Building Moratorium in the White Flint? No, Thanks.

Building Moratorium in the White Flint? No, Thanks.

Dear County Council and County Executive:

As you know, the Walter Johnson cluster is poised to go into moratorium July 1 because it will be 120% overcapacity. Friends of White Flint, a nonprofit organization composed of residents, businesses, and property owners, strongly urges you to find a solution that would prevent this moratorium.

After losing Amazon last year, the Pike District/White Flint area is just now enjoying some forward momentum on fulfilling the promise of the White Flint sector plans. The long-awaited Western Workaround will be completed next year. Many property owners are gearing up to re-start or begin the process of redeveloping their properties, including East Village/North Bethesda Gateway, Gables, Strathmore Square, Wilco/Wilgus projects, Guardian, Grand Park/Rankin, and others. An unnecessary one-year moratorium will quickly put a halt to the much-needed redevelopment of the Pike District/White Flint area. 

Underwriters and financing will run scared because there are no guarantees this moratorium will last just one year. Without funding, the redevelopment of the Pike District will come to standstill. Funding is a finite and scarce resource, and there are many other projects in Virginia and DC without moratoria to which investors will move their money. The millions of dollars developers invested in this area could easily go to waste, never to be seen again, if this moratorium becomes a reality.

We agree that capacity issues at Walter Johnson must be addressed. Fortunately, the county has done just that by re-opening Woodward as a high school.  Re-opening Woodward neatly and completely solves the Walter Johnson capacity issue.  A small two-year delay in the re-opening of Woodward caused by using the building as a holding school for Northwood doesn’t change that fact; it only alters the timing for a very short period of time.  

While technically this solution falls outside of the required time frame for preventing a moratorium, it seems absurd to stop the vital redevelopment of the Pike District on a tiny technicality. Enacting a moratorium for technical reasons is exactly what Montgomery County ought not to be doing to fulfil its desire to be business-friendly and increase its tax base to support all that Montgomery County wants to accomplish.

In fact, it could be reasonably argued that since Northwood’s temporary placement in Woodward would still permit 300 Walter Johnson students to attend Woodward while Northwood is there, there actually is no capacity issue at Walter Johnson to trigger a moratorium.

When you also consider that nearly all the new students of the Walter Johnson cluster arise from neighborhood turnover and not new development, according to the Montgomery Planning Department’s comprehensive study, it simply makes little sense to stop building the very residences that fund new schools yet add little to the schools’ burdens.

The solution to the overcapacity issue at Walter Johnson has been planned, funded, and fully addressed. New development provides funding and few new students for schools. Implementing a moratorium will be incredibly detrimental to the White Flint area and all of Montgomery County, and we strongly urge you to find a workaround and not put the Pike District in moratorium.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Amy Ginsburg


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