Showing posts with label APFS. Show all posts
Showing posts with label APFS. Show all posts

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Mayor & Council approve school test waiver for B.F. Saul's Wegmans-anchored Twinbrook Quarter project

Feinberg opposes;
Farmland parents turn
out in force

Rockville's Mayor and Council voted 3-1 to approve a school test waiver for developer B.F. Saul's Wegmans-anchored Twinbrook Quarter project last night, after delaying the controversial decision for nearly two months. Councilmember Beryl Feinberg was the sole dissenter casting a "No" vote. The waiver concept won support from Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton, who had opposed Councilmember Mark Pierzchala's original proposal, which would have amended the city's Adequate Public Facilities Standards to allow schools in targeted areas of Rockville to have student populations at 150% of capacity.

The meeting's regularly-scheduled Community Forum became another public hearing on the question, with the vast majority of residents again opposing loosening student overcrowding standards. A large number of parents of students attending Farmland Elementary School turned out, as that already-overcrowded school is currently slated to receive a portion of the students who would be generated by the Twinbrook Quarter project, and others in that area.

Many parents became emotional as they described existing conditions at the jampacked school. "We are in a crisis mode at Farmland," one said with tears in her eyes. A father who brought his Farmland first grader to the meeting told the Mayor and Council of a "heartbreaking" conversation he had with his son just before the meeting started. He asked his son what his school environment was like, and his son "just looked at the ground and said, 'It's so crowded.'" The father noted that the boy's large class size prevents him from getting the extra help he needs with reading.

Among those favoring loosening standards were a millennial seeking more housing, and representatives of the Twinbrook neighborhood, which B.F. Saul has worked with for several years as the project moved forward.

In the end, there would be no across-the-board 150% standard, as a new waiver alternative was developed over the last week. But the full impact of the waiver and the new precedent on school overcrowding were not immediately clear. Newton and Feinberg complained that important elements of the proposal were left out of the documents given to the Mayor and Council Monday by staff, such as the stipulation that any additional units proposed for the project in future amendments would have the school test applied to them.

Newton announced at the outset of the discussion that the city would be forming a committee or work group to avoid a rushed process like this in the future. She said that among her goals were to avoid increasing the overcrowding standard above the current 120% of capacity, to seek boundary changes that would direct new students generated at Twinbrook Quarter to the Rockville High School cluster, and to remove the Town Center as a zone where weaker school capacity standards might apply.

Feinberg was not placated by this, and the meeting featured a rare disagreement between her and the Mayor that became mildly pointed at times. Noting that the waiver didn't require anything additional beyond what B.F. Saul was already required to provide for a "Champion Project," Feinberg said, "They are not doing anything extra." She disputed Newton's citation of a potential $70 million in revenue from Twinbrook Quarter to city coffers, arguing that "we have never received any documentation validating those numbers. Ever. " B.F. Saul's Todd Pearson said the documentation was submitted to the Mayor and Council, but Feinberg said it was never forwarded to her.

Lowering the boom on the deal when it was apparent it would pass, Feinberg blasted it on several fronts. Approving the waiver "sends the message that Rockville prioritizes development over our children's education," she said. Feinberg noted that Richard Montgomery High School has run out of extra classrooms it can convert to science labs, which will hurt science learning among the 1100 new students that could be added to the school in the coming years, if development could avoid moratorium.

Turning back to the issue that residents were getting nothing extra in exchange for the waiver, Feinberg asked, "What are we getting for this?" She then asked Pearson if B.F. Saul would provide 20,000 SF of public space as a condition for the waiver, but he was unable to make such a commitment last night.

Feinberg also raised potential legal issues. "This is clearly a carve-out for a developer, and one developer only," she said, adding that the city was now giving B.F. Saul "most-favored developer status." Now other developers will seek similar "gimmees" in the future, she predicted, and sue if they don't get them.

A potential candidate for mayor this November, Feinberg made clear she would vote no on the waiver, closing her speech by declaring, "Not with my vote, not on my watch."

Seeking to correct the record on a few points as the question was called, Feinberg was cut off by Newton, leading to another testy exchange as officials faced arguably the most unpleasant vote of this term. "I don't appreciate being cut off," Feinberg said. "You cut off all of us last Monday," Newton replied, "so I resent that comment."

When the vote was taken, the waiver was approved 3-1, with Newton, Pierzchala and Councilmember Virginia Onley voting in favor, and Feinberg opposed. Newton said at her victory party in 2015 that she did not plan to run for mayor again. While a solid supporter of more-responsibly-managed growth, as evidenced by her appointments to the Planning Commission, Newton has long supported the Twinbrook Quarter project.

Beneath the apparent drama on the surface, last night's events made sense politically for each elected official. Newton achieved a compromise, was able to advance a project seen as an accomplishment of her tenure as mayor, and won't have to face voters angry about the impact on schools this fall. Feinberg made it abundantly clear she was the defender of students and parents in this battle, while Pierzchala and Onley retained their pro-development bonafides. This sets up another election of contrasts this fall, even as speculation swirls about who will run for Mayor and Council.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Rockville Council tables proposal to allow more school overcrowding until next week

There's still no compromise solution with majority support on the proposal to allow more overcrowding at Montgomery County Public Schools in Rockville. A majority of the City Council voted to table the discussion last night, when the body had been expected to vote on the matter. Developer B.F. Saul had warned that if the city failed to loosen its Adequate Public Facility Standards to avoid a development moratorium, it is possible that their Twinbrook Quarter anchor tenant Wegmans could back out of the project.

B.F. Saul had said if the vote was postponed beyond last night, the Wegmans deal could be in jeopardy. The Mayor and Council will take up the matter again at their February 4 meeting, postponing a high-stakes, election-year "Wegmans vs. schools" vote by seven days.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Rockville public hearing on school overcrowding sets up dramatic vote next week

Rockville's Mayor and Council are no closer to a consensus on changing the city's Adequate Public Facilities Standards test for school overcrowding despite postponing the matter until after the holidays. Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton expressed disappointment that the extra time was consumed with "more finger-pointing," rather than solving the dilemma. The dilemma is shaping up as a vote on Wegmans as much as about schools, which is also the way it was framed prior to the holidays.

"I don't want this to be a 'Wegmans or schools' issue," developer B.F. Saul's Todd Pearson told the Mayor and Council at a packed meeting that continued past 11:00 PM last night. But Pearson added that he had "serious concerns" as to whether or not B.F. Saul could meet the requirements of its lease with the grocery giant if elected officials punt the decision past next Monday night. In December, Pearson had warned that Wegmans might back out of the deal if their timeline for the Twinbrook Quarter development is not met. Wegmans is currently expected to be the retail anchor of that development at the northeast corner of Rockville Pike and Halpine Road.

Councilmember Virginia Onley noted that Wegmans had already ended negotiations with Lerner at their former White Flint Mall site when that property became entangled in a prolonged court battle. The news of the store's lease at Twinbrook Quarter has been the main generator of excitement about the development among the public. But based on resident and civic association testimony last night, the public also largely opposes the proposed allowance of 150% of capacity school overcrowding.

"I'm not wedded to 150%," Councilmember Mark Pierzchala said after all testimony had been heard, expressing a willingness to "go lower" to reach a deal. Pierzchala was the one who proposed the changes now on the table last year. The changes were put forward after Pierzchala realized that existing 120% overcrowding standards would trigger a development moratorium, freezing the Twinbrook Quarter project until Montgomery County Public Schools provide new capacity (although some residents have pointed out that this was known over a year ago). Resident Brigitta Mullican suggested that the city entirely drop any school test from the APFS, arguing that MCPS has total control over the matter and the city has none.

With no new compromise proposals yet emerging, a dramatic showdown is set for next Monday night at 7:00 PM, when the Mayor and Council are scheduled to vote on the matter. The drama will not only be from the potential for an elected official to be blamed for losing Wegmans or worsening school overcrowding, but also from the fact that the body is short a member. The recent resignation of Councilember Julie Palakovich Carr, who was elected to the General Assembly last November, leaves an even number of voters on the Council. Newton and Councilmember Beryl Feinberg could counterbalance the "Team Rockville" votes of Onley and Pierzchala, resulting in deadlock.

Newton held out some hope for a mutually-beneficial compromise to be worked out in the next five days. "It's not a one-person decision. It's not a two-person decision. It's a city decision," she said.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Wegmans will "walk" if Twinbrook Quarter doesn't break ground in Q1 2020

Mayor and Council
to vote on APFS
school capacity change
January 28

The stakes in a debate over school capacity standards were raised dramatically at a Mayor and Council worksession last night, as one of the developers currently facing a building moratorium declared their prize anchor tenant hangs in the balance. Todd Pearson, a Senior Vice-President with developer B.F. Saul told city leaders that grocer Wegmans will break the lease agreement they have at Saul's Twinbrook Quarter development if ground isn't broken by Q1 2020.

Pearson prefaced his warning by saying, "This is not a threat by any means." But he noted that Wegmans is "the most highly-coveted retail tenant in the country," and has no shortage of suitors for their stores. Time is literally of the essence in regards to both the firm deadline, and the impatience of the Rochester-based grocery chain.

Wegmans chose the Twinbrook Quarter site, located at the corner of Rockville Pike and Halpine Road, because they had lost patience with Lerner's White Flint Mall redevelopment. When it was clear that Lerner was set on a protracted legal fight, Pearson said, Wegmans decided to go with B.F. Saul up the road. But if they don't get the time advantage they sought with a Q1 2020 start, "Wegmans walks from the lease," Pearson warned.

Pearson also outlined the laundry list of items that must be achieved in the next year to facilitate a Q1 2020 groundbreaking, including approval of its delayed Project Plan and Site Plan by the Planning Commission, and utility cutoffs and receipt of the necessary permits from the City. Any delay beyond the end of January for the school capacity decision could potentially deep-six the already-tight schedule, Pearson said. "Unfortunately, that timeline has shortened," Pearson told the Mayor and Council. "We are highly concerned."

Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton expressed hope that a longer deliberation on the controversial topic of school overcrowding could be held, with the City streamlining the approval process for the project afterword. City staff confirmed that the Planning Commission could begin its approval process in January, but commissioners would not be able to vote on it without a vote by the Mayor and Council to loosen the school capacity standard.

Officials held an extensive debate on how to move forward. Newton asked Montgomery County Public Schools' Director of Capital Planning Adrienne Karamihas if the City would actually get a new addition or new high school if it loosens its overcrowding maximum from 120% to 150%. "I can't answer that question that way," Karamihas replied. Any new school would be unlikely to come online before the mid-2020s, she speculated.

Councilmember Mark Pierzchala argued that the B.F. Saul project and two others in the Town Center area would not put Richard Montgomery at 150% by themselves. Councilmember Beryl Feinberg countered that several projects west of I-270 will also feed into Richard Montgomery, and must be taken into account. In the short term, however, any students generated by the initial phases of the Twinbrook Quarter project will be assigned to the Walter Johnson cluster in Bethesda.

Newton expressed frustration at the framing of a "Wegmans versus education issue," and that she and the Council were not alerted to a letter from B.F. Saul sent to City staff last January regarding this very matter. Had they known then, she said, a more deliberate process could have been undertaken without threatening the Wegmans deadline. "I'm trying to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear," Newton said. Options she would like to examine before voting to change the APFS on school capacity include whether a new high school upcounty or planned redistricting would provide the capacity needed for the Twinbrook Quarter project.

The Mayor and Council, after consulting with B.F. Saul on their timeline, ultimately decided to extend the decision period until January 28. A January 7 public hearing on the APFS question was canceled, and rescheduled for January 14. The final vote will be held at the January 28 meeting. Residents and civic association leaders from the West End, East Rockville and Twinbrook addressed the Mayor and Council during the Community Forum earlier in the meeting, and the vast majority opposed loosening school overcrowding standards.

"What does Rockville stand for, and who is running the city?" asked resident Jack Gelin, who exhorted the Mayor and Council to "gain control of the city" back from whoever is driving the growth debate now. "Are we going to go from 'bad' to 'even worse'?" one parent of Richard Montgomery cluster students asked.

Pressure from the other side is equally strong, as City officials attempt to deliver Twinbrook Quarter, which they have designated a "champion project." Most of the excitement about that project among the general public has been about the Wegmans. "Without school capacity, we can't move forward," Pearson said Monday night.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Mayor and Council to discuss adequate public facilities standards December 17

It's deja vu all over again, as developers who successfully weakened adequate public facilities standards in Rockville only three years ago return for yet another bite at the apple. This time, there is a mysterious pressure to further reduce adequate public facilities standards to allow more development near the Rockville and Twinbrook Metro stations.

The Mayor and Council have scheduled a discussion on the topic for their December 17, 2018 meeting, which begins at 7:00 PM. Will the standards be weakened again? That answer could turn on whether or not a public hearing and vote on the matter can be taken before January 8, the day that Councilmember Julie Palakovich Carr is expected to resign from the City Council to take office as a state delegate from District 17.

A process to replace Palakovich Carr will be discussed at the Mayor & Council's December 10 meeting. Palakovich Carr would provide the deciding third vote to weaken the standards; once she is off the Council, the pro-development Team Rockville faction would no longer be assured of a 3-vote majority. The new councilmember would be the deciding vote, and we don't know the position of that yet-unknown person on APFS matters.

Any change would be a contentious one - a majority of citizens opposed the 2015 change to align Rockville's school capacity standards with Montgomery County's. That opposition never weakened; the issue was only decided in favor of the developers because Team Rockville held a 3-vote majority on the Council.

If any proposed change fails to pass by early 2019, it could become the key issue in next year's City elections. One of the problems in arguing for the change is that proponents promised the 2015 change that allowed several developers to move projects forward would solve school overcrowding in Rockville. With a development moratorium looming as soon as 2020, that was clearly proven to be a false promise.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Rockville mayor: City needs another elementary school

Rockville needs another elementary school in addition to the one currently in the works for the Richard Montgomery cluster, Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton said Monday night. The Mayor and Council were discussing talking points for a letter to Montgomery County Public Schools regarding the relocation of a Chinese immersion program from College Gardens ES to another nearby school. 

Councilmember Mark Pierzchala said the proposed options of moving the program, which requires six classrooms to accommodate, to Twinbrook Elementary or Beall Elementary would be unfair to the neighborhood children who would be forced out of their school. An MCPS report recommended those two schools, and the future "RM5" ES as the three options. Pierzchala argued that the City should not only back RM5 as the Chinese immersion site, but also insist MCPS increase the new school's capacity to 740 seats.

The increase would just barely provide sufficient capacity for students redistricted into RM5, additional students generated by new development, and the Chinese immersion program's six classroom requirement. With student growth expected to continue citywide, and the new school's location in the Hungerford neighborhood, Newton called the situation "a tsunami waiting to happen."

Newton and the Council backed talking points Pierzchala sought to add to the letter regarding the Chinese immersion program. Linda Moran, Assistant to the City Manager, said she had already added Pierzchala's comments to the draft of the letter, and that she and the Mayor could make minor edits this morning.
# # #
Also at last night's meeting, Rockville Sister City Corporation President Drew Powell and Vice-President Brigitta Mullican introduced two of the many Pinneberg, Germany residents expected to visit Rockville this year. This is the 60th anniversary of the relationship between Rockville and Pinneberg, and a delegation from Pinneberg is scheduled to arrive in the City in October. They will participate in the Rocktobierfest on Saturday, October 7, among other activities.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Montgomery County planning massive tax-cut for developers as they raise taxes on you

This Thursday, Montgomery County will raise your taxes to the highest level ever. And next week, they will discuss the biggest developer tax cut ever. 


On Thursday, the Montgomery County Council is expected to unanimously approve an FY-2017 budget that raises your taxes to a record, all-time high. It will include a property tax hike so massive, it required a unanimous vote by the Council last week to exceed the County's charter limit on property taxes. And it will hike the recordation tax you will pay when selling your home, or even just refinancing your mortgage. Notably, the budget shifts the cost of school construction from developers to taxpayers.

But the Council isn't done helping developers, who account for over 80% of councilmembers' campaign contributions, yet.

The Montgomery County Planning Department is now proposing a massive tax cut for developers.

That is not a misprint.

Just as the County has rejiggered its traffic congestion measurements to reduce taxes for developers, now the County political cartel is proposing to do the same for school capacity and construction costs.

Three key school funding equations would be changed under the planning staff's recommendations, and would result in developer tax cuts up to 59.4%!

Here's how the scam will work:
New math will make it
appear fewer students
are being generated
by new development
First, much like the "new math" planners now legally use to make failing intersections and overburdened roads appear to pass traffic tests, planners are proposing to change the equation for student generation rates. The "new math" will base the forecast only on housing built in the last ten years, which will - surprise! - slash the student generation rate significantly (anybody remember a little thing called "The Great Recession"?). Just a quick glance at the "before and after" colored bars in the graph above shows you just how drastic the change will be (green represents the number of students forecast under the proposed new math).
Massive developer tax cut
number one
The new, lower student generation rate will be combined with a biennial recalculation of school construction costs, to - surprise again! - massively slash school facility payments for developers. For example, the elementary school payment for a mid-rise apartment unit is currently $2,838. Under the new tax cut, that ES payment would drop to $1,495. How about a high-rise payment for the high school level in Bethesda, Silver Spring or Rockville? It will absolutely plunge from $804 to $394.

Sounds like a sweet deal, right? "But, wait - there's more!"
Massive developer tax cut
number two
Impact taxes developers pay will also be lowered under the new biennial formula. As the planning staff acknowledge in their report, under the new formula, "all School Impact Taxes will decrease." The mid-rise apartment building school impact tax per unit would drop from $12,765 to an astoundingly cheap $4,659.

In an additional proposed change, the current .9 multiplier in the school impact tax would be removed. This would preserve the type of massive tax cuts proposed for all but single-family homes. Which would also further discourage developers from building single-family homes, which cannot be built in the same density as townhomes and apartment buildings, and therefore generate fewer students on a lot of the same size than multi-family housing.

Think back to recent development fights in places like Westbard, downtown Bethesda, Rock Spring, White Oak and Lyttonsville, as well as the Adequate Public Facilities battle royale in the City of Rockville. At the outset of many of those discussions, the County Council and Planning Board Chair Casey Anderson told us they were going to "start a conversation" about how they could allow the massive development their developer supporters wanted, and somehow provide the infrastructure that would be required to support it.

Would you have imagined at that time that the plan was actually a ruse to open up the formulas and instead give those same developers a massive tax cut?

Well, if you read my blog back then, you might have known something was up.

It's unlikely anyone has any doubts about how arrogant and patronizing the County Council and Planning Board are at this point. You can be sure there's much "mansplaining" ahead from both, as they try to educate us to understand schemes and treachery - er, sorry, "Subdivision Staging Policy" - so complex it is simply beyond the small mind of you, the citizen.

Are you ready for term limits yet?

The Planning Board is expected to hold a public hearing on the proposals, and the rest of the SSP, on June 2, 2016.

So, to summarize, this Thursday, Montgomery County will raise your taxes to the highest level ever. And next week, they will discuss the biggest developer tax cut ever. You can't make this stuff up, folks! This is what happens when you have a political cartel where government policy is for sale to the highest bidder. And more than 80% of the money is coming from developers.

Res ipsa loquitur.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Rockville Planning Commission approves Avalon Bay project, mulls new tools to control school overcrowding

A development project delayed repeatedly over the last decade had yet another scare last night before the Rockville Planning Commission. But Avalon Bay's Twinbrook Station apartment site plan ultimately gained approval, before the end of another epic Planning Commission meeting - a meeting that began last night at 7:00 PM, and ended early this morning.

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
apartments, including
outdoor grill station
Concerns mostly centered on its impact on schools, including Twinbrook Elementary; traffic circulation; and public safety.

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

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
SK+I Architecture
All rights reserved

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Report to Rockville Planning Commission shows effect of APFS school capacity change on student generation

The Rockville Planning Commission will take public testimony on the city's Bikeways Master Plan at its meeting tonight at City Hall at 7:00 PM. Also on the agenda are the much-discussed Avalon Bay townhome proposal for Twinbrook Parkway, and the future Richard Montgomery Elementary School No. 5.

One other notable agenda item: a report from city staff showing an estimate of 127 students being added to the Richard Montgomery school cluster, by projects proposed since the City Council voted to weaken the Adequate Public Facilities Standards for school capacity. Prior to that change, only 64 students were expected to come from projects already in the development pipeline, according to the memo.

The total will now be 191 students.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

" Potentially catastrophic " changes wrought by Rockville APFS vote

Unintended consequences, or a "shell game"? How some changes slipped through along with Rockville's adoption of Montgomery County's school capacity standards, was a question on the minds of several Planning Commissioners at last night's meeting.

Commissioner Jack Leiderman questioned city planning staff regarding a little-noticed change in traffic standards, which mysteriously accompanied the relaxing of school standards, in the City Council resolution.

The change now exempts age-restricted senior housing projects from traffic impact standards. As senior housing has little to do with school capacity, Leiderman wanted to know why such a change was made, and how it was done without alerting the commission or the council. "I'm a little bit troubled by the process involved," Leiderman said.

Under the new standard, Leiderman argued, if Redgate Golf Course were redeveloped as a Leisure World-style community - minus facilities that would subject it to traffic penalties - the resulting major automobile generator would be entirely exempt. Leiderman said the new policy "could be potentially catastrophic."

Staff Liaison Andrew Gunning and Chief of Planning Jim Wasilak said the change likely slipped through when staff tried to match the subdivision staging policy with that of the county's.

Leiderman noted that Mayor Bridget Newton brought the traffic policy change up twice during council discussion of the APFS changes. Commission Chair Don Hadley recalled that he mentioned it specifically during his Annual Report briefing to the Mayor and Council.

A suggestion of drafting a text amendment to correct the unintended change was proposed by Leiderman. Commissioner David Hill preferred to limit action to a letter alerting the Mayor and Council to the problem. Hadley offered a compromise: a letter that would outline how the Mayor and Council might consider correcting the language. Leiderman moved to adopt Hadley's suggestion; his motion was seconded by Hill.

The motion passed unanimously.

Acting on a question of senior housing had some additional impetus with word that the developer behind the Quality Suites project by I-270 may be rethinking the project. Once planned as "multi-family housing," the hotel conversion had been switched to senior housing, and had obtained a school capacity waiver from the commission under that guise. If the project is reconsidered, the developer technically still has approval for multi-family housing, Wasilak said, having not yet acted on the senior housing plan. The project could now go forward as multi-family housing, now that the moratorium has been lifted by the APFS vote.

APFS battle may not be over yet in Rockville

Planning Commission
Chair Don Hadley
The 3-2 vote by the Rockville City Council to drop the city's tighter school capacity standards in favor of Montgomery County's was the end of the Adequate Public Facilities Standards battle, right? Maybe not, if discussion at last night's Rockville Planning Commission meeting was any indication.

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.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Rockville Planning Commission to be briefed on APFS school standards changes July 8

Rockville planning staff will brief the city's Planning Commission on the Adequate Public Facilities Standards changes recently adopted by the City Council regarding school capacity, at the commission's July 8 meeting. The changes weakened the city standards, adopting the less-stringent Montgomery County standards. That means crowding can now reach 120% of capacity, rather than the city's previous 110% standard, and that capacity will be measured by the average of all schools in a cluster, rather than applying the standard to each individual school. By cluster averaging, individual schools have reached overcrowding levels of 180% of capacity in the MCPS system, despite the supposed 120% limit.

A memo from staff to the commission reflects these changes, but also details the elimination of school and transportation requirements for the following types of development in the city:

  • Accessory apartments
  • Personal living quarters
  • Wireless communications facilities
  • MCPS schools and portable classroom trailers
  • "Up to 3 housing units"
  • Senior housing, housing for the disabled, and other age-restricted residential uses
  • Nursing homes

The memo also lists the projects that will benefit from the changes most immediately. Those are the Avalon Bay apartment project at Twinbrook, and an EYA development planned for the Tower Oaks area.

This meeting will begin at 7:00 PM on Wednesday, July 8, at City Hall, and will be broadcast live on Channel 11.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Developers win APFS school standards battle in Rockville

Weary residents who have battled a relentless push by developers to weaken Rockville's Adequate Public Facilities Standards (APFS) on schools often said the issue would keep coming back until the developers prevailed. That happened last night, when the Rockville City Council voted 3-2 to align its school capacity standards with those of Montgomery County. Those standards include allowing capacity to reach 120% (but in reality, MCPS allows individual schools to far exceed even that weaker cap), and to measure overcapacity by cluster, rather than the stricter school-by-school count the city had until last night. The vote sets up not only a slew of new residential development in the city, but also the battleground for this fall's city elections.

Three-fourths of the winning 2013 Team Rockville slate - Councilmembers Tom Moore, Virginia Onley and Julie Palakovich Carr - voted to pass the resolution that had previously been withdrawn by Moore at the Mayor and Council's February 9 meeting.

"We need to work with developers"
- Councilmember Virginia Onley

Both Onley and Moore used hyperbolic language in their arguments, threatening that Rockville would become a "ghost town" if the resolution did not pass. Onley said the change would be a "win-win for the city," allowing a potential 77 affordable housing units to be built in separate projects proposed by developers EYA and Avalon Bay. Palakovich Carr said she was voting with her 3-month-old son's future in mind, saying "funding has been slow to materialize" for new schools under the 2005 APFS standards.

Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton and Councilmember Beryl Feinberg both dissented in the vote, arguing that the issues of school construction and the APFS are more complicated. Newton said public facilities go far beyond schools, and include traffic capacity, services and other infrastructure that would not be covered by Moore's resolution. Feinberg countered the arguments by Moore and Onley which centered on the potential boon of impact taxes to be collected from new development. There was no guarantee that money would be spent in Rockville, Feinberg noted. "It doesn't mean you get the school any faster," she argued. "If it's not working at the county level," she asked, why adopt that policy in Rockville? Feinberg also suggested that the recession was more likely to blame for lower school construction funds than the APFS.

Newton preferred to pursue other avenues rather than simply weakening the Rockville standards. She suggested the city attempt to have new schools funded by payments directly from developers who want to build projects, for example. Taxpayers are also "upset" over ever-rising county and state taxes, she warned, saying "You can't get blood from a turnip."

The 90-minute debate found proponents of weakening the APFS making some surprisingly odd arguments that could come back to haunt them in November. For example, Moore sounded unconcerned - and Palakovich Carr praised - the bane of MCPS parents countywide - portable classroom trailers. Palakovich Carr said portables have not impacted the quality of education in the county, an assertion that would likely invite dissenting remarks at any county PTA meeting. Portables keep class sizes small, she said.

Moore said the city retains control of traffic issues - but is that true, given that many of the congested roads are actually under the control of the state? The city cannot control the timetable or extent of state highway projects, as Montgomery County officials can tell you.

Other arguments made were equally unsupported by the evidence.

For example, yes, MCPS has a 120% cap on overcrowding. But averaging by cluster allows individual schools to far exceed that cap. The 5-year test allows MCPS to permit development for which school capacity actually never gets constructed, using what Rockville Planning Commissioner Jack Leiderman correctly termed "paper schools". Adopting the MCPS standards, Leiderman argued last year, will allow overcrowding to reach or exceed 180%, far above 110% or the county's supposed 120% "cap".

Moore called the 2005 APFS measure a "failed experiment." But is it?

No overcrowded school in Rockville currently is as over-capacity as the most-crowded MCPS schools elsewhere in the county are. And the APFS has not prevented Rockville from getting new schools built. Here is a list of some completed or future projects for Rockville since the measure passed in 2005:

  • New Richard Montgomery HS (2008)
  • Julius West MS addition (plan underway)
  • Rockville ES No. 5 (Edmonston Drive) (2019)

The wealthiest neighborhoods in Montgomery County, by contrast, are still waiting for construction of a new elementary school. One is not even in the planning process - much less coming online - in 2019 in the Westbard area, currently targeted for massive infill development by the county.

Finally, the APFS has indeed prevented excess development from further overcrowding schools; other parts of the county haven't had that safeguard.

As Montgomery County's record of building booms and budget shortfalls prove, development absolutely does not equal what Palakovich Carr termed "a huge windfall." She said new residents will fund services for existing residents. But who will pay for the services for those new residents? It's great to favor adding housing units, but every one of those units carries a cost in transportation, water and sewer, police and fire, city services and - yes - public education. Hence, MoCo's structural budget deficit, which has County Executive Ike Leggett warning of a property tax increase next year. Wait a minute, I thought massive development generated revenue, you might be asking? Wrong.

Moore - dismissing the overwhelming opposition to his resolution by citizens at public hearings - said, "our job is not to count heads," or to "listen to the angriest...voices at the end of a public hearing."

But who are the "angriest voices" in Rockville on the APFS? Those angry voices arguably belong to developers frustrated by the common sense 2005 APFS standards, and the elected members of the Montgomery County Council who collect campaign checks from them. Those have been the angry voices, who eventually threatened the city to change - "or else."

This is but the latest twist in a disturbingly tone-deaf approach to development being taken by those County Council members, and the Montgomery County Planning Department. Tired of arguing with residents whose neighborhoods are threatened by the real consequences of infill development, they've adopted a "development at all costs", ram-it-through approach.

Urbanizing the suburbs? "Shut up! It's smart growth." Traffic? "Don't count it." Portable classrooms? "Bring 'em on - we love 'em, teachers love 'em, and so do the kids." Overcrowded schools, and schools without playgrounds or other facilities? "Stop whining, you big baby."

Talk about angry voices.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

It's alive. Again. APFS proposal to return for "possible" vote in Rockville

Rockville residents who just beat back yet another attempt to weaken the city's Adequate Public Facilities Standards may be experiencing a sense of deja vu. The proposal to align the APFS school overcrowding provisions with Montgomery County's weaker standards is back, and could face a vote on May 18 or June 1. City Manager Barbara Matthews told the Mayor and Council last night that the final date would depend on which meeting had space to add the APFS to the agenda.

The discussion and "possible vote" on the APFS changes was allowed onto a future agenda last night, under the rule that 3 Council members can request an agenda item be added for a specific meeting date. Councilmember Virginia Onley brought up the topic for the second week in a row, saying again that she felt it was critical to have a "discussion" on the APFS.

Councilmember Tom Moore, who has led the effort to change the APFS standards, said that due to the large turnout of residents at two public hearings on the topic, the proposal should be put to a vote, as well. Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton noted that there would have been a vote February 9, but that Moore withdrew his motion that evening, when he realized it would fail. 

Councilmember Julie Palakovich-Carr also favored a discussion and possible vote. Onley said she was more concerned about having a discussion than a vote. Councilmember Beryl Feinberg said she preferred to focus on the more-urgent budget and compensation issues before the council at the moment. Newton said it was clear the proposed changes were opposed by a majority of residents who testified at the public hearings.

The request by Moore, Palakovich-Carr and Onley means there could potentially be a vote on the highly-controversial issue within the next 40 days.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Rockville Planning Commission grants schools waiver to hotel converting to senior housing

The Rockville Planning Commission granted a schools waiver from the city's Adequate Public Facilities Standards to the Quality Suites hotel that is converting into senior housing. Located at 1380 Piccard Drive, the 219-room hotel will become a 203-unit senior housing development. No exterior changes are planned for the building.

Commissioner Charles Littlefield expressed concern that the development, while limited to seniors, would impact the city's most overcrowded school, College Gardens ES, if it somehow ever generated any students. Erica Leatham of Ballard Spahr, LLP, the applicant's attorney, said that the only residents under 62 who could live in the building would be caregivers.

One related question to that was, what if sneaky parents try to use the former hotel's address to enroll their kids at College Gardens? Commissioner Jack Leiderman asked if the city could communicate to Montgomery County Public Schools that anyone applying from the address of 1380 Piccard Drive should be rejected by the school system. Staff Liaison Andrew Gunning affirmed that could be done.

Littlefield asked if the applicant intended to operate the housing once it opens. Leatham said it does for the immediate future, but added that it is impossible to speculate about a future transaction a decade down the road.

Commissioner David Hill questioned the demand for senior housing at that location. Leatham said that her own parents had recently applied to the Ingleside senior residence at King Farm, and were told it would be a 5-6 year wait. "There's clearly a pent-up demand," she said. Commissioner Anne Goodman noted that a friend of hers was accepted at Ingleside in only 7 months. Leatham jokingly said she would have to take that up that apparent discrepancy with Ingleside.

Thoughts on the hotel's current parking lot were mixed. Hill felt the opportunity exists to reduce parking in favor of more green space around the building. But Leiderman said that would not be advisable. It turns out there are only 216 parking spaces for the 203 units. That could easily be filled if only 13 residents had two cars. And that does not begin to include parking for caregivers and visitors. If anything, it appears parking would be at a premium.

"I don’t see a lot of seniors who are going to give up driving to live out by 270," Leiderman said, citing the poor access to rapid transit at the site alongside Interstate 270.

Otherwise, commissioners were in agreement on the main points of the waiver request Wednesday night. They voted unanimously to approve the waiver, which required a supermajority for approval. The motion was made by Commissioner John Tyner, and seconded by Goodman.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Rockville hotel switching to senior housing requests APFS waiver (Photo)

The Quality Suites at 1380 Piccard Drive wants to convert its building into senior housing, and has requested a waiver from Rockville's Adequate Public Facilities Standards requirements. Under their plan, the 219 room hotel would become a 203-unit seniors-only (age 62+) apartment building.

Their development application was approved by the city's planning chief, Jim Wasilak, on January 10. Because no exterior changes are being made to the building, the Chief of Planning was the approving authority in that case.

However, the applicant must obtain a minimum of 5 approving votes from the Planning Commission to receive the APFS waiver. Based on the current APFS standards, city planner Nicole Walters says the applicant is eligible for the waiver. The rules allow exemptions for "age-restricted residential uses."

The commission will take up the waiver request at its April 8 meeting, at 7:00 PM in City Hall.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Mayor, residents seek correction to Rockville Reports' APFS decision coverage

The characterization by official Rockville public relations materials that the Mayor and Council "declined to vote" on changes to the city's Adequate Public Facilities Standards on school capacity has generated some controversy among city officials and residents. 

Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton said "I think we need to correct the record," on the wording in Rockville Reports that the Mayor and Council "declined to vote" on changes to the APFS. Rockville Reports is the official city newsletter that is mailed to all residents, making it an influential source of information.

The "factually incorrect" statement created a "tsunami" of inaccurate coverage, Newton said. "The Gazette wrote it, Rockville Reports wrote it," and other communications included the characterization of the APFS decision, she said.

Councilmember Tom Moore disputed the inaccuracy of the statement. Newton said the characterization was "disingenuous," as Moore withdrew his motion when he realized it would fail. "You were the one who put it on your Facebook page first," that the council had declined to vote, she noted. 

Moore's motion, which would have weakened the city's APFS standards on school overcrowding, and put them in line with Montgomery County's lower standards, was withdrawn by the councilman at the February 9, 2015 Mayor and Council meeting.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015


The effort to replace Rockville's current school capacity standards with the weaker Montgomery County standards failed at last night's Mayor and Council meeting. In the face of overwhelming resident opposition and mobilization, Councilmember Tom Moore withdrew his proposal before it went to a vote. Councilmembers Virginia Onley and Beryl Feinberg declined to support the measure, despite having been members of the Team Rockville slate with Moore and Councilmember Julie Palakovich Carr. Carr had seconded Moore's motion to adopt the new standard prior to its withdrawal.

Residents turned the meeting's Community Forum into an impromptu public hearing prior to the decision. Susan Prince presented a petition opposing the changes which had 362 signatures, and she and others read comments from residents who could not attend. "Rockville is a family town, not a megacity," one wrote. Resident Jack Gelin, testifying in person, said such a change "poorly serves our children, and violates the civic compact."

Several Rockville Planning Commissioners testified against the changes, including Chair Don Hadley, and Commissioners Anne Goodman and Jack Leiderman. Citizens from the West End, East Rockville and Twinbrook turned out in force, and via petition. Some developers and development attorneys who would benefit from the changes were present in the chambers during last night's meeting, signaling the urgency behind the proposed weakening of the APFO. Even the county Gazette newspaper editorial board had elbowed its way into the city's debate, endorsing Moore's proposal to adopt County standards.

Mayor Bridget Newton, who had opposed the changes, said it was time to "stop this conversation, and start a new conversation" at the countywide level, as opposed to arbitrary action by the city. Rockville is expected to take part in a March 7 event hosted by Montgomery County Councilmember Roger Berliner, which will bring stakeholders together for a dialogue on infrastructure, including school capacity.

Feinberg and Onley agreed with Newton that is would be best to wait until that new process plays out before the city takes any action on school standards. Moore expressed concern that the possible changes would be tabled permanently, and sought to have the matter placed on a future agenda. First he suggested March 16, and - after colleagues noted jam-packed agendas in the spring - then amended that to the soonest possible time for staff. His motion failed 3-2, supported only by Palakovich Carr.

Moore said the issue could be lost without placing it on an agenda. Onley replied incredulously, "this is absolutely not going to get lost." Newton concurred, recalling that the APFO has been a hot topic during every term she has served as Mayor or councilmember.

Feinberg said she was swayed by residents' testimony, and conversations with former city leaders to oppose the changes. Former Mayor Larry Giammo and former Councilmember John Hall were among those who opposed the effort to adopt the county's 120% over-capacity standard, and its measurement of crowding by cluster rather than individual school. Both were in office when the measure was passed a decade ago.

Team Rockville has not always been the monolith many residents feared when the slate was entirely elected, minus Mark Pierzchala, who was defeated in the mayor's race by Newton. Onley and Feinberg have often broken with their slate and voted with Newton on a variety of issues.

The inevitable question now is, when will the APFO issue be raised once more, forcing residents to mobilize yet again, despite clear public opposition to changing the standards?

Wednesday, February 4, 2015


A Monday night discussion about proposed changes to Rockville's Adequate Public Facilities Standards, which would align the city's school capacity standards with Montgomery County's weaker ones, did not appear to change the mind of any councilmember. Councilman Tom Moore remains the strongest proponent of the changes, which would raise the school overcrowding limit to 120% of capacity from today's 110% under the city's APFS. They would also measure overcrowding by cluster averaging (like the County), rather than the city's measurement by individual school.

The current standards, Moore said, have been an "epic fail." "The evidence is in, it was an interesting experiment," he said, but they have not prevented overcrowding, in his view.

Mayor Bridget Newton disagreed. "We would be in a crisis situation as other schools [in the county] are" without the APFS, she argued. Newton remains the one certain vote to oppose the change. "I haven’t yet seen from you all what moving to 120, and cluster averaging, what that is going to solve?" she asked her colleagues. "What is the reason for making that change? What is driving that?"

Councilmember Virginia Onley said she does not favor the approach of having the city change its own standards, but did say she is concerned about lack of growth in the city. Suggesting that Rockville Town Square is underperforming, Onley said Rockville's competitors, Downtown Crown, Pike & Rose, and RIO/Washingtonian Center are a threat. Pike & Rose offers 2 hours of free parking, and the others don't charge anything for parking. Several retailers and restaurants have closed in Rockville Town Square in recent months.

"I don’t think Rockville is moving forward," Onley said. "And if we don’t do something, we’re going to be a ghost town." She added she didn't want Rockville residents to have to get in their cars and drive to other places "where people are enjoying life."

Newton disputed Onley's characterization of growth and the town center, noting that projects including the Duball towers and KSI have pushed the number of units past the totals provided for in the 2001 Master Plan. Kettler, JBG and Shelter are currently building retail, restaurant and housing projects north of Rockville Town Square, as well. "We’ve got growth happening in the town center," Newton said. "It is not stagnant, it is not dying, and it is not going to be a wasteland. [But] changing standards, we will no longer have any constraints in place to control that" growth.

One likely outcome of increased development in the city will be more portable classrooms on school sites. In an interesting twist from the widespread complaints about portable classrooms in Montgomery County, Moore and Councilmember Beryl Feinberg had praise for the humble "learning cottages." Portables are not "hell on earth," Moore said, noting that 4 of his 6 children have been in portables. Trailer classrooms are "a way to kind of even [growth] out in the short term, so that you don’t have to construct another school," Feinberg said. "I don’t think we should wholesale condemn them."

Newton was somewhat incredulous at these assertions. She said "learning cottages" was a term designed to avoid the fact that these classrooms are trailers, and that they take children "out of the learning environment," and pose serious safety and security concerns. "Do we want to put children in trailers?" she asked. "Let’s have a countywide discussion with the stakeholders they are talking about bringing forward," she said, referring to a dialogue being set up by County Councilmember Roger Berliner.  "Let’s help the county solve our problem."

The Mayor and Council will vote on the proposal this coming Monday, February 9; the meeting begins at 7:00 PM at City Hall.

Friday, January 30, 2015


Ahead of a February 2 discussion and February 9 vote by Rockville's Mayor and Council on the proposed changes to school capacity standards in the city's Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance, the Rockville Planning Commission approved a memo expressing its opinion on the matter. The opinion is advisory to the Mayor and Council, separate from the actual legislation that will be voted upon on February 9. The memo was approved at Wednesday night's meeting.

In discussing the memo's final draft, prepared by Commissioners Charles Littlefield and Anne Goodman, some changes were suggested. Goodman and Commissioner Jack Leiderman agreed that a line proposing the city fully adopt the Montgomery County APFS, if the school standards were changed, should be eliminated. Leiderman said it would be preferable for the Mayor and Council to make changes in that event, rather than require automatic adoption of the County policy in whole.

Chair Don Hadley informed his colleagues that a pending Maryland court case could require delay of the city requesting an "authoritative interpretation" from the state's Attorney General's office on whether the Mayor and Council indeed have the authority to change the APFS. He said an Anne Arundel County case pending before the State Court of Appeals will determine if a jurisdiction can "have laws passed by the legislative body that are inconsistent with the Master Plan."

The case will involve the legal standing of a citizens association to challenge something inconsistent with a Master Plan. And how "inconsistent" is defined, Hadley said.

Hadley advised that requesting an opinion from Attorney General Brian Frosh be put on hold until the court rules in the Anne Arundel case, or else "we'd be asking the AG to get ahead of the court." He suggested the Attorney General could then issue an opinion. Hadley noted that the Attorney General's brief in the case reflects his office's Fall 2014 opinion that has raised the question of whether or not the Mayor and Council have the power to change school standards.

Commissioner John Tyner questioned if Commissioner David Hill's previous concern that the school changes might be unconstitutional should be written in authoritative language, or by stating the commission believes there is a chance it might be. Tyner suggested "may well be unconstitutional" for the language. The commission's "resident expert", Commissioner Dion Trahan, said that the argument wouldn't "hold water," in his professional opinion. Trahan holds a graduate degree in Constitutional law. No clear final language was stated aloud on that point.

Hill moved that the document be adopted and transmitted to the Mayor and Council by today. The memo was unanimously approved by the commission.