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An Expedited Planning Process for Amazon is Met with Divided Opinions in Montgomery County

by Nena Perry-Brown

Future streetscape from White Flint Sector Plan, a potential Amazon site in Montgomery County. Click to enlarge.

As one of three jurisdictions in the immediate metropolitan area that made the shortlist for Amazon's second headquarters, Montgomery County has been a case study for aggressively courting the company. That continued on Tuesday evening as the County Council held a public hearing on two proposed zoning text amendments (ZTAs 18-05 and 18-02) that would expedite the planning approval process for the company should it choose the county for a second headquarters location.

One amendment would allow for taller buildings in certain areas and would shorten the development review period for "signature business headquarters"; the other would establish "signature business headquarters" as a new use in Commercial Residential zones.

The hearing was surprisingly brief considering that so many have strong opinions about whether and where Amazon would be a good fit — and about how much cities should offer the behemoth business.

Eleven residents offered testimony at the hearing, seven of whom were in favor of the text amendments. Two of those in favor live near White Flint Mall, a site that has seen redevelopment stall over the years and which many have speculated would be the county's preferred location for the Amazon campus. 

The first witness to testify against the amendments cited the recent standoff in Seattle between the city and the company over a tax that would bankroll much-needed affordable housing there. 

"In a decade, if this county finds itself in a similar state of emergency [as Seattle] and a billionaire stands between you and helping the people of this county, will this be a legislative body that has already played supplicant to Jeff Bezos, or one he hesitates to challenge?" resident Kenneth Myers said, noting that city's rising homelessness and drastically decreased rent affordability.

Witnesses on both sides expressed a desire to see the county consider how best to improve the planning approval process for the business community. Two at-large council candidates also took the opportunity to offer testimony that, on one end of the spectrum, encouraged the council to not only pass the amendments but to also increase the county's stock in Amazon for public employees' pension funds, and on the other end of the spectrum, expressed dismay at the council being pro-business to the point of neglecting its residents' preferences.

The Montgomery County Planning Board voted earlier this month to move the proposal forward, which would halve the review period from 120 days to 60 days. Between the huge push the state and the county are putting on netting the second campus, maybe the low hearing attendance indicates some Amazon fatigue.

See other articles related to: zoning, montgomery county, amazon second headquarters, amazon

This article originally published at https://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/an-expedited-planning-process-for-amazon-is-met-with-divided-opinions-in-mo/13988

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