The Montgomery County Planning Board went ahead on Thursday with its first worksession on the controversial Bus Rapid Transit plan despite a public commenting period that it extended to today, which rubbed at least one opponent the wrong way.
In response to an email from North Bethesda resident Paula Bienenfeld, who questioned why the Thursday worskession wasn’t rescheduled to accomodate incoming public comment, Planning Board Chair Francoise Carrier said all comment would be presented in time for consideration at the June 13 or later worksessions.
“If something new is raised during the final week of comments that causes a planning board member to wish to revisit something that we discuss this week, we can certainly do that. I do not consider it productive to postpone the first worksession to wait for the final week’s comments. Moreover, doing so would jeopardize our ability to meet the deadline the Council has set for this plan. Thus, we will be proceeding this week as scheduled,” Carrier wrote in an email to Bienenfeld.
Opponents of the plan, which as proposed would set the stage for a 10-corridor, 79-mile system of bus transitways across the county, say the county Planning Department didn’t give them enough notice or time to respond.
On Thursday, lead planner Larry Cole again went through the long list of community meetings he’s presented the plan to over the last few months and last year.
The issue has become particularly heated in Chevy Chase, where a group of residents from the Chevy Chase West neighborhood claim a Bus Rapid Transit system with a dedicated lane would endanger children walking to school and make it more difficult for them to drive in and out of their community.
At a meeting on May 28 with Cole, residents there lashed out at the Planning Department for the proposal and said they had no idea it was coming. Many signed a petition asking that the public commenting period be extended until June 7. Two days later, after Montgomery County Councilmember Roger Berliner (D-Bethesda-Potomac) spoke with Acting Planning Director Rose Krasnow, Carrier agreed to extend the deadline for all public correspondence and opinion regarding BRT.
At Thursday’s first worksession, Cole and the Planning Board dismissed the notion that the Planning Department failed to give enough notice of the Functional Master Plan that contains the BRT proposal. Carrier told one person who interrupted the meeting to challenge the Department’s claim to submit her complaint in writing.
Cole and the Planning Board also discussed the idea of removing Phase 2 language from the Plan altogether, since Cole claimed it has led to confusion in Chevy Chase. Phase 2 language in the BRT proposal is not an actionable part of the Master Plan, but it concerned Chevy Chase West residents as a move to median busways could mean right-of-way acquisition of properties along Wisconsin Avenue.
The Board agreed that it was important to look at BRT using a more long-term approach and that Phase 2 language should be kept in an appendix.
Worksession No. 2 is scheduled for June 13, Worksession No. 3 is set for June 18 and Worksession No. 4 is scheduled for July 11, at which time the Board hopes to direct staff to prepare the Planning Board draft for the County Council. The Board is hoping to submit its recommendations to the Council on July 22.