Update: County Council To Discuss Sector Plan Next Week
Councilmembers wanted more time to discuss zoning, Konterra.
Update, March 1, 8 a.m.: The County Council has scheduled its straw vote on the Kensington Sector Plan for its March 6 meeting, starting at 9:30 a.m.
Original post, Feb. 29: The Montgomery County Council put off a straw vote on the Kensington Sector Plan at its Tuesday meeting, as members asked for more time to strengthen the plan's language and consider the zoning for the Konterra property.
Konterra is asking for a 75-foot high maximum for its parcel on Metropolitan Avenue, and the Kensington Town Council recently voted to consider allowing that as long as the developer hosts a charrette and proposes a design the community likes. The area was initially zoned for 60-foot maximum building height.
But some on the county council weren't sold that the extra height is necessary.
Councilmember Marc Elrich, who called the proposed plan "the worst we've ever done," said changing the plan's zoning for its first project sets a bad precedent for future plans. If the county allows Konterra to build up to 75 feet, future developers will ask for up-zoning, too, he said.
But Councilmember George Leventhal, who voted in favor of "exploring" 75 feet for Konterra in a committee meeting, said compromising with the developer may be the only way to kick-start redevelopment in Kensington where there are few foreseeable projects in the future. If Konterra can't make money at 60 feet, the company won't invest, and Kensington will stay the same, he said.
"Revitalization just won't occur unless developers find it profitable," he said. "If you want to call it greed, you can call it greed, but that's the way it is."
Most attendees of the packed meeting were in opposition to the plan's current draft, with many holding signs that read "Revitalize, Don't Supersize, Kensington," and some with signs implying that they'd vote out councilmembers who support the plan.
The current draft of the plan does not require first-floor commercial space for potential projects, and Elrich said that will allow developers to fill the town with large apartment buildings and negate the plan's goal of a vibrant, walkable community. Elrich said the council should make ground-floor commercial mandatory in the town's core.
"If you don't get retail, you reduce Kensington to a bedroom community," he said. "This ought not to be left to chance."
However, requiring ground-floor retail can in fact discourage it from happening, Planning Director Rollin Stanley said. Some areas just can't support it, he said, and mandating it across the board would make certain parcels impossible to develop.
County Council Analyst Marlene Michaelson said the plan's current language only allows developers to build to maximum heights and densities if they construct first-floor commercial, but that the council staff can strengthen the language before the next meeting.
After delaying the straw vote, Council President Roger Berliner said that while final action on the plan has long been put off, it's important for the council to hear all sides of the issue and approve a plan that will result in positive change for Kensington.
The council will discuss the plan again at its March 13 meeting.