This morning I attended the Task Force's meeting on PROCESS. About 15 people attended from the TF plus Goldie and Heidi. The rest was probably half regular members, half alternates. Developers and allies were outnumbered, but still led a lot.
Meeting began by general expression of frustration with either TF pace or lack of clear direction or both.
Heidi then reminded group of the mission, showing slides of some of the goals and "drivers" that had been shown in early meetings. She encouraged folks to remember that the TF's job was not to start anew on the comp plan, but only to make recommendations if truly needed, that their job was to concentrate more on the vision, the longer term view at a higher level of generality rather than getting into comp plan details. She said that the goals of TOD and the vision would not likely be realized for 20-30 or more years. [Opinion--we hear this refrain frequently, as though what the TF recommends is not so important in our now world, so not to worry....]
She gave an interesting example: the amounts of parking proposed at Wiehle and more so at Herndon-Monroe are likely set since "funding decisions have been made." But, in 20 or so years, when we are really beginning to see what TOD actually looks like on the ground, it may be time to re-open the matter for reducing parking lots (Joe Stowers agreed, pointing out that the parking planned is excessive and will make it hard to achieve real TOD!). But, it might be good to include that goal in the current Task Force's vision for later reference!
Several folks disagreed with the notion of the TF making recommendations only at a general vision level, not getting into specifics of land uses by properties in the comp plan. Bill Penniman was a champion on this one--arguing that indeed it would seem prudent to get into some detail if the TF was to really help shape outcomes. Arthur Hill chimed in that indeed that was true and the TF would need a lot better, more detailed information on current conditions both in terms of the comp plan and the underlying zoning. This got Mark Looney's developer dander up. He thought it much better to stay out of zoning and at a general level. Arthur reminded him that comp plans are relatively unimportant where the rubber meets the road because they are so easily changed, whereas zoning has the force of law. [I think we've heard Mike Corrigan, who was not present this AM, forcefully make the same case on several occasions].
Before the group got to actual discussion of the PROCESS, they went around on the parking issue. Richard Kennedy wants to hear no more about it, "it is a waste of time" because the parking is already set at both Wiehle and H-M. Patty disagreed, pointing out that the speaker the other night left room for possible change at H-M--but not at Wiehle which is in Phase I and is DONE. Looney suggested a third possibility somehow letting the extended garages be planned at H-M but possibly not given to MEtro to operate but to the private sector which might be more inclined to change uses [for more profitable uses??]. Polo Fields rep who sat with TF members argued strongly for flex to reduce not go to max at H-M.. It was left with Patty interested in the Looney proposal...
On PROCESS, the group decided to go to more small group action, but not entirely so as not to block the fullest understanding and fully informed consensus by the TF as a whole. Richard Kennedy and Mark Looney seemed to share strong distrust of turning process over to smaller groups,. Arguing ultimately for a kind of hybrid where, if I understand it correctly, the TF will break down into groups (probably one for each station area) early in the next meeting and then report back to the larger group at some point in hopes of getting the full TF to a better informed, detailed consensus. Some argued for continued work in groups, with each station group required (per Kennedy’s insistence) to make a written report to the committee of the whole for consideration, debate of different views that Richard said were lurking and needed to get out. Indeed, Richard came out a bit it seemed at this meeting. Looney argued for random selection of subgroup participants because self selection could lead to special interest outcomes somehow. Not sure how all of this will shake out, but Patty said she planned to move to the working subgroups at tne next TF meeting.
Someone argued a strong agenda (direction?) was needed. Van Foster suggested the TF should organize around accomplishment of the end product, which he saw as a report and the framework for action a sort of table of contents.
He volunteered and was tasked with preparing such a table of contents to guide the TF to conclusion and submit to the TF several days before the next TF meeting (4/27?). The Planning Principles crafted in final by John Carter (regrettably absent this morning) and Patty will be discussed voted on by TF and then presumably they will carve into workgroups…
Jerry Volloy expressed a concern about moving into the work groups without the context of the community’s vision as developed in community meetings. He asked point blank—“do we mean now to walk away from the guidance given to the TF by the community in these meetings?” Oh no, oh no, said Mark Looney.
Richard Kennedy was most concerned about focus on a final product.
Looney offered an approach for larger TF consideration of station areas—“start first with easiest, get it under our belts and work toward the hardest.” He suggested that the H-M was the hardest, should be left for last because of difficult issues of access, wetlands, etc. First would he Reston Parkway—now preferably called the Town Center station area. Kennedy wanted first to promote a discussion of what the package of the three should be—i.e., I guess, the theme of each and assuring they make sense when taken as a group. No one seemed to disagree—in fact, no one said anything in response.
Then Looney, who kept trying to steer the group—proposed that for consideration of each station area (and presumably Town Center) each group be given by County staff:
1-Community input summary for each area (notes from community meetings)
2- Existing plan recs for the area, i.e., “6-9 pages of text from the existing comp plan; and,
3- Existing land unit recs and plans overlaid with RMAG recommendations and “grid system”
His package noticeably (I thought) left out Arthur Hill’s suggested for the land unit current zoning?! In fact, I believe Arthur left early and may have missed this omission. No one called Looney on it. Looney went on to say, with no preamble or justification, that he thought groups might be instructed they no longer needed to stick to the “wedding cake” TOD model (of feathering density/heights down as you move away from the stations, I believe). Again, other than wanting the usual flexibility, I was not clear what the rationale was for the change….
Patty allowed that she was happy with what the group had accomplished but noted they still needed to deal with planning for community participation. Kennedy nearly jumped out of his chair. Tired of delays, wanted no additional meetings—“after all our meetings are all public” and people have been given many opportunities to speak. And, he said he certainly did not feel the TF should respond to everything written by someone from the community. Enough he seemed to be saying! Patty, to her credit, did not seem comfortable with this. Bill Penniman stood up firmly for the community to not only comment but to make presentations on topics or issues to the Task Force—and he said he thought it reasonable for the Task Force to discuss those presentations, react to them.
Alternatively, he suggested that perhaps community groups such as 2020 could submit strawmen proposals for each station area, for example. His thoughts were sort of left hanging as the meeting began to dissolve, but I believe the chair may have felt receptive, but she certainly was not decisive, so the matter was not resolved. This is something that 2020 will have to act on, following up in whatever way the committee decides is most effective or the working groups’s efforts are endangered and the opportunity to achieve our strategic goal will be lost…