Saturday, November 15, 2014

SCHOOL RAGE: RESIDENTS QUESTION HIGH-DENSITY WESTBARD PLAN, NEW ES SITES NOT LARGE ENOUGH (PHOTOS)

"This is crazy!"

UPDATED: 12:30 AM, November 16, 2014*

Friday brought one of the most contentious meetings of the Westbard Sector Plan charrette, and not surprisingly, the topic was schools. Current and future public school parents in the Wood Acres-Pyle-Whitman cluster acutely aware of existing overcrowding questioned how Montgomery County planners could recommend a high-density growth plan for Westbard in that context.
Concept 1 - all of the red
structures are new apartment
buildings
Planners released their first projections for total housing units, and students to be generated by the plan, at the meeting. Those numbers were met with skepticism. Under a full build-out of Concept 1, Westbard residents would find 2529 apartments dropped into their community. That would, under the current U.S. census bureau statistic of 2.58 persons per housing unit, bring 6525 new residents (and 4932 additional cars!) to the 153 acres that comprise the Westbard Sector. In other words, 43 people per acre, which is quite a change from the area's single-family-home suburban character.

The Planning Department projection calculated Friday predicts 306 new students, with 153 of them being elementary school students. Those numbers generated some grumbling among the crowd of residents at the meeting. If one has been on Westbard Avenue when the school buses stop there in the morning, you know there are quite a few students coming from those few buildings now. In fact, Park Bethesda alone has 59 students, and Westwood Tower adds 65. Unfortunately, the chart shown did not have the numbers for the Kenwood Place condominium, which is also in the Walt Whitman HS cluster.
Bruce Crispell of MCPS
on the hot seat Friday
MCPS' infamous forecaster Bruce Crispell made a late arrival to the meeting, but tried to generate some numbers more in line with what we've seen in the Westbard area. Crispell's calculator gave him a projection of 750 students, more than double what planners forecast - and equal to the size of the entire Wood Acres ES population, one resident noted. In the context of 6525 people coming under Concept 1, 750 still sounds a bit low.

Under Concept 2, the numbers are lower. From those 1386 units, planners forecast 199 students, with 97 of them being at the elementary level. Crispell's number was 425, again more than double, but still sounding a bit off the mark for 3576 new residents (bringing 2703 cars with them to the community, by the way).
"Why are we building
more housing?"
Clearly, I think MCPS forecasters need to apply a new "Westbard" or "Whitman" factor to their prediction formula. The residential community that surrounds, and is served by, the commercial-retail Westbard area is one of the most desirable in America. Atop the list of Pros that make it so is the Whitman school cluster. When you ask yourself how much do people want to live here, just remember: 30 billionaires are actually willing to pay well over a million dollars, to live in a cramped townhouse in the middle of a contaminated industrial dump off of Little Falls Parkway.

Much has been made of the supposed lone student who has been generated by that unfinished townhome development being the norm for that type of housing. But remember, those homes are in the BCC district, not Whitman. Fair or not, most well-off parents moving here want Whitman. I think one can reasonably expect student generation rates to exceed those of virtually any other community in America.
Map of current schools in
the area; not shown are
several leased to private
schools by MCPS
The other problem? "We're already bursting at the seams," as one parent put it so well yesterday. Community members actually forecast the number of students that would eventually attend Wood Acres better than MCPS did, noted Springfield Civic Association President Phyllis Edelman. Another parent made the excellent point that the county and state can't even fund a new gym at Pyle Middle School, where students now take gym in a hallway - so how can they fund entire new schools? "This is crazy," she said, asking why developers aren't being asked to shoulder more of the burden they are creating.
"We don't want it."
Earlier in the morning, the new president of the Sumner Citizens Association - who moved here six months ago for the schools in the Whitman cluster, said "now I'm thinking, well, shoot, maybe I'm not going to get the benefit of this school system like I thought." Several parents expressed frank opinions that the quality of schools in the Whitman cluster is today being degraded by class size, lack of space and reduced amenities caused by overcrowding. 

One bright spot in both plan concepts is a new elementary school site near Westbard Avenue. There are two problems with that, however. As Rob Snow, a parent and officer with the Springfield Civic Association noted, "ignoring the impact on middle schools and high schools is silly." Crispell said there simply is no room left in the area for a new middle or high school.
"We bought for
Whitman and Pyle."
The other big problem? It turns out that neither proposed school site is big enough. Planners say they are going to pitch a new type of taller, "urban school" to MCPS. But there is no guarantee that MCPS will adopt that, meaning that the promised new school could go unbuilt. Even moving Ridgefield Road eastward won't expand that site large enough to meet the current 7.5 acre MCPS standard for elementary schools. It would seem that reality should be addressed now, and a larger site found before the plan is finalized in April 2015.

Planner Marc DeOcampo stressed that the concepts shown were hypothetical full build-outs, which are unlikely to occur, he said. However, if you apply the "Whitman" factor, my guess is that you'll see developers moving quickly in this area to build once the plan passes, than you would in Wheaton or Long Branch. One has to ask where the impetus for high-density urbanization of Westbard is coming from. Certainly not the residents. DeOcampo concurs, noting that "85-90% of the comments we've heard are, 'Keep it low density.'"

A final hybrid concept with some options will be presented this coming Tuesday night, November 18, at 7:00 PM at Westland Middle School. If you have concerns, this is the time to come out and express them.

* The article was updated to correct the estimated number of vehicles per unit that would be brought to Westbard under Concept 1 and Concept 2, based on the latest statistical data.

37 comments:

G. Money said...

What's with the nearly two cars per person estimate?

Anonymous said...

Why no reviews or pictures of the free food and drink offered at these meetings?

Anonymous said...

"Westbard residents would find 2529 apartments dropped into their community. That would, under the current U.S. census bureau statistic of 2.58 persons per housing unit, bring 6525 new residents (and 12724 additional cars!)"

That has got to be some of the dumbest math I've ever seen. Pretending these studio and 1br apartment units will have the same number of residents as the average American household is idiotic. And pretending each of those people will have two cars is even stupider. Dyer's complete and utter lack of common sense strikes again.

Anonymous said...

The average number of persons per apartment around here is nowhere near 2.58. I'd say that it's closer to 1.5. "2.58" probably includes single-family homes.

And I love how there will be 2 cars for each new resident, and 5 cars for every new apartment.

Anonymous said...

"...2529 apartments dropped into their community. That would, under the current U.S. census bureau statistic of 2.58 persons per housing unit, bring 6525 new residents..."

"...306 new students, with 153 of them being elementary school students...."

LOL, if you supposedly have 2.5 residents per new apartment, it would seem that at least .5 of those, one-fifth of the total, would be children. That would be 1,305 new students, over four times the number that the County gave. That alone should tell you that your math sucks.

Anonymous said...

Oh, I see where Dyer went wrong regarding the number of cars. "2" was probably the average number of cars per household (including single-family homes) of 2.5 residents, not the number of cars per resident in said household.

LOL, dumb@$$.

Woodmont said...

There are a lot of families living in the Westbard area apartments already. I expect that trend to continue with the new apartments.

They'll sacrifice space in order to have their kids in that top school district.

Anonymous said...

2.5 people and 5 cars per apartment...what effing planet is Dyer from? He makes himself look dumber every day.

Robert Dyer said...

10:35 AM - I never gave my own calculation for students, only those of planners and Crispell. What I did the math on was based on current statistics from the US Census Bureau. Does their math "suck?"

Robert Dyer said...

8:18: The average is just that - an average among all types of units in a building. You make it sound like these are going to be buildings comprised entirely of micro units. That's why the number takes into account the actual types of units in these buildings. I realize the numbers are not good PR for those promoting urbanization of Westbard, but that's no reason to put the facts aside.

Robert Dyer said...

12:06: That's the standard average residents per unit. Call the Census Bureau.

Robert Dyer said...

G.Money, you may be right about the cars. I will check that again and update it later. I may have put the person number in the calculator, instead of the household number. I stand by the residents projection, but want to correct the cars number if necessary.

Anonymous said...

what is the timeframe?

Anonymous said...

"I realize the numbers are not good PR for those promoting urbanization of Westbard"

LOL, Dyer wrings his hands over the market for the "coveted millennials", except when it's on his own turf.

NIMBY scum.

G. Money said...

Dyer (12:08PM): It's not your math that's wrong, it's your choice of statistics. The Census gives 2.58 as the average household size for the entire U.S. across all households, but that's inappropriately broad for what you're talking about. For example, the Census also has household sizes for states, where MD is 2.61 and DC is only 2.11. That disparity by itself should suggest to you that there are other factors that need to be considered.

And you really don't need a calculator to know that the average household doesn't own 5 cars. Furthermore, the number of cars per person in DC is 0.35, while in MD it is 0.79.

Anonymous said...

Dyer said "12:06: That's the standard average residents per unit. Call the Census Bureau."

NO, DYER. That's the avg. per household in the entire U.S. - you know, this country that's primarily single family homes. You're claiming the same number of people who live in a standard American house are the same as the number of people who live in these apartment units. That's, of course, completely off base. It a truly absurd claim that lacks even basic common sense.

Anonymous said...

You should use Census statistics for 20816, not the US or MD. That zip has a mix of apartments and single family homes so most likely to represent the new development.

Also, you used the term "billionaires" when referring to the new town homes off Little Falls Parkway. Didn't you mean millionaires?

Robert Dyer said...

G. Money, the average is not only a relevant baseline, but is particularly accurate for the Whitman school district. The number of school-age children in the current, outdated apartments is far higher than the average outside of the Whitman cluster. Check the numbers for yourself. The chart shown at Friday's meeting showed apartment buildings outside of Whitman cluster have far fewer children.

Do you believe that car ownership away from Metro at Westbard can be compared to stats in DC? Let's be realistic here.

Robert Dyer said...

2:55: Check the stats for how many schoolkids are in the existing buildings on Westbard. #Oops.

Robert Dyer said...

8:15: I just assumed one would have to be a billionaire to casually spend $1.x million on a townhome in a flood area surrounded by contaminated soil and groundwater, and arm's length from the noise and fumes of auto repair facilities.

Robert Dyer said...

1:22 About 4 years.

Robert Dyer said...

1:28 Are you seriously suggesting millennials can afford $2200+ a month rent for a studio? These apartments are not for millennials.

Anonymous said...

C'mon, there are million dollar houses all over Bethesda (including nearly all in my neighborhood) and no one is a billionaire. In fact, there are only 3-4 billionaires in Bethesda/Potomac/Chevy Chase in total according to Forbes.

http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/24/2407125.html

Anyway, back to numbers. The census data for Bethesda is 2.41 people per household, and 23.2% under 18 and 5.5% under 5 so 17.7% of age to attend public school.

So 2,529 apartments * 2.41 = 6,095 new residents * 17.7% = 1,078 school-aged children.

Now of the 1,078, let's assume they are evenly distributed across all 12 grades, so that's about 90 per grade. So that would add 450 to Wood Acres, 270 to Pyle, and 360 to Whitman.

I can see points on both sides, like how the avg household size in an apartment may be smaller, but also how they are more attractive to families due to lower cost. So let's say the 450 number is off either way by 100 -- even adding 350 new children to Wood Acres is a huge number, and same with 260 to Whitman. Whitman class sizes (per grade) are about 500, so this would be a 10-20% increase in Whitman population. I think that's a lot to ask of the schools, as they are already at capacity.

Anonymous said...

"I just assumed one would have to be a billionaire to casually spend "$1.x million on a townhome in a flood area surrounded by contaminated soil and groundwater, and arm's length from the noise and fumes of auto repair facilities."

LOL, Ajay Bhatt has his fence and his precious little crustacean critter, Robert has his brownfield alarmism. NIMBY scum, both of them.

Robert Dyer said...

10:01: I think you missed that I was being a bit sarcastic in my billionaire comment. The Hoyt/Little Falls Place was not only the most infamous land use decision in MoCo history, but really just illustrates the most extreme example of conspicuous consumption and the top 1% in this country. A gazillion dollar townhome in the middle of a toxic dump? Really?

Your other point is well taken, and I think backs up my article's point that the proposal right now is too dense. Either the unit number needs to drop significantly, or the infrastructure to support it needs to rise greatly, and be tied to staging of the growth.

Robert Dyer said...

10:53: "NIMBY scum?" I realize you guys get annoyed when the little people who've actually invested their time and money in a community try to get in front of the steamroller your developer sugar daddies are trying to drive over the neighborhoods.

You obviously are not aware of the contaminants in the soil and groundwater of the Westbard sector. You can't wish those away, nor the auto repair facilities at the back fence. Welcome to the world.

G. Money said...

Dyer (9:46 PM): I don't have that chart so I'll have to take your word for it on the apartment buildings that are already there. The Census data has significantly fewer persons per household and children per household for 20815 than 20816, and since Westbard is right on the line between them it's worth questioning (particularly with respect to the national average), but if you have microdata on the existing apartment buildings that's fine. Maybe you could take a picture of the chart next time.

As for cars, I'm not suggesting using either the DC or the MD number. To be fair though, there are plenty of DC residents that live just as far from the Metro as Westbard is from Friendship or Bethesda, and the MD number includes places with absolutely no public transit acccess. Of course, there are also demographic variations that probably play a role as well. So I'm not suggesting any number, but if you wanted me to place a bet, I'd put it at somewhere between the DC and MD averages. Anyway, thanks for the correction.

Anonymous said...

"The Hoyt/Little Falls Place was not only the most infamous land use decision in MoCo history..."

Hyperbole alert!

Also, I note your sudden silence on Beerghazi. Obviously you have now become part of the shameful cover-up, and must be shunned.

Anonymous said...

It's funny how people move to an area for the schools and then don't want to allow others to move to that area for the schools.

Robert Dyer said...

8:06 It's not hyperbole when it's true. The Hoyt decision totally sabotaged the prime opportunity the county had to expand Little Falls Stream Valley Park, and create a green buffer to protect the stream. Everything I predicted would happen (and please go back and watch my testimony before the Planning Board and NCPC to verify) has happened: the park has been ruined with the massive visual intrusion of the townhomes - far more than the old factory, parkland has been used for illegal sign marketing of the development on a regular basis, the precedent of road access on that lower stretch has led to the demand for additional intrusions for future developments (Westbard plan concept is calling for 2 new curb cuts on the Parkway), the $500,000 given by EYA in the project deal has been misspent - just to name a few.

There's no sudden silence on the Riemer beer scandal. As soon as there is a new development in the story, I will report on it - or if Mr. Riemer makes another softball PR media appearance on the topic.

Robert Dyer said...

10:59 So what is your solution? Should new housing be added with no room to put the kids when those schools are full? It's not the current residents who are to blame - it's the County officials who haven't kept infrastructure in line with development approvals. Shouldn't MCPS be providing a Whitman-quality school cluster in every part of the county, instead of perpetuating the racial and geographic inequities that exist - and have grown over the last 4 years - in our school system?

Anonymous said...

The Whitman cluster issue is space. Buildings can only hold so many students. You can hire more teachers to teach more students, but that's no good if there is no classroom for them to teach in.

In the case of Wood Acres (I do realize there is talk of adding another elementary school to the cluster), I believe they are about to close for renovation in December, but even once that's done, they'll still be at capacity. Also, they have no more room to grow -- there simply isn't any further adjacent land or space on-side to grow. That's it.

Whitman could grow by annexing the former Whittier Woods school next door. Pyle I know less about the options -- is there any space for them to grow?

I don't think it's a NIMBY thing to say that the buildings are physically at capacity and protest adding more students without increasing capacity.

I suppose there is one way to make both sides happy -- make all the new apartments for elderly/assisted living like one of the buildings already is (was?). They're not going to fill the schools, that's for sure. Also probably lower car ownership rates than most families.

Anonymous said...

"...instead of perpetuating the racial and geographic inequities that exist..."

Whitebard. LOL

Robert Dyer said...

11:08 PM: You oppose bringing schools in less affluent parts of the county up to Whitman cluster standards? Not something to lol about, but just plain sad.

Anonymous said...

Wait-- the new elementary being talked about for the current site of the library (right next to Westland) would be in the Whiteman cluster? That would truly highlight the ridiculous boundaries in MCPS. Why bus kids who live biking distance from Pyle all the way to Westland and the kids who live there all the way to Pyle?

Robert Dyer said...

11:42: You're correct, although the logjam at Pyle and Whitman would surely bring up the third rail of MoCo politics - redistricting. I think the Planning Board should get actual approval for the proposed "urban ES concept" from MCPS *before* a Westbard plan is approved with a school on the tiny LF. Library site as the basis for approval. It doesn't meet the 7.5 acre MCPS standard, and where would the outdoor facilities be?

Anonymous said...

Time to start considering giving kids who attend private schools a subsidy. This would alleviate the pressure on existing/pending MCPS infrastructure. Independent Schools have the capacity and can operate and find new spaces for 200-300 person schools while MCPS must find space to operate 1500-2500 behemoth institutions. There is no space left for any more building and the kids that are attending the existing MCPS schools are getting a raw deal. MCPS will have to find how to ease the pressure on existing infrastructure and a voucher or subsidy will end up being a cost effective in the long run. Some may not like the idea, but unfortunately there is no other alternative.