The Rockville Mayor and Council initiated what could be a long and contentious discussion on what revisions - if any - should be made to the city's Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance (APFO) last night.
So far, the legislators were diplomatic in tone, despite taking opposing positions. For engaged citizens, the most intriguing councilmember to watch in this controversy will be John Hall. Given that Hall owes much of his electoral success to his work on the APFO and citizens who support it, most assumed he would be part of a 3-vote bloc (along with Mayor Phyllis Marcuccio and Councilmember Bridget Newton) to rebuff any watering down of the regulations.
But some votes Hall has cast on housing and development during his latest term have puzzled his supporters. One resident who supports the APFO expressed concerns that Hall has gone "wobbly" on the responsible-development approach that won him the seat. And some suspect Hall may attempt a Grand Compromise on the APFO before the summer is over.
If that is Hall's intention, he was not laying his cards on the table Monday evening.
Hall's primary concession, as councilmembers laid out their individual priorities on the APFO, was to allow that the city probably cannot control its destiny regarding school overcrowding. He suggested the council "move beyond that particular revision." Hall argued that the revisions should "ensure the APFS is entirely consistent with the APFO" to avoid legal action against the city.
He also suggested that "annexation development is no different from other development in the context of the APFO." If Hall has any compromises in store, he was playing them close to the vest last night.
Mayoral candidate and councilmember Mark Pierzchala took a different tack. "I would just dump the APFO," he began frankly.
Favoring a more muscular approach to development, Pierzchala called the regulations "problematic," citing the recent
"traumatic experience" of the state attempting to reduce the city's role in planning decisions.
The city should at least make its APFO in line with the county's, Pierzchala argued. Supporters of the APFO have said they feel the city's APFO offers greater protection to residents than the county's.
But in Pierzchala's view, the ultimate problem with the APFO is that "we're trying to solve a political problem with a policy solution."
Current Mayor Phyllis Marcuccio cited the high stakes and substantial work ahead on an issue that will shape the city no matter which side prevails. "We have a big, big meal to feast on here tonight, she said. Rockville is buffeted by "incredible pressure [for] development and redevelopment," and declared there "has to be some plan of action."
If Rockville doesn't "ensure the infrastructure can support" future growth, the "survival of the city as a good place to live" will be in question, she argued.
Marcuccio warned that, without an adequate APFO, property owners will "build it to the max. That changes the quality of the city." The city cannot "let them do whatever they please" and remain the attractive community with superior amenities it is today.
"If the goal is only to allow for more development, then we have lost our way...driven by dollars," the Mayor said.
She later added that traffic and transportation are the "dominating" issues facing Rockville, particularly with the growth in Science City.
Councilmember Newton concurred with Marcuccio's sentiments. While the city must take the county's positions into account, "good for us is not always good for the county," Newton said.
Citing calls for more bars and liquor at the county level, Newton argued "we have nightlife" already in Rockville.
Newton listed her goals as adding "additional tools" to facilitate "development we want to see,"
establishment of a "Village Green" similar to Gaithersburg, "get a better handle" on Montgomery County Public Schools' notoriously off-target enrollment projection methods, and, above all, to
"leave Rockville better than when we started."
Newton and Marcuccio strongly disputed claims that children won't live in the many apartment buildings projected to be built in the city over the next decade.
Councilmember Tom Moore expressed concern that, under the current APFO, "we do not have the power to do a waiver" for school requirements even if the city feels it is an exceptionally good project.
Rather than focus on goals for the APFO, Moore suggested the council ask itself, "What goals do we have for the city?"
The council will likely take up the matter in greater depth at its July 1 meeting. A public hearing would follow. However, any APFO changes must go to the city's planning commission first.