Rockville moves to give more review to Town Center development -- Gazette.Net


New development in Rockville might take longer to get through the planning process if a new review procedure is approved.

Proposed changes to Rockville’s zoning regulations would give more scrutiny to development projects in Rockville’s Town Center, but some officials expect discussion in the future about whether a higher level of review should apply to developments in the city as a whole.

The Rockville Planning Commission voted earlier this month to recommend approval of a zoning change that would make sure all development projects in the Town Center Performance District receive at least commission-level review. Currently, small projects can be reviewed and approved by city staff.

“The mayor and council were concerned that ... there should be a higher level of review for projects in the Town Center to make sure that they are consistent with the intent of the master plan,” Deane Mellander, zoning administrator, said at a Dec. 12 Planning Commission meeting.

Development projects in Rockville go through one of three levels of review, depending on factors such as the size of the development and how many people will use the new facility. The chief of planning reviews smaller projects, while the Rockville Planning Commission or mayor and council review larger developments.

Under the proposed zoning amendment, projects in Town Center automatically would be reviewed at least at level 2, the Planning Commission level. At that level, the commission would hold a public hearing on proposed developments, which would generate more public awareness of the projects. The amendment also requires developers to send electronic notice of all level 2 and higher site plan applications to all homeowners and civic associations in the city.

At the Dec. 12 meeting, some commissioners discussed whether, in the future, all site plans should be subjected to at least commission-level review.

“I think the motivation here is that we want to raise public visibility and scrutiny of activities happening in Town Center ... but that does lead me into the question of why Town Center is unique,” said commission Chairman David Hill. “Why Town Center? Why not the whole city?”

Commissioner Kate Ostell suggested that the Rockville Pike area in particular also might call for more review.

“I guess the whole idea of having less review was to streamline things, but I can point to a lot of places in here that I think people would find to be pretty important,” she said.

Mellander said the mayor and council only had discussed applying the amendment to Town Center, but the commission will discuss Rockville Pike area zoning early next year.

Mayor Phyllis Marcuccio said she thinks having the Planning Commission review site plans for the whole city would shift some of the workload off Planning Department staff.

“Our city has grown so much and we have so many demands for changes and development that our planning office is overwhelmed by plans and activity,” Marcuccio said.

Commissioner Dion Trahan pointed out that the city has a special stake in Town Center because of the amount of money the government invested in its development.

”It’s beaucoup bucks. It’s a lot of money here,” he said. “... This is a critical component of the city succeeding.”

Currently, two site plan applications within Town Center qualified for level 1 review, one would put a new two-story building on the site of an old Giant grocery store and a second would construct a new bank building on the site of a former gas station. Those projects likely will receive final action before the proposed amendment is adopted, the staff report said.

The report said that city staff can support the proposed text amendment since it does not significantly alter the current review process. Most projects within the Town Center Performance District likely will come in as level 2 site plans anyway, the report said.

Sending Town Center site plans to the Planning Commission will add process time, the staff report said. The city’s Development Review Procedures Manual says that level 1 site plans generally take about five months to review, and level 2 plans take about seven months.

A public hearing on the proposal is tentatively scheduled for the mayor and council meeting at 7 p.m. Jan. 14.