The Montgomery County Planning Board will take up a landowner's request to have the county abandon its right-of-way through the Halpine View apartment complex, originally planned as an extension of Aspen Hill Road from Veirs Mill Road to Twinbrook Parkway, this Thursday afternoon.
A perfunctory planning staff report is recommending the board vote to abandon the right-of-way, citing the North Bethesda-Garrett Park master plan recommendation to do so.
The ramifications of the abandonment are far more complicated than the staff report would suggest, however.
First, and foremost, the main driver of the abandonment is neither sound transportation policy, nor concern for the environment (an Aspen Hill Road extension would cross Rock Creek). Rather, it is to promote and facilitate urban redevelopment of the Halpine View garden apartment complex. Halpine View is one of a dwindling number of affordable and spacious housing developments in the county. Its design, much like Privacy World in Glenmont, emphasizes a suburban scale setting, and well-maintained trees and green space. Certainly, the buildings are aging. But to preserve existing affordable units, renovation would be far better than turning the site into another "town center" for rich people. Current rents at Halpine View range from $1000-$1600 a month, and only about two blocks from the Twinbrook Metro station. This makes the complex a valuable one for working families in Montgomery County.
But much like Privacy World and other models for suburban, multi-family housing development, Halpine View is now sought after by developers for dense, urban-style development. Such "town center" density is entirely inappropriate at this location, literally across the street from single family homes in Twinbrook and Aspen Hill. Furthermore, the lure of redevelopment - dangled by developer-beholden council members for decades in front of landowners in Wheaton, Glenmont, Aspen Hill, Rockville, Bethesda, Long Branch, etc., has discouraged routine renovations and maintenance at some properties. After all, why spend money to upgrade your building(s) if you think you're going to be tearing them down in a few years? Remember that when supporters of redevelopment try to convince you that this or that shopping center or apartment complex is "shabby," or obsolete for "the modern amenities young professionals demand today." Any such amenities can be added to any building.
Rather than giving massive tax giveaways to developers, the county would be better off using those funds to assist property owners - as necessary - to finance such renovations and improvements. That would be a far better use of $72 million than just giving it away to White Flint developers, as the county council did a few years ago.
Beyond the crisis of affordable housing we continue to experience in Montgomery County, Aspen Hill Road extended is a potentially vital transportation facility. Current county leaders have no intention of completing the Rockville Freeway/Rockville Facility (a.k.a. Montrose Parkway, in part) all the way from Falls Road to the Intercounty Connector. Therefore, lateral traffic movement remains severely constrained in the county.
Should the Rockville Facility never be extended to Connecticut Avenue, Randolph Road and other local roads remain the only routes between White Flint and Aspen Hill. In that case, Aspen Hill Road Extended would be an important transportation facility.
There is also great potential for inappropriate use of "rapid transit" to upzone retail centers in Aspen Hill to high-density urbanization. Again, Aspen Hill Road Extended would certainly be a necessity under those circumstances.
Finally, a potentially high-traffic redevelopment is going to occur at the intersection of Aspen Hill Road and Connecticut Avenue - as a Walmart, or otherwise. Yet again, Aspen Hill Road would be a major route for patrons of that site.
In conclusion, there is no immediate need to abandon Aspen Hill Road Extended, other than private profit by a developer. The Planning Board should table this request indefinitely.
Retaining the Aspen Hill Road Extended right-of-way is in the best interests of the public, public safety, transportation needs, and vital to maintaining existing affordable housing units.