PoP Take-Aways: July 20, Planning Commission Meeting

The July 20th meeting was well-attended, with approximately 33 people in the audience.

 

The Willard/Willshire Development was on the agenda. The agenda posted on the town website stated:

“This […] will be a high level discussion of how a development like this would address the visions of the Master Plan, Planning Commission and the downtown revitalization efforts.”

Although the discussion for this agenda item opened with the Planning Commissioners offering their thoughts on the 96-home Willard/Willshire Development proposal, the Commissioners clarified that the evening’s discussion would not be about the specificities or density of the Willard/Willshire Development. Rather the Willard/Willshire Development was to be discussed more broadly, as it applied to Town Center development, the Master Plan, and revitalization in general. The goal of the discussion, as it was explained, was to help Planning Commissioners clarify their ideas about development goals/parameters and, ultimately, put Commissioners in a better position to provide direction to future developers that approach the Planning Board with projects in the early stages of development.

 

This is a list (not in any special order) of thoughts about the Willard/Willshire Development as expressed by individual planning commissioners:

-       The ratio of townhomes to single-family homes is too high.

-       The development appears to have been ‘plopped-down’ in the middle of town, without regard for the surrounding area.

-       The houses that are built along the Commons should be similar to those that already sit on the Commons in terms of style, size, and orientation (i.e. facing the Commons).

-       The proposed development does not have any transitions that flow with the surrounding neighborhoods, historic sites, or communal spaces.

-       The development should flow with Beall St. (and all the better if it could be highlighted as the original main street in Poolesville)

-       A clear sight-line between the John Poole House and Beall Street is preferred, especially if a pedestrian/bike path ran along that sight-line.

-       Do not want to see houses right up along Fisher Ave. without more of a green-space buffer.

 

There seems to be some confusion about what the desired “village feel” really means. Does it mean a dense town center with many businesses that residents can easily access on foot or by bicycle? Several in the audience took issue with this idea, stating that Poolesville is a town that relies on its cars for commuting, so our town center will always be a high-traffic area; the vision of a town center created for pedestrians and cyclists conflicts with the reality that Poolesville residents will never be able to dispense with their cars. All new development will necessarily bring in more car traffic because the majority of new residents will necessarily be commuters.

 

Others in the audience questioned the practicality of trying to bring in more business; why not bring in more people to support those existing businesses? Would Poolesville’s population at its potential peak realistically be able to support more businesses?

 

The Commission identified all of the properties in the Town Center that could potentially be developed and apply for the Urban Village Overlay Zone, which allows for higher density. These properties include:

-       Norris Road

-       Willard property

-       The open green space adjacent to CVS

-       The lot behind Bassets

-       The potential for re-development using the Overlay Zone exists for already developed properties in the Town Center

 

It should also be noted that none of Poolesville’s historic buildings are actually protected by the State of Maryland as historic sites.

 

Many agreed (in the audience and on the Commission) that the town would benefit from an improved streetscape. The ‘jagged tooth’ look of our Town Center is one of the major problems that an improved streetscape could repair. The big question is whether Poolesville should take over Fisher Ave from the State of Maryland. The advantage is that Poolesville would have autonomy over what would be done with regard to improvements. The major downside is that Poolesville would then shoulder the cost burden for all maintenance and repair, including stormwater systems, curbs, sidewalks, signage, paving, etc. The paving contract would require a $600 thousand budget.

 

The Overlay Zoning seems to be considered a tool for revitalization that could be used to fill-in the ‘jagged tooth’ spaces with development. A member of the audience suggested that the Commission consider other ways to repair this jagged tooth appearance—additional development need not be the only way. For instance, green space can repair the jagged tooth look, as could reducing the unnecessary amount of paved space along Fisher.

 

Concern from the audience was expressed by several that if all properties in the Town Center with the potential for re/development were to use the Overlay Zone to insert high-density in-fill development, we would quickly exceed our town capacity of 6,500 (which is already set to reach 6,000 once all of the houses currently being built are occupied).

 

It was stated by several on the Commission that Poolesville’s sewage and waste-treatment limitations provide a hard cap for population growth. Waste-water limitations should curtail town growth and set the town capacity at 6,500 people (give or take a few hundred).

 

One member from the audience asked the Planning Commission to bear in mind that water supply estimates fluctuate and are not set in stone.