Avalon Bay has proposed building a 55' high, 238-unit apartment building at 12720 Twinbrook Parkway. There will be 24 studios, 115 1-bedrooms, and 99 2-bedroom units, and a 351-space parking garage. Thirty units will be set aside as affordable housing. Amenities promised include a swimming pool, fitness center and club room. Despite the Twinbrook Parkway address, the main driveway access will be off of Ardennes Avenue.
The project site is less than a quarter mile from the Twinbrook Metro station. Ranging from only 3-4 stories despite that transit-oriented location, the project had to also balance its proximity to the single-family home neighborhood directly adjacent to it. Commissioners - including Jack Leiderman, who cast the only dissenting vote against the plan - praised the applicant for its restraint on height and density.
|View of rooftop deck at|
future Avalon Bay Twinbrook
outdoor grill station
The school question caused the commission to briefly jump ahead to a discussion of what school capacity data it should consider related to projects, which had originally been confined to a later agenda item. Leiderman argued strongly that - despite this year's decision by the City Council to allow more overcrowding, by weakening Rockville's Adequate Public Facilities Standards on school capacity - the Planning Commission retains significant oversight authority and responsibility to ensure adequate classroom space.
“I do have one concern here that has to do with schools," Leiderman said of the Avalon Bay project. "Twinbrook Elementary is struggling with being over-capacity. The APFS standard, per se, when we go to the finding that we would make…the standard number three about the adequate public facilities standard…that does not preempt a municipal planning commission from taking into account what’s going on at a local school near the site."
While Avalon Bay's projected student impact "may not trigger an automatic moratorium, I would contend that the planning commission still” has authority to consider the capacity of schools in that cluster, Leiderman suggested. He recalled that Councilmembers Tom Moore and Virginia Onley, in voting for the APFS change, "made the point that nothing in the APFS change restricts the planning commission from evaluating [school capacity] on a case-by-case basis. I take that to heart [in considering] the general welfare finding. I’m not equipped with enough data to make a finding."
“We suggested that that’s not appropriate,” planning staff liaison Andrew Gunning said of why staff was not furnishing all of the numbers Leiderman and others have requested. Because the city has adopted a new standard, it should stick to that in measuring impacts of developments, Gunning argued. “To look at two different sets of measurements…would be really confusing and introduces a lot of, just, confusion,” Gunning said.
Leiderman replied that detailed data is necessary for the commission to holistically consider whether or not there are adequate public facilities to permit approval of a particular application. As it stands, “I don’t have the information I would need as a commissioner to do due diligence to make a finding,” Leiderman said.
Commissioner John Tyner disagreed. “We are bound by what current law is. That is what staff has based their recommendations on,” Tyner said.
But the "legislative intent behind [the current law] was that the commission still uses its judgement," Leiderman said. “If site plans were simply based on numbers, we wouldn’t need commissioners. [Considering school capacity] is still in our purview.”
Avalon Bay's attorney, Barbara Sears, objected to the late discussion of new school-capacity criteria. "I believe in the rule of law," Sears said regarding the new APFS revision. "I know you’re disspointed it was adopted, but the city has adopted" a lower standard.
Commission chair Don Hadley agreed with Sears in principle, suggesting that Avalon Bay - as the first applicant to come before the commission under the new standards - shouldn't be penalized for that random fact. He concurred with the idea of the commission discussing new tools it could utilize to fulfill the responsibilities Leiderman suggested were within its authority over schools. But, Hadley said, "this is not the project" to have that discussion around.
With school concerns off the table, there were not any issues that threatened to derail the project.
Regarding traffic, some commissioners were concerned that the Ardennes access would have a negative impact on streets like Halpine Road. Katie Mencarini of the Rockville Department of Public Works said that traffic studies showed the Avalon Bay development would actually generate less vehicle trips than the previous office use.
Leiderman, in discussing the lack of rear driveway access for firetrucks, segued into a discussion of a catastrophic fire at another Avalon Bay development in New Jersey. That fire left 1020 residents homeless, and is the subject of ongoing litigation and investigation by authorities, Leiderman noted.
Avalon Bay's Martin Howle acknowledged the January blaze at its Avalon at Edgewater apartments was "clearly a tragedy." New Jersey fire officials blamed that five-alarm inferno partly on the building's "lightweight wood construction," according to NJ.com.
But, Howle asserted, "the building actually performed the way it was supposed to," allowing occupants to escape. He said Avalon Bay has hired safety officers since the fire, and promised their Twinbrook project would have an "upgraded fire suppression system," beyond what current regulations require of developers. "We take these issues very seriously," Howle assured commissioners.
Commissioner David Hill questioned if there would be sufficient parking, were the 2-bedroom unit tenants to have more than 1 car. Sears said the parking-to-units ratio at Twinbrook would be 1.5, higher than the 1.2 average among other Avalon Bay properties. Hill also expressed concern over the lack of employment in the all-residential project. Sears replied that the primary motivation for the 100% residential proposal was that "the community didn't want to see retail in there." She noted that there are many jobs available within short walking distance of the site, most notably at the Department of Health and Human Services site.
Tyner moved to approve the site plan. His motion was seconded by Commissioner Anne Goodman. Commissioners approved the project by a 6-1 vote, with Leiderman dissenting.
The commission held a short discussion of the APFS staff report, but decided to postpone an in-depth conversation due to the early morning hour. Leiderman mentioned that courts have ruled schools are a local concern, meaning that the city could write laws regarding them, even if it doesn’t directly control them. He also suggested there needs to be an adequate public facilities element in the citywide Master Plan the commission is currently working on.
Renderings courtesy Avalon Bay and
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