Tuesday, July 29, 2014


The Montgomery County Council is expected to vote on the White Oak Science Gateway Sector Plan today, and all indications are that the plan will pass.

The White Oak Science Gateway Sector Plan, as written, is deception at its finest. Every major concern residents of the area expressed over many years has been turned on its ear by this developer-driven document.

Above all, we were told repeatedly that the problem in White Oak was a glut of housing, and a dearth of jobs. Yet this plan allows for thousands more housing units, and favors residential construction over attracting corporate headquarters. With no changes planned in the county's tax code, regulations, or economic development strategy, this plan will actually generate more new residents than jobs. The only jobs this plan will bring to White Oak are flipping burgers and folding jeans.

Moreover, our county needs affordable housing for families, not more luxury apartments for the rich.

Despite the existing traffic problems along Route 29 and New Hampshire Avenue, and the millions in taxpayer money spent by the state to improve 29's intersections, this plan is now doubling down on road congestion. Rather than require new infrastructure to support development, the plan simply exempts the county and developers from their basic responsibilities to the residents of the east county. The fig leaf of Bus Rapid Transit is a joke. Not only would BRT make traffic congestion worse, by reducing already-insufficient road capacity for cars, there is not a single revenue source to pay for the $5 billion boondoggle. A plan to urbanize suburban White Oak would require a Metrorail extension. Unlike the Tysons plan in Fairfax County, this plan does not make the serious investments in infrastructure required for such a dense, urban vision.

White Oak deserves better. A real White Oak Plan would be firstly placed in the context of changes in the county's tax and regulation scheme, and economic development strategy. Residents have asked for better shopping and restaurants, and high-wage jobs. That's why a sensible White Oak plan would favor development of corporate headquarters and campuses, and high-quality retail centers with a diversity of shopping, restaurants, and small businesses. Such a winning formula can be promoted through responsible planning, and by taking this luxury-apartment-obsessed sector plan off the table for good.

The FDA is primarily a regulator, not an innovator. Its campus is not a magnet for high-wage jobs in general, nor is it the equivalent of NIH and the I-270 corridor in attracting life science and biotech jobs. Now we have a White Oak plan that is a traffic, economic, environmental and quality-of-life disaster.

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