Tuesday, February 10, 2015
WESTBARD REDEVELOPMENT, CROWDED SCHOOLS PROMPT BERLINER INFRASTRUCTURE SUMMIT MARCH 7 IN BETHESDA
The event is expected to bring stakeholders together to have a dialogue on the topic. Berliner is not proposing specific changes to the County's Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance at this time, but beginning a community discussion on the topic. Based upon the feedback of public school PTAs, developers, municipal leaders and other stakeholders, action items proposed at the event could be addressed by the Council.
While the event was primarily prompted by the potential development at Westbard, it will consider the entire county, and officials from large municipalities like Rockville and Gaithersburg are expected to participate.
County-level officials currently scheduled to attend include County Council Deputy Administrator Glenn Orlin, Montgomery County Public Schools Director of Long-Range Planning Bruce Crispell, and Planning Director Gwen Wright.
This is a discussion that is long past-due. The Walt Whitman school cluster in Bethesda is already filled to the point where Wood Acres Elementary no longer has a music classroom, and some kids are taking gym class in hallways at Pyle Middle School. BCC High School is maxed-out on its site, and cannot be expanded further. Wood Acres will be similarly maximized after its current addition is completed, hemmed in by Wood Acres Park, forest buffers, and the residential neighborhood that surrounds it.
Yet, the Montgomery County Planning Department is rewriting the Westbard Sector Plan, and the current draft proposal would allow thousands of new residents and cars to be jammed into a roughly 2-block area. Developer Equity One last week unveiled a more specific plan for its Westbard properties, which would account for 500-700 new housing units (representing 1290-1806 new residents, using the current U.S. Census Bureau measurement of 2.58 persons per unit). How can this apparent disconnect between developer desires and zero school capacity be addressed? Something literally has to give.
County planners and the council will either have to scale back the Westbard redevelopment plans to a more appropriate height and density, or MCPS and developers will have to come up with significant new resources of money and land. It's one thing to talk about growth in newer communities. But we're now finding that those who criticized the reckless plan to allow massive "infill" sprawl redevelopment were correct in calling it irresponsible. When you destroy strip malls and neighborhood commercial and service areas, and replace them with luxury apartment towers, you get students and cars. Students and cars means more classrooms and more traffic.
The problem with infill development is that there is little-to-no capacity for either.
To go forward with a plan of thousands of new residents, there are really only 2.5 options. First, is the third rail of MoCo politics - major changes to school boundaries, which would result in long bus rides for some.
Second, developers would have to hand over significant plots of land. Where is that possible in 20816? Planners identified two sites for a new elementary school, those currently occupied by the vacant Manor Care Springhouse nursing home and the Little Falls Library. But neither site is large enough to hold an elementary school under MCPS guidelines. A shared school site with adjacent Westland MS at the library site is talked about, but that idea totally falls apart when you consider the common facilities such large student and faculty populations would have to share. Neither school's students would be adequately or justly served by the finished product. Those endorsing such a plan obviously are not planning to send their own kids there. I'm not even sure how sharing the site with Westland provides any more acreage to the proposed elementary school than if it stands alone on the library site. Westland currently occupies all the buildable space above the library, minus a service road and small forest buffer that stand between them.
The third, "0.5" solution is just that - only a partial solution: reclaim former schools such as that currently leased by the private Washington Waldorf School on Sangamore Road. WWS recently re-upped that lease, and my understanding is that the terms were quite favorable to them, with renewals at their option, not MCPS'. Again, it's a partial solution, because those former school buildings are smaller than today's, and wouldn't meet the demands at the elementary, middle and high school levels by themselves.
I haven't even talked about roads, stormwater and sewer facilities, and all the other things that people often forget are required to support residential growth (until the existing facilities fail).
Hopefully putting a lot of community leaders into one room will generate new ideas, because I'm not finding many options or solutions at this point, short of scaling back the infill sprawl plan for the Westbard Sector.