Tuesday, March 11, 2014



Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett has withdrawn the county's request for a 4-story office building on the Broome School site on Twinbrook Parkway. In a memo to County Council President Craig Rice, Leggett says he has determined that "the County can relocate the [Children's Resource Center] in the existing Broome School [building], and can therefore defer construction of a permanent building to house the CRC at this time."

Twinbrook Forest residents may find the final 3 words of that statement reason not to celebrate just yet. While a 4-story building won't be plunked down in their residential neighborhood "at this time," there is no assurance that such a project won't be reintroduced in the future. After the upcoming county elections, for example.

Clearly, the county has heard the expressions of opposition in the community. What's unclear, is the future of the Broome site.

A fantastic residential neighborhood, Twinbrook Forest has enough trees to live up to its name. It also boasts distinctive and historic architecture amongst its homes. And has convenient bus service along Twinbrook Parkway. Yet the neighborhood had dealt for years with public services jammed into the Broome site, some of which were clearly incompatible with a quiet, residential neighborhood for families (including a meth clinic[!]).

Just when those services had been moved out of the Broome site, suddenly the CRC project was dropped on the neighborhood. Such a location for non-school or park/recreation use is certainly inconsistent with county leaders' stated goal of "smart growth." A new office building construction more than half-a-mile from the nearest Metro station would hardly have been "smart growth."

There's also the question of how the withdrawn plan, as well as the CRC relocation that remains on the table, interface with the recreational facilities onsite. Will agreeing - to the extent that Rockville can impact decisions regarding Montgomery County Public Schools properties - to relocation of the CRC to Broome mean ensuring an expansion of that facility in the future on Twinbrook Parkway? And will the traffic impact be negligible, or of concern to pedestrians or children playing in the neighborhood (or attempting to reach the recreational facilities at Broome)? I've found that "trips generated" estimates accepted by the county planning board tend to be wildly low in the vehicle trip numbers they predict. Yet they are accepted as accurate.

While schools can be noisy during recess, or generate traffic twice a day, many people can probably - if not begrudgingly - accept having one in a residential neighborhood. Placing other services and facilities in such locations is more problematic, and their impacts should be carefully considered. Certainly, the services provided by the CRC are beneficial to many county residents. And more compatible with a school property such as Broome, compared to other potential uses.

But without more detail, one wonders how the CRC will use the existing Broome building, when the county's application explicitly said such a move was impossible. In Item 8 under the heading, "Community Outreach," the county responded to the community's query regarding the CRC using the existing building, rather than constructing a new one, as follows:

MCPS has informed the County that the Broome Middle School renovation project is “inevitable”. The County will continue to hold this facility until MCPS formally requests it back. In the meantime, the County is unable to use bond funds to renovate the existing Broome building for CRC use. This is due to the County’s requirement that bond funds can only be used on buildings with anticipated life of 20 years or more. Therefore, the funding would need to come from the County’s annual operating budget. Given the County’s current fiscal situation, and the inevitability of MCPS taking Broome back, CRC use of the existing building is not a feasible option.

Was this statement misleading the community? Or has the county found a workaround solution at the last minute?

These are just some of the issues confronting the Rockville Planning Commission, which is scheduled to take up the new CRC Broome proposal at Wednesday night's meeting at City Hall.

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