implementing land use and smart growth strategies that can reduce driving and carbon emissions. Though the Council’s intentions seem to be good, it is receiving criticism from all sides.

The Council’s staff has recommended against the change, suggesting that they wait for the comprehensive zoning code rewrite, planned to begin in the next several months. Critics worry that the new zone is not structured with enough flexibility to allow community input on new projects.

Smart growth advocates are concerned that the requirements for developers are too lax. In many cases, contributions from developers would be suggested but not mandated.

Additionally, some doubt the CR zone’s applicability in smaller communities. For instance, residents of Kensington worry that it won’t be effective there because properties are smaller and owned by companies with more limited budgets. Unlike in the area around the White Flint metro, which is slated for intense development by major developers, Kensington property owners may not be interested in allowances to build bigger in return for providing amenities. As a result, the community may not get needed amenities.

On the other side, skeptics fear taller buildings will bring the “Rosslynization” of Montgomery County.

The Audobon Naturalist Society faults the plan for limiting green space in favor of density and neglecting to mandate green design standards for development projects.

What do you think – does the CR zone go too far or not far enough?

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