At last night’s debate held by the Rockville Chamber of Commerce Chairman of the Board, Larry Finkelberg, welcomed everyone by explaining the Chamber is charged with creating an economic environment which brings all parties together to work to attain growth and prosperity. All the questions were submitted by Chamber members. It’s impossible to sum up everything that was said for two hours, I doubt anyone would read all the way to the end!
You can watch the entire debate here:
One point of agreement is that Rockville is at a crossroads. Some of you may be wondering, “What crossroads?” Basically the City has been under a building moratorium for several years because schools located in the City limits are overcrowded. The City has absolutely no control over school assignments or construction because the system is run by Montgomery County. Montgomery County doesn’t take action on overcrowding until 120% of capacity is reached. When the Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance (APFO) was passed, the Adequate Public Facilities Standards (APFS) for schools set overcapacity at 110%. This lag from 110% to 120% prevented any new multi-family construction, unless it was for seniors who don’t have students. We continued to see empty parking lots within the City while developments like Park Potomac, just outside the City limits, flourished adding all of their children to the Richard Montgomery High School cluster. Until overcapacity of our schools reached 120%, Montgomery County wouldn’t do anything. Meanwhile, older folks moved out and younger kids moved in and our schools reached 120% without any new homes being built within the City. Now the addition at Julius West Middle School is being built and the plans for a fifth elementary school are going forward to alleviate the overcrowding. This might have happened a lot faster if the APFS was raised to 120% a lot sooner. Although this issue is often framed around the schools, this really is about whether or not you believe there should be any new multi-family residential construction in the City. More than 90 people testified about the change back in January so this has been a big topic of discussion in City Hall. That’s the crossroad.
Here are some quotes to shed light on the Council candidate’s positions:
Virginia Onley: “During my first term I insured that our APFO would allow us to maintain and renew our City so that young families with children, teachers, firefighters, police officers, and senior citizens such as myself could afford to live here in our City. We cannot be afraid of growth and I support smart, practical growth in the years to come.” She added she would not let “the development harm the character of our neighborhoods and ruin Rockville.” Then she added, “Recently Rich Gottfried accused me of being in the pockets of developers. Rich was asked on Facebook to give some facts to his allegations. He said ‘It was a metaphor.’ Well, where I’m from, we call that a lie.” She explained, “We all hear, you know, that we’re overcrowding the schools and it’s like a fear in us and at one point it was a fear in me as well until I realized that if a developer wants to develop a new residential development, if we don’t have the infrastructure, the project does not get approved.”
David Hill: “Mixed use development is not about a variety of housing styles or things, it’s really about collecting employment, residences, and services in a small area to de-emphasize automobile transportation and get a different land-use pattern than we have in central Montgomery County than suburban development.” While speaking about the development around the City, “I would point out a difference in the development that you see north and south of the City and I’d like to ask the residents if that’s what they want. When I look at Pike and Rose I see metropolitan scaled buildings that are 15 and 16 stories tall and that is not my vision for Rockville Pike. And when I look at Belward Farm I see a green field development that’s largely a track development and we don’t have any green fields left in Rockville. I’m sorry I’m not interested in track development in Rockville any longer.” The Planning Commission draft sets the height of buildings on Rockville Pike a 6 to 7 stories and stated, “I think that’s the right height,” then later added, “It’s a pretty dramatic step between the 6-7 stories you are used to seeing around Town Center and the existing buildings around the Pike and really metropolitan-scale buildings similar to those at White Flint that are really 15-16 stories.”
Clark Reed: “I supported the vote to match the County’s standard because the City’s standard was not preventing overcrowding in the schools and new kids were coming in to the schools from new families when they bought existing homes. When the recession hit, a lot of kids were pulled out of private schools and they were put back into the public schools. So, it wasn’t working and when the APFS stopped development, it reduced our tax revenues as well and it drove development out of the City. So, what should we do moving forward? I think we need to lead a County effort to re-prioritize school construction within Montgomery County. I think we need to stop MCPS from cluster averaging schools and get them to address individual overcrowding instead of the schools.”
Julie Palakovich Carr: “I think we’ve heard some good sound bites about what the APFO/APFS vote was but I think it’s a false choice that you’re either for children or for development. I voted to change the APFS standards. I’m also the mother of a 7-month old son and my son will be enrolling in public school in a few years. And like so many other families in Rockville, we moved here because of the excellent quality of the education in the Montgomery County School system. As a mother I would not make that choice if I thought it endangered my son’s education or the education of any other child in Rockville.
Mark Pierzchala: “As to your question about the heights around Metro, I would easily go to 12 stories, look at Americana Center. That’s exactly how they are and it works just fine. You put people by transportation. As far as the APFO, it has just been a failed policy and so Team Rockville has gotten together and said so we will lead a different tact. We will organize a County coalition … and we will change the priority at the County level.”
Beryl Feinberg: “As many of you are aware, I voted against the APFO and the weakening of those standards. I believe we have to have an adequate infrastructure. That infrastructure is not only for schools but it is also for transportation, public safety, fire, and water and sewer services. I voted against it because in my view we can have development but it was the developers who were really for the APFS changing. What we have seen since the change is an influx of almost 1,000 different units from different developers coming through the pipeline without really concerning adequate infrastructure notably in transportation.”
Brigitta Mullican: “My view on the APFO/APFS is that the City needs to get out of that discussion. The City of Rockville has absolutely no control over the school. They do not build schools. They do not control the classroom sizes. They do not control the programs they can put into the schools. One of the things that’s upsetting about the APFS is that people think that is what we need to use to stop development. I heard that Gaithersburg has voted to change their capacity to 150 and the reason they did that is because they were in moratorium because the Lakeforest development project can’t go forward because of the capacity that they had. So I don’t want to see Rockville in that situation. And I’m also concerned about the fact that if we have a lower capacity we’re not going to get the funds coming to the Rockville schools that the other schools would will need because they’re over 150, 180.
Patrick Schoof: “While I don’t think that the APFS is the answer, it is a tool. It is the only tool we have. We do need something that isn’t necessarily just designed to manage development and more tools to do so and to develop management strategically, manage balanced growth. But we need something to control the overcrowding in our schools and it is the only tool again that we had to do so. If we want to be leaders at the table and we are the County seat and we believe that this is the right way to go, not only should this decision be overturned [to set our APFS for school overcrowding at 120% to match the County’s standard] and I think it is the only decision in the last 2-3 years that should be overturned, just for clarity. We should not only overturn it but we should go to the County, explain the rationale, bring the people that I have talked to at State and National levels about what happened and what the APFS actually represents and convince them to change their standards.”
Rich Gottfried: “As I stated in my opening remarks, this [APFS change] is one of my four components that I’m standing for and running on, and again, I believe that we must protect our children and no child should attend a school at 120% of capacity. Again, my very first motion if elected would be to overturn this tragic vote this year.” Later adding, “Growth does not fund growth.” and “We live in a single-family suburban community not a metro, urban, mixed-use development.”
During the Mayoral candidate debate, the APFO/APFS topic was one of many distinct differences between the two candidates.
Bridget Donnell Newton: “Let me say that I was very disappointed that the APFS was gutted with no discussion. We should have had a discussion and an opportunity to find something else we could have put in place. The APFS was not the best tool. I’ve never thought that it was, but it was the only tool that we as a City had to help manage the growth. Going forward I hope that the City will continue to discuss ways in which we can bring good development and manage the growth to protect our neighborhoods, our schools, and our quality of life.”
Sima Osdoby: “The APFO is a multi-faceted ordinance and I think you heard some of the Council candidates talking about the components about it requiring adequate infrastructure before a project brings in … the APFS for Rockville schools were a valiant but failed experiment. It effectively meant that we had a moratorium on building housing in the City for about 10 years and during that period our schools got overcrowded”, then later concluding, “It’s time for a change in leadership in this City if we are to preserve what makes us really special … we’re at risk of losing that if we don’t make the decisions that have been put off for a very long time.”
When voting, you need to ask yourself what you believe about tweeking the APFS school capacity standards and how much of a tax base is going to be necessary in the future. Bethesda Beat sometimes covers Rockville and you should also take a few minutes to read their in-depth coverage of the debate.