Live blogging from April 29, 2009 meeting of the Montgomery County Planning Board. Worksession #7. Topic is land use and redevelopment issues, plus siting a new school and a new commuter rail (MARC) station. Live streaming video is available at www.montgomeryplanningboard.org.
Meeting scheduled for next week with property owners and their attorneys to discuss the new CR zone.
Montgomery County Schools. Chairman Hanson: we’re now down to the stage of beginning to make decisions. The rule is that every decision will be firm and pending. We may want to come back when we see how it all fits together and make some changes. I don’t want to frighten people prematurely, because we may make revisions. this is the first opportunity to focus on specific sites.
Schools: estimated school population of 1111 students, with 321 in high school, and 380 in middle school. About one-third of the students will be added during each of the planned three phases of redevelopment. Cmsnr Cryor: have we requested information about enrollments absent White Flint additions? Planner Nkosi Yearwood: we have not, but their representatives here today could be asked. Criteria for selection: within Walter Johnson School cluster; proximity to existing neighborhoods and planned public facilities; potential for land dedication; three or more acres; and interior to a residential area and away from major roads. Looked at several sites, including Metro Bus facility. Didn’t recommend Bus garage site because it is too important, and no alternative site to put it. Looked at Rocking Horse closed school site. Didn’t recommend Rocking Horse because it was outside the sector, and outside the Walter Johnson Cluster.
Yearwood: recommends White Flint Mall/Plaza area. Now a parking lot; has a steep slope, but has potential and is next to White Flint park. Would also act as a buffer between existing neighborhood and new development in the area. Only alternatives are to use former schools or for MCPS to propose something.
MCPS staff: Joe Lavorgna, Bruce. We support staff recommendation to put it at White Flint Mall site. Not room elsewhere. Walter Johnson cluster information will convince you that we need the new school site. We don’t build schools in the 400 student size; most new schools are 700 student range. Timing of construction will be tied to actual population, but we want the site dedicated now. We’re not able to close or change schools now because they’ve been put to use by the community. Our sites are maxed out.
Walter Johnson additions because it’s a big school (2300 students). All schools closed in the 80’s for various reasons; all have been put to other uses. Projected high school enrollment without White Flint has available space, but very close to capacity in some years. Middle school enrollment in some places is over capacity, but Tilden Middle School (former Woodward High School) is well under capacity. Not enough justification to build another high or middle school. We’ll look beyond the sector boundaries for more capacity. Rocking Horse has enough acreage to be a middle school if we need it. Elementary schools at capacity even without White Flint additions.
Cmsnr Presley: how are you devising the numbers? Your numbers are different from our staff’s. MCPS: those numbers don’t include WF additions. We will build an addition to Wyngate to accomodate the projected enrollment in Walter Johnson cluster. So we should have the capacity for the already approved developments. Hanson: what about putting school impact tax into WF? MCPS: we need that elsewhere, Gaithersburg West, Shady Grove Plan. We don’t believe there will be a large number of new schools needed around the county in general; there will need to be additions. We keep pushing th envelope on the size of our schools, but we are counting on new schools. Hanson: that’s why we consider this when developing plans that will generate additional students. We suggest focussing the impact tax on the areas where the new demand will be; marginal based on the additional costs of the student’s seat. MCPS: we enjoy the flexibility to use the taxes where we want to. We would hope to keep it flexible.
Presley: is there a standard formula to calculate the projections for students? MCPS: cohort calculations; kindergarten trends are most key. In some areas, kindergarten rates are going up, which is consistent with county births. So most of this is the demographics of the existing communities. In some places, development has more impact. Downcounty we’re growing in every community. We do factor in new subdivisions, supplemented to the neighborhood growth. This year was a surprise; we grew by 1500 students, and with the economy so weak we didn’t expect it. That was the private school impact. Standard units through experience, so for WF, we just added the units. Presley: you feel with one new site, we’ll be covered? MCPS: we need a new site just to cover the increase from WF. We’re trying to estimate the impact of the new construction. Three major components: births, migration in and out (we get over 35,000 students moving in and out each year), plus neighborhood cycles (Germantown school bursting at the seams when it opened, but then it emptied as the neighborhood aged). The economy is an accellerant and decellerant of enrollment.
Cmsnr Cryor: proposed site is four acres. Elementary school is a different needs population. School will be limited by size of lot. Elementary school kids need smaller classes, they need to go outside. In the county we’re getting to the stage where we know that but “we don’t have the land.” We have a school nearby which has sufficient land used as an administrative site. I know it’s outside the cluster, but boundaries are not impossible to change. We know that just because outside the cluster, not a reason not to look at it. It presents more than any other site. We don’t know how many will show up. You were surprised by private school kids going to elementary schools. Parents move to Montgomery County with certain expectations about schools. Want to be sure that in our eagerness to have WF come together that we still have the basics for Montgomery County, and that includes a good school. Not content with these numbers. One of these essential questions. Schools must be at the top. Right now I don’t have that kind of information.
MCPS: we want flexibility. We have built our sites out to the max and it’s still difficult to provide a site within the Sector. Farmland is small site. Haven’t built a single-story school in a decade. We’re in synch on going up instead of out. We’re hoping you will put a site in the sector.
Closed schools: Current uses from government offices to private institutions which provide services to MCPS students. Rocking Horse is the international student admissions facility. Almost 19 acres. But we have pre-K programs, administrative functions in this Center because it is the gateway for any international student coming into our system. Rich or poor, even diplomats, they all come through this building. Have an HHS health clinic in the school. Used extensively. Looks appealing, but we use it.
Hanson: if we identify Rocking Horse, you could move those. Far out in time. Reluctant to assume cluster boundaries are immutable. I’m not wedded to the idea that it has to be in the present-day cluster. Needs to be a site within the place for use in schools. WF site is adjacent to a park.
Presley: what would accomodate additional students most quickly and efficiently? Robinson: could get it through dedication, and would provide a community buffer. Presley: not sure the community feels that way. Cryor: how high? MCPS: three stories. Cryor: not really a buffer. MCPS: adjacency to park is an advantage, but we’d put the playing fields on our site. Cryor: would the park be used for school activities? MCPS: in some cases. Hanson: as we develop the No Child Left Inside environmental education effort, a larger site is very important. Some things you couldn’t do on a smaller site. MCPS: some places have co-development to work together on tennis courts, playing fields, etc.
Brooke Farquhar from Park Planning and Stewardship: WF Park has 2 tennis court, basketball court and a playground. Topography on it. One limiting factor is just south is a wooded ravine, so tough access and visual issues. Robinson: WF site would act as a buffer. Presley: someone from the community?
Natalie Goldberg & Suzanne Hudson (Co-Chair of Friends of White Flint): Goldberg: use of local park. Only area that serves our community of 635 homes that provides basketball, sledding hill, our connectivity to the WF Sector. So if you take away anything of that, that would be our detriment. Sounds like a change in the wrong direction. Hudson: topography has a good slant to it. Old growth on it. Environmentalists will hug those trees. Green park is there and the neighborhood would like to see it remain. Increase traffic on a roadway that we would like to keep as a residential road. School buses and other school traffic. More of an emphasis on widening roads. If it’s dedicated, the Mall would get a density bonus. Hanson: not necessarily. Hudson: Rocking Horse is almost 19 acres. Building takes up a very small part of the site; if you put a school there, it won’t interrupt administrative activities. Goldberg: don’t know what plans there are to connect it to the neighborhood. Hanson: assuming that the park provides an opportunity to use it for educational programs. Hudson: don’t cordon it off. Hanson: we don’t do that. Goldberg: don’t move the courts. Hanson: we won’t propose that. Robinson: to the contrary, we’d improve it. Goldberg: so if we have assurances on those points, the remaining issue is the traffic on the ring road. Presley: clearly put that in.
Dan Hoffman, Randolph Hills Civic Association. On Rocking Horse. This site is adjacent to 15 acres that no one else has. Administrative staff much more positive and in line with the principles of Plan if those staff were closer to mass transit. Presently in the middle of a neighborhood. Use office space near the Metro. Win for both sides, and keeps open space for other purposes.
WMATA property: Hanson: No one on the Board interested in putting the school on WMATA property? No.
MCPS: Keep our options open. No certainty that MCPS will use Rocking Horse. Imperative that we have schools near parents. Important integral piece of the plan.
Robinson: not persuaded that this is the best site for the school. Rocking Horse has more acreage. Option is open. Shifting administrative offices. Must be realistic for total options for school system. In the past, we’d have a dichotomy between schools and administrative sites; not the world we live in any more. Scarcity. I would have the WF site reserved for the school system. Traffic dependent on ring road development.
Hanson: indicate in Plan that Rocking Horse site would be suitable, but that decision can’t be made at this time. This WF site should be kept in the Plan as a site for a school facility, or that it still remain as an opportunity for expansion of the park. Appropriate site for public use and for dedication. Robinson: very receptive to suggestion.
Cryor: would like to take WF site off, because it really doesn’t mean our needs. It’s a park, meant and needed to be a park. 18 acres vs 4 acres plus; that’s what we’re coming down to. Administrative offices can still be accomodated where they are. Wisest thing to do, is to recognize the neighbors, the park as a park, and the kids need a playground. Puzzled why we keep missing the reality. Reality is that there’s not enough space to do the job. Would be “nice” to have a site in the Sector, but the only thing wrong with Rocking Horse is the boundaries. But boundaries can be moved. I can’t see the downside to it. To reserve this space for administrative purposes, not a good use of space when we’re looking for revenues. Not going to go for two options.
Presley: agree with Cryor on whether this is a suitable site. Trying to get two different uses out of it, and not getting either all the way. Worry about leaving two options open. We have that parcel there now. Language saying that’s either or, unless we have some sort of control over the decision, which we don’t. What we’ve heard from neighborhoods, would make more sense to keep this as parking buffer.
Hanson: Alfandre may make the decision. If we don’t reserve site for school or park, then it’s in play for development. Robinson: down the road. Public facilities. Defer to Alfandre. Presley: site selected by default. It’s a leftover. Cryor: school site. We’re not looking at anything else than that.