Bethesda business leaders hosted county and state officials last week to launch an annual legislative agenda that pushes for more smart-growth development, bus rapid transit and state pension reform.
County Executive Isiah Leggett, county council members, state delegates and senators were at the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Chamber of Commerce’s Annual Legislative Reception on Wednesday, held at the Bethesda Blues and Jazz Supper Club.
The Chamber’s priorities include approval or ongoing support of new zoning in Chevy Chase Lake, the Bethesda Central Business District and White Flint II — the area wedged between Montrose Parkway and the border of the city of Rockville.
The Chamber, which represents about 550 businesses and 45,000 employees, also supports a BRT system, implementation of the Purple Line along the Georgetown Branch Trail and a zoning ordinance rewrite that provides for a more streamlined development process.
“We want to support our schools, we want to support all of the social services our county provides and if we want to continue to do those things at the level we have done in the past, we have to look at how we can afford to do that,” said Chamber Board Chair Andy Shulman, a commercial real estate broker. “There are many places in Montgomery County where you can have the suburban house with the white picket fence. I’m attracted to both lifestyles. But we have to increase the economy to do that.”
Many of the Chamber’s issues are ongoing ones — improvements to the Bethesda Metro Station, maintaining Bethesda’s Parking Lot District and the Suburban Hospital expansion plan.
One that Shulman emphasized was what the Chamber calls “responsible county and state budgets,” that deal with the structural deficit and the state’s teacher pensions.
“That can’t be corrected with a simple tweak here or there each year,” Shulman said. “For years, we’ve asked leaders to really deal with these problems, to look at the teacher pension issue between the School Board, the County Council and the state. It’s all very intertwined and it’s not a system that’s working as well as intended.”
In 2012, the state shifted part of the cost of teacher pensions to counties, which Montgomery County leaders protested.
Also on the agenda is support for the recently submitted recommendations of the county’s Nighttime Economy Task Force, a group chaired by Chamber Board member Heather Dlhopolsky.
“We want to reduce the barriers of entry for many different businesses that attract young people to the county,” Shulman said. “They can’t all grow up here and be educated here and then leave for D.C.”