Chair Don Hadley
Rockville Planning Commissioner Jack Leiderman, acknowledging to his colleagues that he was opening a "big can of worms," suggested the council's action has several implications the Planning Commission must now address.
Leiderman stressed that the Mayor and Council had been warned by both a memo, and a report delivered by Commission Chair Don Hadley, that much of the commission's and residents' support for the draft Rockville Pike Plan was predicated on the safeguards provided by the APFS. He noted that the plan refers in several sections to the APFS as written at the time the plan was drafted.
By only one deciding vote, Leiderman said, 3 councilmembers "shot the horse out from under the rider." With the APFS "gutted," Leiderman suggested, the draft plan may no longer enjoy the support it once had. In fact, it may need to be revised and adjusted for the new standards, he said.
The Planning Commission is required to consider school overcrowding and protect future residents in the Rockville Pike Plan area from having to attend overcrowded schools, Leiderman argued. To that end, he proposed two actions.
First, Leiderman recommended the commission add language to the Pike Plan that would reflect the 2005 school standards, and would apply only to the Pike Plan area. What the council passed was only a resolution, not a text amendment, he said.
Second, Leiderman asked planning staff to continue to provide commissioners with the same school capacity data it had been collecting and furnishing since 2005. That would mean breaking the numbers down by individual school, forecast over a 5 year period, and also taking into account development that is in the pipeline.
Staff Liaison Andrew Gunning said planning staff are still having an internal discussion about how to implement their responsibilities under the new standards. He said that staff will discuss the potential of collecting the old data alongside the new county calculations, and report back to the commission.
The presentation by Chief of Planning Jim Wasilak clearly showed how deceptive the county standards are, compared to the former APFS standards. Whereas several areas of the city were in moratorium for development prior to the change, the entire city is now open for development, without a single desk being added to any school. And the cluster averaging shows school capacity being far greater than it is at many individual Rockville schools in reality.
Commissioner David Hill said he was uncertain that the commission would be able to have a tighter standard for the Rockville Pike corridor than for the rest of the city. But, he added, the commission should develop a solid argument justifying doing so, if it wishes to act on Leiderman's proposal.
Hadley acknowledged that the APFS change indeed has serious implications for the Pike Plan and planning in general. He said that he will work to come up with new language for parts of the draft plan, to reflect the new reality.
In short, the councilmembers who sought the standards change may have inadvertently slowed down the already-lengthy Pike Plan process even further. The commission was supposed to respond to a Mayor and Council communication regarding the plan, leading to some debate last night on how to respond.
Commissioners voted unanimously to have Hadley draft a cover letter reflecting where things stand in light of the APFS change. Hadley also said that it may be beneficial for Rockville to have the final Pike Plan informed by the major goals of the city's next Master Plan, a separate process that only recently got underway.