(Cross-posted to Maryland Politics Watch.)
Who says elections don't matter? The Washington Post reports that the Montgomery County Council is getting ready to step on the building brakes:
The new president of the Montgomery County Council signaled her intention yesterday to quickly move in a different direction, calling for a freeze on dozens of large residential and commercial projects for the next seven months.
Moments after being selected as the council's leader, Marilyn Praisner (D-Eastern County) introduced a temporary moratorium to give the council time to revamp the county's approach to managing growth.
Developments already approved by the Department of Park and Planning, and those near Metro stations, could be built even if the measure is approved when it comes to a vote next month.
Praisner's proposal, which came one day after the newly elected council was sworn in, was a sure sign that pro-growth sentiment on the nine-member panel has faded and that slower-growth proponents are in charge. The measure sets up an early litmus test for the council and for County Executive Isiah "Ike" Leggett (D), who campaigned to slow growth in Montgomery.
Planning analysts told the council that Praisner's proposal could affect plans for more than 5,000 housing units and more than 3 million square feet of other types of development -- including a more-than-$100 million expansion of Westfield Montgomery mall, a remodeling of a 1970s-era Giant Food store and a Winchester Homes condominium complex.
Planning Board Chairman Royce Hanson said the measure could have limited impact.
"If the objective is to stop development for some period of time, it would not do that, because it does not stop the issuance of building permits," he said.
About 30 projects could be approved before the moratorium would take effect, said development review chief Rose Krasnow.
Marc Elrich, (D-At Large), a newly elected council member, backed the moratorium, which he called a "pause."
"It's not like development is going to come to a screeching halt," he said. "This is the sensible thing to do to get our growth policy in shape."
Not too long ago, the Town of Chevy Chase went through a similar six-month moratorium while it developed new ordinances designed to deal with the problem of McMansions and teardowns. Of course, doing the same thing on a countywide level is a bit more complicated. For starters, there are no commercial properties in the Town.Some questions for the Council:
What is the purpose of the moratorium? What do you plan to accomplish during this period?
The County is currently growing at approximately the same rate as the state as a whole and growth appears to be slowing currently for economic reasons. Is the long-term goal to further slow or stop growth? Or is it to have "smart growth"? Or to make developers pay a greater share of the infrastructure improvements?
What would the effect be on employment of a moratorium and, over the long term, of slowing growth? How many people would lose jobs and how many jobs will not be created which otherwise would have been?
Will the slowing of employment growth in Montgomery further exacerbate our terrible traffic problem by forcing more people to commute elsewhere for work?
Similarly, what would the effect be on county tax receipts and expenditures of a moratorium and of switching the County to a slower growth platform? Would it significantly reduce revenue? Or would concentrating and slowing growth greatly reduce the cost of building and maintaining new infrastructure?
What is the definition of "near a Metro stop" for purposes of the moratorium? What will it be if encouraging more development by Metro is part of the long-term plan? For example, is White Flint Mall, which is slated to be torn down and replaced with (wait for it) high-rise condos, near a Metro stop?
And I thought things might get dull after the election.