Thank you so much for your thoughtful and detailed email. It's both rare and appreciated. When I'm not knocking on doors (which is most of my day), I spend a tremendous amount of time writing questionnaires, checking them, and re-checking them. So I hope you'll abide my grammar and spelling mistakes as I write this email in a less formal style.
I am with you in both philopshy and policy. I strongly support more transit-oriented development and will do everything in my power to crack down on sprawl. And I 100% agree with you that this requires a regional, not parochial approach. As you said, I am indeed endorsed by the Sierra Club, an endorsement I'm honored to have received. You are absolutely right in noting that their endorsement was, in part, based on my strong stand against sprawl and support for open space. I will be a champion of environmental protection and smart growth in Annapolis.
My enthusiasm for real smart-growth (a term which I am opposed to using as a euphamism for no-growth) must also include a critical examination of individual projects which claim to fit under that rubric. At first glance, the Forest Glen townhouses appear to fit the mold of transit-oriented development that I would zealously support. However, having studied the nuanced details of this development, it is unfortunately not a project I can back at this time. I'll be candid as to why. First, this development is being built under a "two-car" model. Yes, that's right. Each unit--and there are 300 of them--would come with two parking spaces. The reason is clear--Montgomery County's own studies show that residents are unwilling to walk a certain distance for access to commercial services. These 300 units are beyond that limit relative to Snyders and CVS. Zoned 100% residential, there is no opportunity for mixed use in the current Forest Glen plan. Not very smart.
That leads to my second concern--more cars at Forest Glen Road and Georgia Avenue. You are right to say that growth elsewhere means more cars too, and travelling further distances. But Forest Glen and Georgia is not just any intersection--it is rates as THE worst intersection in the entire state of Maryland. That's right, the entire state. Forest Glen Road, according to SHA, carries around 6,000 cars a day. If each two-car unit used each car once a day (for the drycleaner, taking kids to school), that would mean an additional 600 trips. That's a 10% increase at the intersection already rated the worst. To me, that's not smart growth.
My third concern is related--pedestrian safety. The intersection of FG and GA averages 20 accidents a year, with 3 deaths in the last two years (two of whom were children). No intersection is fool-proof, but three deaths in two years is stunning. Unfortunately, I cannot abide putting more cars on the road at a dangerous intersection if it increases the likelihood of pedestrian injury or death.
My final concern is one unrelated to traffic or transit--our schools. These townhouses would feed into Oakland Terrace Elementary on Plyers Mill Rd. Oakland Terrace currently has four portable classrooms which encroach onto the soccer field. I tried to get a firm estimate from county agencies as to how much the new development would increase the student body at Forest Glen. The answer I received is that Oakland Terrace would go from being "over capacity" to "significantly over capacity." I cannot support any development that would lead to an increase in class size, and the strong possibility of additional portables that would further encroach on the field where the children have recess.
So, to answer your first question: By default, I will strongly support each and every transit oriented development. Upon closer inspection of any project, I cannot support a development if it: assumes each unit requires two cars, significantly impacts pedestrian safety, seriously degrades an already failing intersection, or drastically increases the pupils-per-classroom in elementary schools.
In answer to your second question, when I'm elected to the State Assembly, I will fight for five concrete steps that would allow me to support the development at Forest Glen.
1) A pedestrian tunnel under Georgia Avenue
2) A lighted crosswalk accross Georgia Avenue (similar to the crosswalks used in Garret Park, which flash when a sensor detects a pedestrian)
3) Zoning for mixed-use development instead of pure residential, to prevent new residents from using their cars each day
4) At least 20% of units reserved for low-income and workforce (aka teacher, firefighter) housing
5) Modernization at Oakland Terrace or the re-opening of a closed school so that Woodlin and Oakland Terrace would each be "at capacity" and not "over capacity."
I hope this answers your questions honestly and thoroughly. I'm happy to continue this dialogue if you wish. I always enjoy a good wonkish discussion on policy. I welcome your thoughts, and will certainly continue to welcome them come January in the House of Delegates.
p.s. Just to be wonky, a thought experiment: I have no idea the answer to this question, and it's NOT analogous to the Forest Glen situation. But it does go to show that lawmakers must often decide between the bad and the worse. There are 100 units. Placed in Gaithersburg, these units units would increase average vehicle miles travelled by 10%, but the school would remain below capacity. Placed in Wheaton, the residents would use Metro, so vehicle miles traveled remain constant. But the addition of new children puts the school 10% above capacity. I don't know the answer to this question, but it's does illustrate that lawmaking is the art of competing values.