In June 2019, the Montgomery County Planning agency and the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission began laying the groundwork for a new General Plan to guide county-wide development in the coming decades. This effort has been dubbed Thrive Montgomery 2050.
Over the past year, the planning agency has been gathering input from county residents and organizations. To encourage community engagement, Montgomery planning offered a “Meeting in a Box” to facilitate discussions and provide feedback on a variety of topics. In their words, this exercise, which posed questions and solicited priorities, hoped to identify “equity priorities for the county for the next 30 years, such as ensuring that no community is unfairly impacted by the harmful effects of environmental and health hazards, strengthening transportation options between lower-income residents and job opportunities, and ensuring new community amenities, such as libraries, are distributed equitably across the county.”
In January 2020, the NFCCA Board members responded to the agency’s questions on topics ranging from transportation priorities, adequate housing, economic development, environment, parks and open spaces, and design, arts, and culture.
In October, the Thrive Montgomery 2050 Public Hearing Draft Plan was issued and a November 19th public hearing date was set. NFCCA prepared a written statement outlining our views for submission in the hearing record, which can be viewed here. Although Thrive Montgomery 2050 is a county-wide analysis, NFCCA stressed that “the whole is a sum of its parts” and that little to no formal planning has been done for our community since the last Four Corners Master Plan was adopted 24 years ago in 1996. An in-depth planning effort to evaluate community-specific issues and update the Four Corners Master Plan, in our view, is a critical predicate to the TM 2050 planning exercise.
The NFCCA statement emphasized that Northwood-Four Corners and our neighboring communities “function together as a racially diverse, cohesive, and appealing community stitched together by a distinct commercial district, shared schools, active church and civic organizations, and small-lot single-family housing stock that remains affordable to moderate- and middle-income families.” However, the NFCCA statement raised deep concern that, historically, the county’s transportation decisions have favored moving heavy traffic volume through Four Corners and facilitated neighborhood cut-through traffic over preserving safety and walkability for community residents. Walkability in Four Corners is not an amenity so much as it is a necessity, as a number of pedestrians have been hit and even killed, so NFCCA urged the County to install pedestrian safety measures to make their goal of “15-minute living” in walkable communities a reality here in our community.
NFCCA’s statement also noted that “the small-scale businesses in the Four Corners commercial district would benefit from redevelopment to connect the surrounding neighborhoods to a vibrant, well-designed, safely walkable shopping district. A more cohesive redesign that ties the businesses located on the three corners and in the median at this intersection would greatly enhance the interrelation, unity, livability, walkability, attractiveness, and cohesion of the Four Corners communities.”
Presently, there a number of business vacancies in Four Corners; this situation begs for an economic development initiative to take advantage of this opportunity to revitalize this commercial district. Thrive Montgomery 2050 planners may also want to consider locating programs, such as social services, training programs, small business incubation, or community arts programs at the Four Corners intersection, which would leverage easy transportation access for the benefit of the wider community in this part of the county.
Another goal of the Thrive Montgomery 2050 planning exercise is to: “Promote active lifestyles by making parks and open spaces a central element of the community.” NFCCA urged the planning agency to build on the success and popularity of the North Four Corners Local Park by re-commissioning the recreation center located there for public use to create a community meeting and gathering space. Other suggestions include installing a meeting circle, gazebo, or combination band shell/movie screen to make this this local park an even more successful community gathering place.
Finally, NFCCA noted our strong support for planning efforts to enhance environmental health and biodiversity conservation. Specifically, the Northwest Branch would benefit from environmental improvements along feeder streambeds by removing over-growth and invasive vines and installing natural water-filtering plantings.
In closing, NFCCA stressed that the Thrive Montgomery 2050 plan should be compatible with the Montgomery County Climate Action Plan and that its findings should comport with Maryland’s statutory and regulatory requirements for Environmental Impact Studies prior to commencing significant infrastructure changes or developments.
After the November 19th hearing, the Planning Board will continue with work sessions to finalize the TM 2050 planning document, which it intends to present to the Montgomery County Council in March 2021. ■
© 2020 NFCCA [Source: https://nfcca.org/news/nn202012g.html]