Showing posts with label Westmore bus depot. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Westmore bus depot. Show all posts

Monday, February 25, 2019

Derwood, Shady Grove residents want MCPS bus depot out of neighborhood as promised

"Derwood deserves better
- now!" residents say of 
issue County officials swept
under political rug

Former Montgomery County executive Ike Leggett, the County Council and Montgomery County Public Schools managed to sweep the highly-flammable hot potato issue of the MCPS Shady Grove school bus depot under the political rug ahead of the 2018 election season. But residents nearby the depot are growing impatient, having been told over a decade ago that the facility would be gone by now. Many are residents who bought or rented new homes built right around the depot itself in the first phase of "smart growth" construction, as Leggett termed the development due to its proximity to Metro and MARC rail service at Shady Grove.

At least 340 of those residents have signed a MoveOn online petition asking new County Executive Marc Elrich to take action on the relocation of the depot. Residents in Aspen Hill and Rockville were up in arms just a few years ago, when it was revealed that the County Council had approved the plan and agreement with developers at Shady Grove without actually identifying a new site for the bus depot before doing so.

This led to protests and tense community meetings, including one where former Councilmember George Leventhal admitted to the crowd that he had voted "Yes" on the Shady Grove scheme without actually reading the text of the bill first. The County tried to move it to a historic African-American site in Rockville on Mannakee Street first. When that triggered outcry from the community, they secretly purchased another site in East Rockville where there are a large number of African-American residents. That caused a second round of protests.

Avery Road property owned by MCPS was also considered, with the idea of moving a juvenile education facility to the former English Manor site in Aspen Hill to make way for a depot, reigniting a firestorm of opposition in that community. Councilmember Hans Riemer advocated studying a former landfill site in Olney, before the whole issue was tabled as election season neared. Rockville, Aspen Hill and Olney residents emphatically stated the depot should remain where it is, putting them on a collision course with the interests of residents around the existing site. Most elected officials realize that any vote on either keeping the depot where it is, or moving it, could be a career-ending one.

With the new advocacy effort from Shady Grove and Derwood, County officials may be forced once again to reopen this "third rail" issue. The County is facing not only angry constituents who live near the current and potential bus depot sites, but also legal action by the developers with whom they had made the agreement years ago. Riemer famously stated almost three years ago that he and the Council "taken ownership of the problem."

Friday, June 24, 2016

Leggett removes Carver and Westmore from bus depot list - who's next?

Residents in Lincoln Park and around the Carver Educational Services Center in Rockville are celebrating the success of their efforts to stop Montgomery County from relocating the Shady Grove school bus depot to their neighborhoods. County Executive Ike Leggett sent a memo to County Council President Nancy Floreen yesterday announcing he is withdrawing the current Declaration of No Further Need for the existing depot on Crabbs Branch Way, and is removing Carver and 1000 Westmore Avenue from the list of potential depot sites.

While neighbors of 1000 Westmore won't likely complain, the County did end up blowing $12,000,000 on its purchase of the Westmore site in what it claimed was a budget time so tight that taxes were raised to the highest level in County history last month.

The Crabbs Branch depot was to be vacated in 2017, and sold to a developer who would build townhomes and apartments on the site near Shady Grove Metro station.

But the letter makes clear that this so-called "Smart Growth Initiative" is not over. Leggett states that he is having his staff find more suitable locations than Carver or Westmore.

The problem, of course, is that every potential depot site also has residents nearby.

You'll notice that, despite fierce community opposition, Leggett pointedly did not remove the Blair Ewing Center from the potential depot sites in his memo.

And another bad choice, the Oaks Landfill at 6001 Olney-Laytonsville Road, is one councilmembers like Hans Riemer explicitly stated they want to have a public discussion about. There are several residential subdvisions right around the site, and homes directly across the road from it. 410 buses would honk their horns and test their backup beepers each morning at 6:00 AM.

The only other site given serious public consideration last year was a property near the intersection of Woodfield Road and Snouffer School Road, also near homes.
Houses directly across
from 6001 Olney Laytonsville Road
Much of Rockville is now off the hook in this crazy, developer-fueled crusade - but the battle is just starting at these, and potentially other, poor choices for the depot site around the County. Residents near those locations are waking up to find the MoCo political cartel is headed their way.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Montgomery County Council all talk, no action on Rockville bus depot controversy (Photos)

"Talked to death in Rockville" is a good summary of yesterday's Montgomery County Council worksession on the controversial attempts to relocate the Montgomery County Public Schools bus depot in Shady Grove. That site is supposed to be cleared by next year, so that a developer can build hundreds of townhomes and apartments there. By the end of the meeting, no votes were taken and no plan of action was determined.

While Council President Nancy Floreen did not allow a resolution to deny the Declaration of No Further Need for the Shady Grove site, by the end of the meeting she agreed to bring one forward, likely next week. The County Department of General Services was directed by Floreen to bring back a cost-benefits study for the scenario of simply leaving the depot where it is, and to provide a list of temporary and permanent sites where the buses could be moved.

But none of this officially rules out the use of Carver Educational Services Center, 1000 Westmore Avenue or the Blair Ewing Center on Avery Road, all of which have been rejected soundly by residents who would be impacted. Depending which councilmember you listen to, there are all kinds of potential outcomes, and all but one (keeping the depot at Shady Grove) would place a school bus depot in someone's neighborhood.

Only two councilmembers, Sid Katz (who represents Rockville) and Marc Elrich (an at-large member), explicitly said Carver, Westmore and Avery should be removed from the list of sites under consideration. Save Blair Ewing, a resident organization fighting a bus depot on that site, is now leading a letter/email-writing campaign to sway three more councilmembers to join Katz and Elrich in placing language eliminating those sites from the list.

So next week, the Council may unanimously vote to say that the Shady Grove depot is, in fact, still needed by the County. Does that kill the Carver/Westmore/Avery plans? Not unless that language is included in the resolution, and even then, the legal ramifications of leaving the buses in place after a developer has spent millions on its plans remain to be determined. The Council also assumes that County Executive Ike Leggett could indeed reopen talks with the developer to give the County more time to relocate the depot. There's no guarantee of that, either.

The Council did talk a lot, though. To their credit, at least a few councilmembers somewhat accepted the blame for their role in allowing this depot debacle to happen. Councilmembers George Leventhal, Roger Berliner, and Hans Riemer were particularly candid in acknowledging the Council blew it with the Shady Grove plan.

"In hindsight, that plan was unwise," Leventhal conceded to his constituents in the audience.

Interestingly, while many on the Council have vehemently argued that residential development will provide large amounts of tax revenue to the County, Leventhal and a few of his colleagues are now coming around to acknowledge what I've been saying for a decade - new residential growth does not pay for itself, and in fact, costs more in services than it brings in in new revenue. The County's structural budget deficit is proof of that.

Leventhal estimated the County has spent $407 million on the Shady Grove "Smart Growth Initiative" so far. When will that expenditure "pay for itself" as Leggett promised years ago, Leventhal asked David Dise, Director of DGS. He also suggested they add the cost of County services and schools to the cost-benefit analysis.

"If I'm in a hole, do I need to keep digging," asked Elrich of the Council's predicament. He too questioned if the potential revenue would cover the cost of relocating the depot, which he said may be "the best location we'll ever have" for it.

"We shouldn't be doing this," Elrich said. "I'm just not willing to do that to people." He counseled Dise to make sure that any site suggestion is accompanied with an explanation of how it would be "better than what you have now."

Councilmember Craig Rice, who represents the Upcounty area, misfired with the audience when he launched into a strident defense of the Shady Grove plan. He noted that some of his Clarksburg constituents live right next to a bus depot. Rice then attacked many of his own constituents, saying that "they want to keep those great things that we have in Montgomery County just to themselves."

That set off a round of booing and retorts from the audience. Floreen attempted to bring the meeting to order, as Rice hastened to add that he was not referring to the Carver Coaltion. Rice said he wants "to provide housing for everyone," although he didn't explain how that would be possible, or why it is the burden of County residents to accede to overpopulation of already-developed communities.

"What we really have here is a mess," observed Katz. "There is further need for [the Shady Grove depot]. There is no question. We need to do things in a more transparent way," he added to applause. A new depot "shouldn't be next to anybody's house," or route buses through residential streets, Katz said.

Katz argued that the City of Rockville "needs to be brought into the conversation." In explicitly calling for Carver, Westmore and Blair Ewing to be removed from consideration, Katz received another round of applause. "I usually don't get applause when I say, 'No,'" he joked. Summing up the situatiion, Katz concluded 'this does not make any sense. It doesn't make any common sense, and it doesn't make any dollars and sense."

Councilmember Nancy Navarro noted she was president of the Board of Education when the Shady Grove sector plan was passed. The plan "seemed to make a lot of sense back in the day," but not in 2016, she said. "It has not yielded the revenues promised by the County."

"I'm trying to understand where some votes are," Riemer began, speaking for many in the room. In any case, he said, he would vote against the Declaration of No Further Need the Council must pass to sell the land to the developer.

"It's not right to disadvantage current residents to clear a nuisance for future residents," Riemer said. "We played a role in this mess," he acknowledged. But at the same time, Riemer added that "I don't think we can just throw up our hands and walk away."

"We all bear some responsibility," Riemer went on, but promised that the Council has finally "taken ownership of the problem."

Councilmember Roger Berliner exhorted Floreen to allow a vote on the Declaration of No Further Need during yesterday's session, a request she failed to grant.

"The notion that this will be resolved by the end of the year seems pretty far-fetched," Berliner said. He congratulated the Council staff member who prepared the report for her prediction a decade ago that the Shady Grove plan would not pay for itself. "You were right," acknowledged Berliner, before asking Dise to provide "an honest assessment" of the situation.

Berliner commended Rockville Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton, who was in attendance, for her work on behalf of her constituents against the Rockville depot proposals. "You've served your community well," Berliner told her.

"I think the Carver people can go home happy," Floreen said at the end of the session, despite it having produced no concrete results. When Floreen asked Dise for a list of potential sites, she completely ignored the fact that Council staff had done just that in its report for yesterday's session. The County DGS itself has reviewed 200 properties. Let's face it, if there was a good site, the County would have acquired it long ago.
MyMCMedia's Sonya Burke
interviews a member of the
Carver Coalition before the
Residents in the Carver Coalition
trademark yellow shirts

City Councilmember
Mark Pierzchala
(L in white shirt) was
one of several Rockville
elected officials on hand
"Like the buses, we will
not go quietly" was among
the creative signs held
by residents

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

County Council staff recommends using Carver, Westmore as bus depots

The Montgomery County Council will take up the controversial school bus depot issue this morning, but the Council staff report makes an equally controversial set of recommendations. It recommends parking Montgomery County Public School buses at the Carver Educational Services Center, and at 1000 Westmore Avenue, a property already purchased by the County for that purpose. Or, to use their convoluted language, they are "not recommending against" using them for bus parking.

It is hard to believe that staff could recommend this, after the ghastly litany of County abuses of the Lincoln Park neighborhood that was recited during a public hearing before the County Planning Board last week. That hearing concluded with the board recommending against acquisition of the Westmore site by the County - an irrelevant vote, as the County had already secretly purchased the site.

Council staff has also put the Blair Ewing Center on Avery Road back on the table, sure to be highly controversial in both Rockville and Aspen Hill. Use of the Blair Ewing Center site would create a domino effect, requiring moving the alternative education facilities there elsewhere. "Elsewhere" was English Manor Elementary School in Aspen Hill when this last came up. Avery Road was ultimately dismissed as a bus site after a well-organized opposition effort by Aspen Hill residents.

I am shocked - shocked - that Avery Road has risen from the dead. Of course, I'm joking, as I've been predicting this would happen for several months. The other site proposed for a permanent depot is the Oaks Landfill at 6001 Olney-Laytonsville Road. Both sites, particularly Olney-Laytonsville Road, are still within 6:00 AM-bus-honking earshot of nearby houses.
Residential neighborhoods lie
directly adjacent to a proposed
bus depot site at
6001 Olney-Laytonsville Road
(red pin at right)
We won't know the Council's reaction to the recommendations until later this morning. But the Council staff's intent seems to be the same as the County and MCPS: Pit neighborhoods against each other, and ultimately drop the depots where they conclude political power is weakest. Residents are simply gladiators in the arena for the Emperors-with-no-clothes' entertainment. The interesting twist here is that the residents affected by the Carver, Westmore and Avery Road sites have all been politically strong in their response so far.

The report suggests removing the Public Safety Academy and Gude Drive Landfill sites from consideration. And it recommends the Council not approve the Declaration of No Further Need for the existing Shady Grove bus depot on Crabbs Branch Way. In doing so, it assumes the County Executive can change the terms to not require the depot to be vacated and turned over to the developer in 2017. The County (a.ka. you, the taxpayer) could ultimately face legal action from that developer, which already has approval for 345 townhomes and 344 apartments on that property, known as Jeremiah Park.

Monday, June 20, 2016

The Westmore bus depot contract the County Council wrought - what's their next move Tuesday? (Photos)

A picture is worth a thousand words - and here are pictures of the contract Montgomery County quietly signed to purchase 1000 Westmore Avenue for use as a school bus parking facility. 10 acres of undeveloped land in an industrial wasteland cost you, the taxpayer, $12 million at the same time that the County Council was raising your taxes to the highest level in history, and County employees were denied the wage increases guaranteed by their labor contracts.

As the Council prepares to take up the larger controversial issue of the County's "Smart Growth Initiative," and its requirement to find a new location for the Shady Grove bus depot, there are 3 things to watch for in Tuesday's worksession:

1. Will the County Council apologize to the affected communities, and admit that their votes brought us to this point?

Councilmembers, like hack actors ill-prepared for the role of a lifetime, attempted to pose as heroes-to-the rescue once the Carver Coalition was formed to fight a bus depot proposed for the Carver Educational Services Center in Rockville. Problem is, the County Council are the very people who voted to approve funding for the land acquisition, design and construction of bus depots at Carver and Westmore.

That's right. The contract you see here was the direct result of a 2015 vote by the County Council, which provided the funds the County Department of General Services used to purchase the Westmore site. Whoops!

Likewise, a February 9, 2016 resolution passed unanimously by the County Council provided funds for the design and construction of a bus depot at Carver. Councilmember George Leventhal conveniently forgot about that vote when he appeared as a crusader for justice at a Carver-related public meeting. He proclaimed to have nothing to do with the Carver fiasco. When a citizen confronted him with the text of the February 9 resolution, and asked him to read it aloud, Leventhal refused to do so.

Leventhal later stated he had not read the resolution before voting for it, an incredible statement any way you slice it. Our councilmembers don't read the bills and resolutions they vote for?! Unreal.

The Council didn't admit their role then, and they haven't since. Tomorrow is a fabulous opportunity for them to belatedly admit that they alone had the true power to create this fiasco via these two votes, and their longtime support for the insane idea known as the "Smart Growth Initiative." Don't just bash DGS for an hour, own up to your major role in this mess.

2. Will Tuesday just be a back-and-forth between DGS, MCPS and the Council, which loves to hear itself talk? Or will the civic association leaders and municipal elected officials of Rockville and Gaithersburg have a seat at the table, as well?

3. Will the Council end the discussion by pulling the plug on the Smart Growth Initiative, by committing to not signing the Declaration of No Further Need for the existing bus depot on Crabbs Branch Way, thereby risking legal action by the developer?

What the Council hasn't admitted so far, but has a chance to acknowledge tomorrow, is that there is no acceptable site to relocate 410 school buses to within the borders of Montgomery County. Period.

The County has reviewed 200 properties in the desperate search for a depot. Choosing two adjacent to residential neighborhoods at Carver and Westmore proves the point that there is no dream site - otherwise, they wouldn't have risked the political uproar they now face.

Every single site discussed and dismissed in the past was in a residential area, from Potomac to the Webb Tract in Montgomery Village. Every community fought back, and they'll fight back on the Gude landfill (Derwood homes are directly adjacent) and Public Safety Academy (North Potomac homes are across the street) sites if DGS goes there next.

Only by pulling the plug will the County be unable to use the Westmore site for school bus parking. Of course, then the County (a.k.a. you, the taxpayer) will face legal action from the developer, and the costs and payouts that might entail. There again, the Council must be held accountable for its reckless actions in the Smart Growth/bus depot debacle. There must be consequences for their actions.

Tuesday is not a day for the Council to toast themselves as heroes, but a day to begin to face the music for their disregard for their constituents, and for prioritizing developers over people in Montgomery County.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Planning Board disapproves Montgomery County acquisition of Westmore Ave. bus parking site

"They're trying to
strangle us"

Montgomery County Planning Board commissioners lambasted the County's Department of General Services' plan to acquire the WINX property at 1000 Westmore Avenue in Rockville, before voting to disapprove the acquisition. Their comments followed testimony by Rockville's mayor, residents, and civic leaders, which outlined a questionable process and a lack of transparency by the County. Commissioners were also shocked to learn that the DGS had secretly signed a sales contract with the landowner of 1000 Westmore on April 28, just days before requesting a mandatory referral review by the Board.

"It looks like the horse is already out of the barn," Commissioner Norman Dreyfuss said, after reviewing a copy of the executed contract submitted moments earlier by Rockville Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton. DGS, it became apparent, had not even shared the existence of the contract with the Planning Department. "The County is going to acquire this property, or default on the contract," Dreyfuss said.

Under the mandatory referral process, even the disapproval of the Board last night will not prevent the County from moving forward with its acquisition, and expected use as school bus parking for Montgomery County Public Schools. The County is desperately searching for several bus parking sites, so it can sell the existing MCPS bus depot in Shady Grove to a developer in a deal known as the "Smart Growth Initiative."

But powerful testimony by Lincoln Park residents showed the politically-treacherous road ahead for County politicians if they decide to press on with the Westmore plan.

"As far back as I can remember, we have been struggling to live in peace in Lincoln Park, and every few years we are fighting some monster that is threatening our security," said Fran Hawkins, a 69 year resident. "When they closed historic Lincoln Park High School (Lincoln High School opened in 1935 to serve black students shut out of County high schools by segregation), they parked buses there for decades," she noted of the MCPS Stonestreet Avenue property now home to decaying trailers. Those trailers replaced the buses when the County moved the depot to 16651 Crabbs Branch Way in Shady Grove, she recalled.

Of the County's abuse of her neighborhood, Hawkins said, “they’ve strangled us. They’re trying to strangle us. That’s the only way i can put it.”

A resident of Douglas Avenue noted that Lincoln Park is a 125-year-old community, and its streets were not well-planned or wide enough to handle hundreds of large buses passing in and out of the neighborhood. She said the quiet existence of the $12 million DGS contract and the way it has handled the process were "disturbing." She questioned how much DGS Deputy Director Greg Ossont actually knew about the community, after he was quoted in the newspaper as saying the buses would not be using neighborhood streets to reach main roads.

In fact, many criticized Ossont for refusing to meet with residents or visit the neighborhood in person, including commissioners. Suzan Pitman, President of the East Rockville Civic Association, said Ossont never even responded to her personal invitation, only sending a mass form email that went to multiple residents yesterday. She questioned how the County could afford to pay $12 million dollars for 10 acres of unimproved property, while having told teachers they wouldn't receive their full raise in FY-2017.

Most residents of the area near 1000 Westmore are "working class," and unable to hire attorneys to fight the County, Pitman said. And those residents are now disillusioned with County officials, she added. "Whatever trust we had that they were looking out for the best interests of residents is gone.”

Another nearby resident who is a teacher in MCPS, said she is tired of her neighborhood being "the disposal for everything the County doesn't want. It's not fair."

"No, we do not want the buses right across from our homes," declared Gladys Lyons of Ashley Avenue, who said she didn't want to "stand on my front porch and look directly over at the buses," and hear horns honking a 4:00 AM when buses start up in the winter.

Such an outcome is "a deplorable idea," said her neighbor, Virginia Cooper, whose husband has lived there more than 50 years. The thought of hundreds of school buses turning at the corner there "gives me shivers," Cooper said.

A Frederick Avenue resident didn't want to think of that, either. "I can't imagine what it will be like to have buses zipping up and down," she said. She opposes the land acquisition “because of the way it’s been done," with no transparency. She professed to be “skeptical of the County for very good reason,” citing the failure of MCPS to clear its own Stonestreet Avenue sidewalk of snow for 10 days this past winter.

Alexandra Destinito, VP of the Lincoln Park Civic Association, said her development is "the best kept secret in town" despite being near the railroad, a Washington Gas facility, "132 ugly rusting trailers" at the MCPS site on Stonestreet, and cut-through traffic from Gude Drive. "Now MCPS would like to add the bus depot," she said. The land swap at Shady Grove is called "smart growth," she said. "Smart for whom?"

Theresa Defino, a Rockville Housing Enterprises (RHE developed Legacy at Lincoln Park) commissioner, said, "this is some sort of otherworldly crazy puppet show going on." She asked the Board to "please do us all a favor and admit the emperor’s got no clothes here.”

The solidarity with Lincoln Park and East Rockville was joined by Christina Ginsberg of the Twinbrook Civic Association, who noted her community's "strong opposition" to the Westmore plan. "We have watched in dismay as MCPS has brought forward 3 sites in Rockville," Ginsberg said, also expressing Twinbrook's opposition to depots at Carver or at the Blair Ewing Center on Avery Road. All three sites are also opposed by the Aspen Hill Civic Association, she said, which submitted a letter to the Board indicating Aspen Hill's opposition.

Ginsberg criticized County Executive Ike Leggett's suggestion to communities opposing bus depots in their neighborhood to come up with another site themselves. "“I find this tactic extremely offensive,” she said. County officials "spectacularly failed in their jobs. It is not up to the citizens to do their jobs for them," she added.

Also supporting Lincoln Park was former Rockville Mayor Larry Giammo, now the President of the West End Citizens Association, and an active opponent of the Carver depot plan. He calculated that if MCPS stuck to its plan to park 100 buses at Carver, it would leave the other 310 to park at Westmore. Giammo invited commissioners to imagine they were residents of Ashley Avenue if that came to pass.

"What is the typical morning going to be like for you," Giammo asked. It would begin at 6:00 AM, he said, when all 310 buses would be started up and left to idle. 310 horns would honk, and 310 back-up beepers would sound, as those are two of the required tests run on every bus each morning. Those sounds would start at 4:00 on frigid winter mornings, he said.

310 bus drivers would all arrive by car into the neighborhood, Giammo said. Then 310 buses would begin to roll off the site, and not always via the routes MCPS is telling the public it will use now. "I can pretty much guarantee you most of these buses are going to go to the west and the south," Giammo predicted, "and they’re going to use residential streets to get there."

Giammo also criticized the process, calling the manner in which Leggett and his staff have approached the issue "profoundly disappointing," as well as the contract "that just shows up out of nowhere."

The timing of that contract in relation to the mandatory referral process "raises serious questions," Newton said. She noted the documents refer to a "land swap. What land is being swapped?" Newton questioned the placement of bus parking 50' away from homes, as well as the challenge of getting WSSC water and sewer service to the site. How can the County justify all of the impacts of moving the depot “simply to free up space to build more homes," she asked.

Newton has sought to avoid neighborhoods within the City from being pitted against each other in this contentious process, with multiple sites targeted by the County. The City provided bus transportation last night to assist residents who otherwise would have been unable to travel to speak in Silver Spring.

The citywide response, and emotional testimony, clearly swayed commissioners. "It’s really hard not to be extremely troubled by what the residents have brought forth,” said commissioner Amy Presley. She said she was not aware of the history of County abuse of the Lincoln Park neighborhood. Commissioners Marye Wells-Hartley and Natali Fani-Gonzalez strongly rebuked the County for both its proposal, and its lack of transparency, community outreach and respect for the residents.
Chair Casey Anderson
admonished County residents
and community leaders to
"step up to the plate."
What about the six-figure
salaried County officials and
deep-pocketed developers
who were tasked with finding a
depot site?
Board chair Casey Anderson took an oddly-different approach, partially defending the widely-thought-to-be indefensible County actions - while saying he was not defending them. “As opposed to everybody walking out of here saying ‘shame on the County,' " he said, residents should be asking themselves what they are going to do to help find a new depot. This was doubly strange, given that Ginsberg had earlier called similar admonishments by Leggett "extremely offensive."

Rockville "has a responsibility like the rest of us do," Anderson continued. "How are you going to help the county figure out where to put some of [the buses]? Step up to the plate.” Anderson challenged the leaders of Rockville and Gaithersburg to "exercise some political leadership," in having their jurisdictions be part of the solution. Residents across the County shouldn't say, “not here, not there, no not there either," Anderson scolded. "The buses need a place to park!”

For her part, Newton said the City is indeed ready to work with all parties to help find a permanent solution to the bus depot crisis. She mentioned the former Gude Drive landfill, and the soon-to-be-vacated County Public Safety Training Center, as two potential sites. Both sites would almost certainly face opposition from residents in Derwood and North Potomac, respectively.
Will the residents of Grinnell Dr.
and Dubuque Ct.
"step up to the plate" for hundreds
of horns honking at 6 AM?
Not likely
Will the folks
in these North Potomac
houses across from the
Public Safety Academy warm
to horn blasts at 4 AM on
frigid mornings? Don't
bank on it
The ball is now in the County Council's court for its discussion of the bus depot debacle next Tuesday. They voted to fund depots at Carver and Westmore, but have tried to sweep those votes under the rug. The reality is, they got us this far and created this mess along with Leggett.

Now the only way out - unless you believe that the County's review of 200 properties countywide somehow missed a "dream bus depot site" - is to either face the wrath of voters by placing these depots over their objections, or to risk the legal consequences of forcing the County to back out of the Shady Grove deal by refusing to approve the Declaration of No Further Need for the existing depot.

This will be entertaining political theater, indeed.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

MoCo planning staff recommends disapproval of 1000 Westmore Ave. as bus depot site

A second Rockville site targeted by Montgomery County as a potential school bus depot, 1000 Westmore Avenue, failed to gain approval from staff at the County Planning Department yesterday. The staff report recommends the County Planning Board disapprove the County's request to acquire the site, a proposal to be taken up by the Board at its June 16 meeting.

In the report, staff indicates that they conclude the proposed acquisition of the site by the County for parking school buses there is inconsistent with the County's master plan and the existing zoning of the property. They say the County has failed to provide sufficient information regarding all of the potential impacts on the surrounding residential neighborhood. In absence of that information, staff says they have independently concluded that the noise impact could be far higher with buses than under other light industrial uses in that zone. Other impacts identified by staff include traffic, safety and environmental issues.

Indicative of the rush to acquire any usable site for buses, the result of County elected officials' failure to do so prior to the deadline for turning over the existing Shady Grove bus depot to developers, the County did not submit a Site Selection Study or analysis. Without such a study, staff wrote, they cannot support the acquisition of this - or any other - site by the County for a bus depot or parking lot.

The IM 2.5-H-50 zoning of the Westmore site does not allow industrial uses with excessive noise, dust or other disruptive impacts, and does not require the sort of transportation links that a fleet of buses would need to get in and out of the neighborhood.

In another indication that the County Council did not do its homework, the County Department of General Services Deputy Director Greg Ossont wrote to planners that DGS is using money allocated to it by the Council last summer to buy the Westmore site. All nine councilmembers voted in February to approve funding for design and construction of a bus depot at the other controversial Rockville site, the Carver Educational Services Center. Several councilmembers have now attempted to distance themselves from that vote, claiming they had not read the resolution they voted for.

Were it not for those two actions by the Council (among others), we would not be in this situation today, an embarrassment the Council understandably wants to downplay. Never has "the dog ate my homework" caused so much trouble for so many communities.

Planning staff heard loud and clear from Rockville's Mayor and Council, and residents, that Westmore - like Carver - was completely unacceptable for a depot. The Legacy at Lincoln Park Homeowners Association, the Lincoln Park Civic Association, Rockville Housing Enterprises, and the East Rockville Civic Association were among the formal organizations weighing in against the bus plan for Westmore.

Several letters noted that the bus plan is in conflict with the Lincoln Park neighborhood plan residents collaborated with the City to pass in 2007, which included the intent to phase out industrial uses around the community.

The final decision now rests with the Planning Board.

Should the Board follow the recommendation, and with the Carver proposal on life support, the County will be in full panic mode shortly in its effort to find a site. Ossont has recently indicated the Gude landfill is off the table due to environmental issues. Where to next? Derwood? Avery Road? Darnestown? The plot thickens.

The question now is, which MoCo community is going to be left without a chair when the music stops in this fiasco, unless the Council simply blows up the whole "Smart Growth Initiative" project, allowing the depot to remain at Shady Grove. It is unclear whether they would face legal action from the developer if they were to do so.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Montgomery County has "open data" - until you ask for it

Montgomery County Councilmember Hans Riemer has used the concept of open data ostensibly to promote transparency in government - but more often has used it to promote himself in the local media. Rockville residents seeking answers about why their quiet residential neighborhoods have been selected to receive Montgomery County Public School bus depots are now finding government isn't quite as open as Mr. Riemer boasted.

In December 2014, Riemer touted the County's "new policy of sharing valuable data openly with the public. The new law is a foundation for a new digital strategy for Montgomery County, which I have helped formulate with County Executive Ike Leggett and his superb team."

Was government information open to the public in May 2016? Only if you have $4892 burning a hole in your pocket.

Land-use attorney Michele Rosenfeld made Maryland Public Information Act requests of MCPS and the Montgomery County Department of General Services for all public records relating to the designation of the Carver Educational Services Center parking lot as a bus depot.

On May 23, the DGS informed Rosenfeld that her request would cost $2332 to process. The same day, MCPS told her their charge would be $2560. Even the Mayor and Council of Rockville have been stonewalled by the County and MCPS in seeking information about the bus depot fiasco. In fact, representatives from both declined to show up at a Mayor and Council meeting where the topic was discussed.

How many County government officials does it take to screw in a lightbulb - or, in this case, comply with an MPIA request? At least 8, with at least four apiece from DGS and MCPS, according to the letters.

The result?

County officials either have to grant a public interest waiver - entirely justified under the circumstances, or someone has to come up with $4892 to find out what secret process led to the Montgomery County Council voting in February to fund design and construction of a school bus depot at Carver. Of course, the Council now claims with a straight face that they did not read the resolution before voting for it (the only other alternative being that they did read it, and are lying to their consituents - neither answer is a good one, folks).

On his campaign website, Hans Riemer says, "Montgomery County’s government is YOUR government. You live here. You pay our taxes. You pay the salaries of each and every public employee, including me. You have a right to know what your government is doing. And I have made protecting that right a central part of my work."

In reality? Not so much. Should you have to pay again, to buy the "right to know what your government is doing?"

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Process that favors developers over citizens, such as in Rockville bus depot schemes, targeted by residents

Residents organized by Save Westbard gathered at the Washington Waldorf School in Bethesda last night to discuss next steps in what is becoming a Montgomery County-wide citizen uprising against a planning process dominated by development interests. With the recent passage of the Westbard sector plan, attempts by the County to place several bus depots in residential neighborhoods in Rockville, controversial developments planned in Lyttonsville and downtown Bethesda/Chevy Chase, and the Planning Board approval of an urban-style low-income apartment complex in rural Damascus, disparate citizen groups are linking together to change the process, and boot out the County Council that voted unanimously to approve the Westbard plan and Carver bus depot.

One indication of the frustration with County elected officials was activist and attorney Robin Ficker collecting a bounty of new signatures for his term-limits initiative. Ficker believes he will come in with more than the 10,000 signatures required for term limits to be placed on the ballot for voter approval or rejection. If approved by voters, Councilmembers Roger Berliner, Marc Elrich, Nancy Floreen and George Leventhal would be forced to step down in 2018, and could not run again for those seats for four years.

Two new websites are being launched in the effort at Westbard and countywide. is planned to be the hub of activism for a county-scale citizen operation to reform the planning process, and reduce the influence of development interests in County planning and politics. Currently, the Council receives more than 80% of its campaign contributions from developers and development attorneys, with the exception of Elrich, who accepts no funds from development interests.

Evidence emerged that the Council has actually been cynically crunching the voter numbers, and had concluded that the number of voters at Westbard alone could not boot them from office. That Machiavellian calculation emboldened them to unanimously pass the Westbard plan despite overwhelming community opposition and anger. The same calculations could be underway for the Westmore Avenue bus depot site, where the County Council and Board of Education are not stepping in to stop it. With large, mobilized citizen groups now linking up, all bets are off for their reelection in 2018.

More specific to Westbard (but potentially duplicable in other areas facing sector plan rewrites), is a second site, Jack Lopez, a resident and professional urban planner, will head up the site. It will not only dive in-depth into the Westbard plans expected to be unveiled next week, but also present alternative concepts going forward.

Lopez says he will try to bring new tech innovations other jurisdictions and the private sector are using in planning to the analysis. Many of the methods currently used by the County to study traffic, for example, are vague, inaccurate, and incomplete.

Longtime County activist Stan Wiggins presented an analysis of the option to incorporate, which a majority of residents voted to explore back in April. It was hoped that an incorporated southwest Bethesda, or Lyttonsville, for example, would give local residents authority over land-use decisions like Rockville and Gaithersburg currently enjoy. Wiggins found that a new municipality's land-use authority would be retained by the County, unless a provision in the law was overridden by the state legislature. Given that many state-level office holders also receive hefty checks from the same developers, that is unlikely to happen.

This is just the beginning, as the large turnout at last night's meeting suggests.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

BOE puts Carver bus depot plans "on hold," Westmore still on; Rockville Mayor and Council discuss options

Rockville's Mayor and Council discussed highly-controversial school bus depot proposals for two residential neighborhoods in Rockville last night, as the Montgomery County Board of Education announced it was putting plans for one of the sites "on hold" (although only the Montgomery County Council has the power to actually prevent the County from abandoning its current Shady Grove depot).

BOE President Michael Durso responded yesterday to a memo from the County Council that asked the board to cease all efforts toward building a Montgomery County Public Schools bus depot at the historic Carver Educational Services Center at MD 355 and Mannakee Street. Durso said he and the board understand the message that a permanent solution is preferable to a stopgap site.

Durso promised in the letter that, "We will put all planning activities on hold until a feasible solution, including a permanent plan for the relocation of the [existing] Shady Grove Transportation Depot, is identified."

While that is encouraging news for the residents near Carver, plans for a second bus depot at 1000 Westmore Avenue appear to be on a fast track. A petition against using the Westmore property, which is directly adjacent to homes in Lincoln Park, is now online. And residents of Aspen Hill remain concerned that the County will again turn to the Blair Ewing Center on Avery Road, out of desperation for a large depot site.

Residents opposed to the Westmore depot turned out at last night's meeting to speak during the Community Forum. The most discussed concerns included traffic, pollution, safety of children walking to a nearby park, more noise on an already-noisy street, and the explosive potential of mixing vehicles carrying large amounts of diesel fuel with an existing Washington Gas natural gas field.

Lincoln Park has made many neighborhood improvements over the last decade, and one resident said the bus depot would "defeat the purpose of what we did." It would create "an unsafe environment for kids," said Angela C. Younger, President of the Legacy at Lincoln Park Citizens Association. The neighborhood has a rich history as one of the most notable African-American communities in Montgomery County, meaning that the County is attempting to drop a bus depot into two African-American historic sites in the City.

"I never thought I would be up here" to speak at a Community Forum, began Lam Hoang, who lives near the proposed Westmore depot. "This would be a very dangerous place, if there were to be an increase in traffic along" Westmore, Hoang predicted. 400 buses idling at the depot and accelerating through the community "will be quite a bit of smog every day for us to breathe," Hoang said.

Hoang's neighbor, Kentaro Yamamoto, shared his concern about emissions, noting that he already has asthma. Yamamoto also expressed trepidation about the depot's effect on home values in the neighborhood, and increasing noise levels. "It is quite noisy on that road" as it is, Yamamoto said.

A new Lincoln Park resident said the depot would be "a nightmare," given the massive buses traveling narrow streets past small homes close to the road. "It's going to be really terrible," she said.

It seems like just as residents are getting organized, the County is attempting to work that much faster to ram the Westmore site through. The Montgomery County Planning Board is now scheduled to take up the Westmore depot site at its June 16 meeting. Importantly, the public will be able to testify at that meeting. 

But there are even more challenges to stopping the Westmore plan - it is coming to the Board under the Mandatory Referral Process, meaning it will be much harder to stop than a private development project. And MoCo Planning Department planner Khalid Afzul told the Mayor and Council that the Board will only be considering the issue of the County acquiring the land, and not the plans for the bus depot itself. City Councilmember Mark Pierzchala said it is imperative that a member of the Mayor & Council testify at that June 16 meeting, where Afzul said the Westmore item is currently scheduled for 8:30 PM (which I have to say is the latest time I've ever heard for a Planning Board agenda item).

On the Carver site issue, a representative of the Woodley Gardens West Civic Association reported that Greg Ossont of the County Department of General Services has demanded a king's ransom of $2332 to answer residents' request for documents related to the bus depot and Shady Grove redevelopment plan that requires new sites to be found. "This is pretty outrageous," he said. As Councilmember Beryl Feinberg is employed as Deputy Director of the County DGS, he asked her to recuse herself from any bus depot-related votes. Feinberg has "an obvious conflict of interest," he argued, as her employer could face financial penalty if new depot sites can't be found.

Feinberg objected to the suggestion, saying she has carefully thread the needle in determining when and when not to recuse herself, consulting with the City Attorney. She said she has "nothing to do with Capital Improvements" in the department, and has had no conversations on the topic with County Executive Ike Leggett. Feinberg said she will not recuse herself from bus depot-related votes.

Manor Lake Civic Association board member Kevin Gormley spoke in opposition to turning Blair Ewing Center into a depot, saying it would conflict with the MCPS planning process for Ewing, add more heavy vehicles in addition to a surge in truck traffic already expected from a new rock crushing operation nearby, and that residents' arguments are fact-based. Manor Lake is across Norbeck Road from Aspen Hill.

Aspen Hill residents, who already were forced to fight Round 1 with the County in the "Smart Growth Initiative" bus depot debacle, also turned out at the Rockville meeting last night. One resident accused the County (in perhaps the understatement of the year) of "putting development before residents."

There is concern in Aspen Hill that pressure from Rockville residents will encourage the County to reopen that old proposal to turn the Blair Ewing Center on Avery Road into the new depot. That move would potentially require the large alternative education program there to be relocated to the smaller English Manor school site in the residential area of Aspen Hill.

But the Aspen Hill speakers were also there to support their Rockville neighbors, noting that all of this sounds very familiar to them.

"We became the victims of bad planning," recalled Jamison Adcock, President of the Aspen Hill Civic Association. He said the County Council's Declaration of No Further Need for the current Shady Grove depot should not be made until an appropriate permanent site can be found for a new depot. What's happening at the moment, Adcock said, is "a spectacular failure of County planning, and it needs to stop."

Rockville's elected officials are trying to stop it, but are getting little information from the County and MCPS, and aren't even sure if they will be given any role in negotiating the solution.

Councilmember Julie Palakovich Carr asked staff if the City could make the public information requests that the County is currently rebuffing citizens on. Acting City Manager Craig Simoneau said it could, but that it is not common practice for Rockville. Pierzchala noted that the Carver Coalition has "done a huge, huge search of County websites and documents" to try to obtain any information it can, in light of stonewalling by the County and MCPS. Neither the County nor MCPS accepted invitations from the City to speak at last night's meeting (two officials from the County Planning Department, which is part of the National Capital Park and Planning Commission, did).

Mayor Bridget Newton warned against having the City pay the costs of the information requests. "The City shouldn't be in the position of funding these requests," she said, despite supporting the effort to obtain the information. Newton said she would like to support the requests in non-monetary ways.

Simoneau noted that the City might still need to pay for its own, more narrow information request. Newton said she would support that expenditure, as long as the information obtained is also shared with residents. Simoneau said that "absolutely" would be the case.

The Mayor and Council then discussed a letter they are planning to send to the Planning Board regarding the Westmore proposal, which would also be carbon copied to County Executive Ike Leggett and the County Council. Newton had drafted the letter, the text of which was supported by the City Council in nearly its entirety.

Feinberg suggested removing the language that asked the County to not consider Westmore, Carver, "and any other property in or adjacent to the City." She said there could well be sites not in residential areas within the City that eventually might be deemed appropriate. Pierzchala said he didn't necessarily object to the change, but worried that it "invites people to come close to Rockville."

Palakovich Carr asked if any further examination of the former Gude landfill site has been undertaken. Simoneau said staff is currently gathering information on it.

Newton brought up another alternative site that has been floated, the fire training site at Route 28 and Shady Grove Road. She said she knows the County has long-term plans to redevelop the land, but that it could function as a short-term solution. Pierzchala said he agreed that site should be considered. Councilmember Virginia Onley said she has been looking for potential sites as she travels across the city. One that caught her attention was a parking lot at MD 355 and Shady Grove Road, she said, suggesting staff look at that site as well.

With the exception of the Westmore issue - and it's very notable that the County Council and BOE are not taking the steps to protect Lincoln Park that they have claimed they're taking on the Carver site - much of the debate will likely be shaped by whatever the County Council decides to do when it discusses the whole Shady Grove depot debacle on June 21.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

East Rockville residents organize against Westmore bus depot

The second front of the battle to stop a Montgomery County Public School bus depot from being located in Rockville is taking shape in the Lincoln Park area of East Rockville. MCPS has proposed a second bus depot for the former WINX radio property at 1000 Westmore Avenue. Citizens have created an online presence to oppose the plan, similar to the Carver Coalition effort against a depot at that site.

Calling themselves the East Side Coalition, they now have a blog and their first post - blasting the idea of using Lincoln Park and East Rockville as a dumping ground for something no one wants. Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton and the City Council unanimously agreed Monday to write a letter opposing the Westmore initiative. Like the Carver plan, the Westmore site is adjacent to homes, and would degrade a historic district.

A Montgomery County Council worksession on the controversy over the plan to abandon the existing Shady Grove bus depot, and allow a developer to turn it into residential property, is now scheduled for June 21.

All nine County Council members voted to approve design and construction of the Carver depot on February 9, but are now backpedaling furiously in the face of strong and organized community opposition. On Monday, County Council President Nancy Floreen astonishingly blamed residents for the Council's own failure to find an alternative site.