PoP Highlights: Jan. 18 Planning Commission Meeting with Miller & Smith

The January 18 Planning Commission meeting was well-attended, with people overflowing into the atrium of Town Hall. While there were items on the agenda other than Willshire, this meeting recap will focus entirely on Willshire and the updated Concept Plan submitted by Miller & Smith. You can access the Miller & Smith PowerPoint slides here.

 

Chuck Ellison, Miller & Smith VP, opened the Willshire presentation by stating that they worked to incorporate the guidelines provided by the Planning Commission in November (2016), while working with existing codes and ordinances. In a nutshell:

  Ø  The updated Concept Plan for Willshire includes 75 homes (including the original Willard house).

  Ø  Density was reduced from the original plan by only 22%--this means that just 18 homes were removed.

  Ø  34% of the homes are three-story townhouses (29 out of 75).

  Ø  Miller & Smith is requesting concessions from the Town that run counter to the guidelines created by the Planning Commission (outlined nicely in the November Meeting minutes):

·       The townhouses all include a third level;

·       The garages in the plan are approx. 50 sq feet larger;

·       There will be no accommodations for senior housing; 

·       The Planning Commission requested "10% usable recreational parkland;" this means about 1.4 acres need to be dedicated parkland. The new Concept Plan only has about .7 acres of dedicated usable parkland (see PowerPoint slide 3). It proposes that the other half be built "in-kind," without providing further detail. "In-kind" means the creation of equivalent parkland somewhere off-site or the provision of in-kind services in-lieu of said parkland. Miller & Smith did not elaborate on what in-kind services they intend to propose.

  Ø  The Planning Commission requested a 3-D rendering of aspects of the Concept Plan, particularly the townhouses.

 

Debbie Rosenstein, housing market expert presenting on behalf of Miller & Smith, justified the lack senior accommodations in the new Willshire Concept Plan with the following:

  Ø  Traditional senior housing (that includes assisted living facilities) would not work at the Willshire site because there are no “on-site amenities” like a nearby hospital and public transportation;

  Ø  Instead, a first-floor master bedroom/bath floor plan “single family product” could be sold to “active adults” and “empty nesters.”                     

  Ø  Chuck Ellison commented that Miller & Smith need to create a plan that works economically, apparently indicating that a senior housing component would not work financially for the developer. 

  Ø  When asked, Miller & Smith said that no demand analysis for senior accommodations had been done for Willshire/Poolesville.

  Ø  Planning Commission Member Kevin Shramm commented that this parcel of land represents the Town’s last opportunity to create senior housing in the center of town—our last chance to create accommodations for folks who have spent their lives here and raised families here and who want to stay here.

 

Dave Baker, Land Planner for Townscape Design, presented the details of the new Concept Plan that he designed. In a nutshell:

  Ø  A playground has been added.

  Ø  A small buffer line of trees around the periphery of the parcel to remains.

·       The visual rendering of green space in the Concept Plan doesn’t appear to show much actual parkland; green space looks to include the tree/buffer line and the spaces between houses and rows of townhouses.

·       Town Manager Wade Yost reminded Miller & Smith that storm water management features are not considered park/green space and shouldn’t be conflated.

·       Miller & Smith indicated that the storm water management details have yet to be figured out, which leaves the question of which areas are actually park/green space.

·       A couple Planning Commission members suggested increased parkland in front of the John Poole House that ties into a pedestrian walkway to Whalen Commons. Others suggested park space to compliment the historic garden restoration project at the John Poole House. There was also discussion of the need for a more defined entrance to the John Poole House with a parking area for visitors.

  Ø  Glass Lane connection in the Concept Plan is a pedestrian-only walk-through.

  Ø  “Open-space network” (meaning walking paths?) is open for discussion and review.

 

The audience was asked to hold questions until the presentation was complete and the Planning Commission members had an opportunity to ask an initial round of questions. Citizen comments fell into the following main categories:

  Ø  Density—many voiced concerns that the plan remains too dense.

  Ø  Fit—lack of compatibility with town character and aesthetics.

·       The suggestion of holding a charrette was put forth; a workshop-style event where citizens brainstorm in small-groups to create an improved plan.

·       A request was made for a map showing what a buildout of the current zoning would look like, using ½-acre and 1/3-acre lots, to inform the process. Commenter stated that otherwise it appears the Overlay Zone is a fait accompli.

  Ø  Water—extreme caution was advised by Caroline Taylor of MCA. She cited the fact that other towns and jurisdictions in our region are planning for the predicted coming decrease in water supply (i.e. WSSC exploring reservoir in Potomac for their water users, Frederick City and the District of Columbia, as well as a new NVA reservoir). It was recommended that the Town review its water plan with a mind toward the advent of significant drought cycles as well as actual data as to how the groundwater aquifer will support the development recently constructed, under construction, or already approved to be built. 

  Ø  Affordability—several speakers (with audience concurrence) questioned an assertion that Willshire provides affordable options. Several noted that, with starting price-points in the upper 400s (for townhouses) and 600s (for single-family homes), Willshire homes are not legitimately affordable options. Related points:

·       Many options currently exist in the Poolesville housing market at 400k and lower;

·       Someone verified with Miller & Smith that the starting prices they were quoting are based on the 93-unit Concept Plan; price points rise with the decrease of units and Miller & Smith acknowledged that they had not updated their starting prices accordingly (so they will be higher than quoted above);

·       Willshire will require an HOA and these fees are likely to be considerable. Miller & Smith had not yet calculated an approximate HOA fee.

  Ø  Lack of green space:

·       Several commented that the Concept Plan Map did not appear to have much green space;

·       There were a couple comments that spaces between homes shouldn’t be considered functional community green space;

·       The State of Maryland uses a standard ratio of 30 acres of parkland per 1000 residents. With the potential for 240 new residents, Willshire would generate a need for approximately 7 acres of parkland. 

·       Several expressed concerns that it’s difficult to tell what is intended green space and what constitutes storm water management features.

  Ø  Townhouses:

·       Several expressed a desire for less and/or no townhouses at all (citing displeasure with the new three-story townhouses currently under construction by the elementary school).

·       Broad disapproval of having three-story townhouses was expressed.

·       Cal Sneed asked Miller & Smith if they had considered incorporating English-style basements to avoid having three stories above ground. Chuck Ellison replied that they had not, and that having a garage on the ground floor works counter to this idea.

  Ø  Traffic—how will increased traffic impact safety and the livability of Poolesville.

  Ø  Why now?—It was asked whether we need to proceed with such dense development so quickly. It was suggested that Poolesville slow down, because so much is at stake and so much stands to be lost if we don’t get this right.

 

Chairman of the Planning Commission, Cal Sneed, closed the discussion by stating that sorting out Willshire will be a long process with plenty of opportunity for review. Bottom line: most citizens in the audience oppose the density of 75 units (one person in the audience spoke in favor of the new proposal).