Did the Schools Issue Affect the WF Community Coalition?

Did the Schools Issue Affect the WF Community Coalition?

Rumors are leaking about a big fight in the White Flint Community Coalition.  www.whiteflintcommunity.org. The Coalition is a group of seven or eight neighborhoods, mostly from the south of the White Flint Sector, which wants changes in the current White Flint Sector Plan.

The Coalition has made great efforts recently to get White Flint residents to oppose the current draft of the Plan, asking them to write to the County Council and attend public meetings asking for changes in the Plan. Usually that’s easy in a place like Montgomery County, where people love to oppose development. But, surprisingly, on White Flint, these efforts to stir opposition have failed. For example, of 676 letters to the County Council on the White Flint Plan, 491 supported the Plan. (Another 83 complained about the Plan not designating a site for a new elementary school inside the Sector boundaries; that’s the “school site” issue.) And at a recent Council Town Hall in White Flint, only two questions were on White Flint (and one was by a Boy Scout who asked: “why is it taking so long?”), even though Council President Phil Andrews invited Plan comments at the beginning. The Coalition’s motto is “Representing the Wishes of the People of White Flint,” but that apparently means only some of the “People.”

But apparently that wasn’t the cause of the recent internal turmoil in the Coalition. Rumor has it that the school siting issue has come back to haunt the Coalition. The Coalition includes people from White Flint Park-Garrett Park Estates communities, just south of White Flint Mall. Some Coalition members latched onto the school siting issue as a means to politically pressure Councilmembers against the Plan. This meant teaming with the local PTAs, whose sole issue in White Flint is to avoid redistricting their kids out of the local high school, into more diverse (read lower-income and less-English-speaking) schools. So the mantra was: put the new elementary school within the White Flint Sector.

The school siting issue, however, is really out of the hands of the Planning Board and the Council; as a Council staffmember pointed out to me, County law sets up the School Board to make these decisions independently as a way to deflect political complaints from the Council. In other words, the Council doesn’t want to make those decisions because they are huge political headaches, so they foist it off on the schools bureaucracy. Which acts quite independently, because that’s its job.

So the School Board said: “we want to put the new school at White Flint Park.” Right smack in the midst of the new green “buffer” the local neighborhoods had just negotiated with the White Flint Mall. Long and tough negotiations, which seemed to have settled pretty much all the major issues the nearby neighborhoods had with the Mall. But now the new school site has upset that apple cart. The new school they were advocating for is taking away the new park they also wanted. Not only would they lose the new park, but that was the biggest new community amenity in the south of the Sector, which is what these neighborhoods care most about. Most of the rest of the new amenities are concentrated in the “core” of the Sector, around the Metro station. Unintended consequences of tweaking the MCPS’s tail.

And I gotta say it: people warned them about this strategy a long time ago, back at the Advisory Group discussion stage. The schools issue is tough. It doesn’t really belong in a master plan like the White Flint Plan. If you make it a big deal, you have no idea where the chips will fly. And apparently they have flown.

Perhaps this is an example of the old adage: “be careful what you wish for?”

Of course, I could be all wrong on this, both the Coalition and my fears about the effect of the White Flint Park school site. If someone has more information on this, I’d like to hear it. bzall@bzall.com Or just comment here.

[Update: a knowledgeable Coalition member, who is also a member of Friends of White Flint, wrote me to say that much of what I had written was wrong, explaining:

The Coalition is made up of 7 community associations.  Garrett Park Estates-White Flint Park Citizens Association is just one of these – although we were a founding member along with Luxmanor.   We do not control it or run it.  It is a collaboration.  

The coalition does not oppose development but supports it.  There are statements made on behalf of the coalition (agreed to) but individual associations can make statements on their own on issues important to them.   Obviously there are elements to the plan that not everyone likes.

I invite anyone to comment here, as Natalie did below, or send me other points of view, as the other member of the Coalition did.  I don’t censor or edit comments (except for profanity and other points which violate the FLOG terms). I especially would like to hear about the school siting issue, though, and nobody’s actually commented or told me anything about that.]

Barnaby Zall

Barnaby Zall

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One comment

Natalie

What a shame to resort to inuendos about other groups instead of discussing the real issues. The White Flint Community Coalition has consistently supported a central core of dense mixed used development centered around the Metro, stepped down density beyond, sustainable objectives, a transportation system including Metro capacity, Bus Rapid Transit, and streets and walkways that facilitate all users, and preservation of the Walter Johnson school cluster and promotion of high-quality, uncrowded schools in the cluster. Our 8 communities representing 8500 residents in the area draws its leadership from multiple community leaders and remains committed to achieving a Sector Plan that truly represents “Smart Growth”

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