Monday, March 9, 2015


As Paul Harvey used to say, "And now...the rest of the story."

This past Saturday's infrastructure summit at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School was long in hours but short on accurate information. The Parents' Coalition of Montgomery County described it as a "farce." Much of the program was made up of County officials delivering the same talking points we've already heard in other forums, and too little from actual parents and residents. More facts were being tweeted by the PCMC and citizens during the meeting than being generated by the speakers themselves.
No public speaking by the public,
One would think that the beg-a-thon underway currently for school construction money would be enough to dissuade Planning Board Chair Casey Anderson from claiming that development is covering the cost of the new school construction it requires. While everyone is rolling around on the floor laughing in response to that assertion, let me point out:

DC, Fairfax and Arlington have all had real estate development booms - and they all had budget shortfalls this year. Montgomery County has been growing like mad before and after the recession - and is in a structural deficit as far out as the projections go.

Guess what? It's a fact that residential development does not generate the revenue needed to cover the schools and services those new populations require. Your ever-increasing Montgomery County taxes and fees are the best evidence of that.

Developers covering school construction
costs? Not quite... "Need state aid," tweeted
MCPS Board of Education member
Jill Ortman-Fouse. Yep, actual BOE member
said it, not me
The use of cluster averaging allows County officials to give the false impression that overcrowding is currently under 120% of capacity.

FACT: I'm aware of eight Montgomery County public schools which currently exceed 150% of capacity. One is at, or exceeds, 180% of capacity. At some point, it's like having two schools within one building.

FACT: As regards future development in the Walt Whitman cluster - those schools are over capacity now. Wood Acres Elementary is getting an addition, and that will put it at full capacity when completed (it was over-capacity prior to the beginning of construction). Kids are taking gym class in hallways at Pyle Middle School.

FACT: The generation of students from multifamily housing in the Whitman cluster, and in the Westbard Sector in particular, is significantly higher than elsewhere in the county. Bruce Crispell, long-range planner for MCPS, acknowledged this fact at the Westbard Sector Plan charrette.

How about those talking points about "urban" schools? Put aside the point that Westbard and other areas being targeted for massive overdevelopment are definitively suburban and residential in character for a moment. Put aside the point that neither potential elementary school site floated by planners for the Westbard sector is large enough to hold a school. Put aside the point that the acreage of Westland Middle School and the current Little Falls Library site together is not large enough to support the population, employees and facilities for two "collocated" schools (one wonders how many people who are talking about "collocating" a school at the Westland site are aware of the actual size of the property, and that any expansion into Equity One's site is blocked by the driveway for Kenwood Place - and the proposed Equity One grocery store building that would be on that part of the Westwood Shopping Center site).

Put that all aside, and ask yourself if you want your kids in a tiny school, with inadequate playground space, athletic fields and other facilities. As Rockville Planning Commissioner John Tyner pointed out recently, schools involve more than just jamming kids into sardine can classrooms and "urban" (a.k.a. cramped) school buildings. The facilities that high-quality schools require are "the things that really determine if kids get a good education or not," Tyner said. I won't even get into the idea being floated of these schools being placed in industrial areas! What's better than a portable classroom? A portable classroom next to an EPA brownfield, I guess.

"Full disclosure": The architect speaking at the meeting was with Perkins Eastman. The same Perkins Eastman retained by developer Equity One for its Westbard redevelopment plan. The same Perkins Eastman that thereby will profit from approval of the Westbard Sector Plan as currently formulated. An approval that will be decided by Chairman Anderson, and Councilmembers Roger Berliner and George Leventhal, and other officials present at Saturday's forum. Is this a forum, or corporate lobbying?

By the way, there's a lot more to infrastructure than schools. Roads, sewers, police and fire are just some of the major expenses development generates. Yes, proponents of BRT did use this forum to push for that $5 billion bus system boondoggle - which will have zero impact on traffic congestion.

FACT: BRT would reduce capacity on the County's most-traveled commuter routes by a full 33%.

FACT: The current draft of the Westbard Sector Plan includes not a single project or proposal to increase automobile capacity on River Road or Massachusetts Avenue. And how could you do much anyway, given that the River Road right-of-way is constricted by homes east of Little Falls Parkway. Would the War-on-Cars-Capital of the World, Washington, DC, widen River Road within its borders past Western Avenue? Fuhgeddaboudit!

Contrary to what you may be hearing from this meeting and the media - we are not "going to be okay" on our present course regarding development and infrastructure.

"And now you know...the rest of the story."

Just the facts, ma'am.

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