Name: Donald Masters
Neighborhood of Residence: East Rockville (Harriett Park)
Office Seeking: City Council
What do you identify as the number one challenge facing Rockville today and how do you propose to address it?
There is a myriad of issues facing the City of Rockville that need addressing and resolution. They all have an effect on the quality of life for residents, and vary based on the neighborhood in which one lives. We also have the difficulty of being a city within a county, and rely on the county for many services of which we have little to no control over. However, having lived in the area my whole life, I've seen a pattern play out in many counties in the DC area. That is the “build-baby-build” because we need the revenue and will be left behind if we don't approach – versus the slow-growth, smart-growth, or no-growth approach.
As it appears most of the last large parcels of land in the city were built out in the 1970's and 80's, there is next to nothing left on which to build. So what remains requires tear-down and build up, or build denser if we choose to increase the population of our city. Some candidates feel we must do this or be left behind because the community around us will continue to grow. as the DC area continues to draw residents from other parts of the country.
The question to us as a city and as individual neighborhoods is: What do we want our city to look and feel like? As each neighborhood is unique, do the neighborhoods want to remain different and have the right to make those decisions for change?
Having lived here for almost four years, I've found the neighborhoods significantly different and each is proud of their character. In Arlington where I moved from is somewhat transient, while I have found Rockville to be significantly stable, with residents having lived in the area for 20-50 years or their lifetime.
Therefore, I believe each neighborhood should, as much as possible, choose to mold their future using the following concepts as they relate to their neighborhood: 1) creation of more pedestrian and public transit that is easy and safe to use; 2) housing density around the Metro stations should be allowed to increase as long as it does not negatively claim existing homeowners (as happened in Arlington); 3) a reduction of large bus and truck traffic; 4) an increase in tree cover; 5) an appropriate increase in neighborhood park size that is walkable and not restricted only to new developments.
These are the decisions we all need to consider. I would appreciate all the ideas that others may have as it is not for me to have the answers for your neighborhood.
What is the role of City government in addressing housing affordability issues in Rockville and what would you do to encourage the production of more affordable homes for working families?
The City has a reasonable range of housing options from mid to upper price ranges, however it is extremely difficult for many to purchase their first home. The question I have is: Can we create housing for purchase at a lower initial cost that will allow folks to build equity and feel part of the community? Currently, almost all “affordable” and other mid-rise high rise housing being built is rental. The philosophy of asking builders to include a percentage of lower priced apartments in their construction has not been shown to solve the affordability problem. The city must undertake a different approach if it remains dedicated to adding affordable housing to the overall housing stock of the city.
How do you feel about the transportation options currently available in our city? Do we have enough options? How would you mitigate those concerns or change the situation?
As residents more and more walk or use personal equipment to travel to neighborhood shops and to work, we need to have safe and accessible paths. The city has not included these changes in how our society is now traveling into their recent changes to the master plans. In opposite form, they have removed the requirement for service roads in redevelopments, which could have been reworked for the benefit of these new forms of travel. I want to see dedicated paths for non automotive vehicles on our major roadways for safe travel of folks who wish to use alternative means of travel.
Do you believe Rockville’s APFO (Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance) is working as intended? Why or why not? What changes would you propose?
The recent controversy over the effects of the APFO is something I found surprising as it relates to City governance and to our school aged children. The Montgomery County school system (MCPS) continues to be in the local and national press for issues that should have sensible solutions. My experience with the Arlington school system has provided me with a similar history of overcrowding and the lack of calculated planning for new school construction. Unfortunately, the governance structure of the county school system does not appear to me to give the city the control we need for a properly functioning set of local schools where our children spend 12 years of their lives. While I have not yet reached out to MCPS to get a better understanding of what leverage the city has in the decision making process, I fear we may have to push for more control over decisions that affect the education of our children.
Regarding the APFO, we need to understand that the City of Rockville is for the most part "built out", as there is little space left to build single family homes where most families with children live.
So does the APFO really affect the higher density redevelopment? I believe it does not. If one looks at who is living in the mid-rise and high-rise apartments that are being built and have been built, they are mostly younger folks, and some older folks, both without children. Typically, when people choose to have children they move into low-rise or single family housing. And since none of that is being built in the city, the effect on the APFO is nil.
The focus should really be on neighborhood school construction, as the increase in school age children is primarily due to empty-nesters selling their homes to younger folks with children.
How do you plan on maintaining a balance between environmental sustainability and economic development?
Any development or re-development must include modern standards for the environmental footprint, energy usage, sustainability, and re-use. Many of the other jurisdictions around us require such requirements in new construction. It is a benefit for the developer to use and market environmental and sustainable designs when offering the properties for lease. Environmental sustainability and economic development in this day and age work well together.
How will you implement the City’s commitment to Vision Zero? What strategies will you use to effectively partner with the County and State to ensure that Vision Zero is a reality?
It's my understanding that the pedestrian committee is working on an accessible paths policy, and there may be some visioning statements included in the 2040 plan. However that does not help us at the present time. Regarding the county's (and state's) Vision Zero proposals, I'm not familiar with any current policy changes or transportation implementations that are advancing Vision Zero for the city. I would like to see the issues which Twinbrook are having with the Viers Mill Road traffic resolved with the construction of an underpass, allowing the two shopping areas to be more accessible without one risking one's life crossing six lanes of traffic. The traffic light sequence at the intersection does not provide for safe passage to pedestrians, and could be resolved without any construction costs. Other high pedestrian areas need to be addressed with pedestrian walkways or significant changes to road grade crossings. The big problem in the city design is we have three main state roads that bisect the city (355, 28 and Viers Mill). These roads make it nearly impossible to have unified neighborhoods because of the volume of cross-town traffic that flows through our city and the restriction it creates in our ability to make changes without first having to request and get approval from the state transportation department.
As Rockville’s population continues to grow and diversify, do you support increasing the size of the City Council to offer more opportunities for representation? How do you plan to involve residents from all corners of Rockville in the decision making process if you are elected?
I do not have a view at this time, and would need to study the issue in more detail. I know that there was a resolution to increase the size of the Council a few years back that was defeated. Arlington, where I lived for 35 years, has a five member at-large board, with staggered election years. Fairfax County has a larger number of members of their board which is allocated to specific districts of the county.
Some questions that need to be asked: As the City has at-large council members, is that being effective for all the neighborhoods of the city? How have the residences of the council members been distributed across the city over time? Are the voting patterns of the neighborhoods, or lack thereof, affecting the votes cast for council seats? Would assigned districts create more entrenchment on issues, or would there be willingness to join forces for the benefit of the various neighborhoods based on the needs and good of each? Should council seats be assigned to specific neighborhoods, such that each has a stronger voice at the council? Should the council seats be staggered so the entire council is not up for election in the same year? Should the current elections be moved from off-years to years when other elections are taking place?
These are all valid questions for investigation, and merit further discussion. I am willing to listen to the ideas and concerns of those who have knowledge and opinions on the matter undertaken by this question.
I am very much of the belief that neighborhoods should have the ability to direct the future of their community as much as legally possible, and I will reach out to the individual communities on issues pertaining to them to hear all voices for the variety of concerns and ideas on each topic of concern.
Are you satisfied with Rockville’s city-manager form of government? If not, how would you propose changing it?
I am not well versed in the other forms of local governance. Having grown up in Northern Virginia, I am familiar with the local governing bodies, most of which are very similar, although going by different names (County Board, Board of Supervisors, City Council), all with a similar "Manager" form of government. The City of Alexandria has a slightly different form, with the Mayor having more of a decision making authority, and the District of Columbia has a Mayor that in many ways is autonomous and does not answer to the city council for most actions of the office.
If there is an interest and there are reasons why another form of governance may be appropriate, I would very much like to hear from residents who may be well versed in the concepts and implementations.
Do you support protecting equal rights for all individuals in Rockville, regardless of gender, race, age, religion, ethnic origin, disability, immigration status, sexual orientation or gender identity?
Yes. Not sure why this is even a question. Since the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges written by then Justice Kennedy, there should be no question that all citizens have the same rights and freedoms, without discrimination or fear of reprisal.
If you received a $1 million grant to use for the city any way you wanted, what would you do with it and why?
A million dollars does not go far, but the question is a fair one. Determining who and what to benefit is the hard part of this question. So with my dedication to the environment and quality of life for residents, and the issue of what to do with Red Gate, I would initiate a multi-use educational center for students and adults on all aspects of our local ecosystem and how our daily lives affect the environment around us. Maintaining the land, trees, and walkways, while adding wildflower and forest groves, so that all city residents can find reasons to appreciate, use, and learn from the sanctuary that Red Gate is.