Communities across the country are realizing more and more that the spread out patterns of growth (i.e. sprawl), which have shaped American communities for the past several decades, cannot be sustained. Last week, the Montgomery County Council approved the plan for the county’s 2009 – 2011 Growth Policy, which will become effective January 1, 2010. According to the Washington Business Journal, “Under the plan, all new projects near transit must be at least 50% residential and projects must be at least 75% of the allowed density under the zoning rules. Obviously Montgomery County wants development to be denser, closer in, and closer to Metro. Projects also must include affordable and work force housing, and meet certain energy efficiency standards.
The plan urges mixed-use (i.e. residential and commercial) infill development rather than sprawl. According to the Municipal Research and Services Center of Washington DC (MRSC) this means “developing vacant or under-used parcels of land within existing urban areas that are already largely developed.” The thinking here is that this approach will improve the quality of city centers and neighborhoods and leave open spaces undeveloped. The county’s goal is to prevent new development from contributing to road congestion. It wants dense development to be within a half mile of transit and to take into consideration road and school capacity.
If a new development projects an increase in enrollment between 105 – 120% at any grade level in a school within the development area, the developer will be assessed a fee upwards of $18,000 per student. The county had considered raising the fees but, after heated debate, decided against it in a 5 – 4 vote.
A key fact favoring infill development over sprawl is that the public and private costs of sprawl development is far greater than the resources required for infill development. This all sounds like pretty smart planning to me, for once! Maybe this should have been thought of decades ago, but better late than never.