ROCKVILLE – As the county considers how to make room for smart growth in Shady Grove, the selected developer has not found a solution for a key part of the development: the current Montgomery County Public Schools bus depot on the site.
The county put out a request for development proposals (RFDP) in July 2014 for CSP Jeremiah Park, a 45-acre site of the Montgomery County Service Park in Shady Grove. The area is approved for 345 townhouses and 344 multi-family units and includes space for Jeremiah Park as well as a 4-acre elementary school. As part of their response, developers had to propose a solution for relocation of the bus depot.
“The county has explored various options to relocate the buses from CSP Jeremiah Park, including moving the buses and the maintenance facility to the Gude Landfill, distributing buses to the other school depots and parking buses at various high schools. However, the options evaluated by the county have challenges and provide, at best, limited solutions,” the proposal reads. “The land for off-site replacement parking and the maintenance facility must be identified prior to redevelopment of the site.”
But none of the proposals submitted had satisfactory solutions, said Department of General Services Deputy Director Greg Ossont.
“When we put out the solicitation we were asking for private sector (ideas) that might help us alleviate the bus parking issue,” Ossont said. “None of them met the expectations of the county and so we did not pursue any of the solutions.”
In fall 2014, the department chose a partnership between LCOR and NVR Homes to develop the site even though they did not have a viable solution to the bus depot problem. Ossont said the request for development proposals served as a real estate proposal, not part of a formal procurement process.
“Ultimately though, the finding an alternative site was not an obligation or requirement. We included certain elements and criteria that if you propose a bus parking solution that these are items to be fulfilled,” Ossont said. “We were asking for suggestions.”
But County Councilmember Marc Elrich (D-At large) said the language in the RFDP stated it as a clear requirement multiple times.
“They were supposed to find a location and that does not mean submitting something and when they discover it doesn’t work for whatever reason, saying ‘I did my job,’” Elrich said.
The “required information” section of the RFDP tells developers to include a description of their actions over the next 5-10 years, including “a proposed solution for relocating the MCPS Bus Depot function, noting whether or not land for relocating the buses and the maintenance facility is under your firm’s control.”
The county wants to have the Jeremiah Park property cleared out by 2017. The county has not yet officially approved a “Declaration of No Further Need” on the site and has a committee work session about the declaration scheduled for March 30.
In the meantime, the county is working to develop a temporary solution for relocating the buses, splitting them into some high school parking lots, the existing EMTOC repair center and near the Carver Educational Services building where the Board of Education meets.
Elrich said he is inclined to vote against the declaration of further need unless the county and developer find a solution for the buses. He said he currently supports a temporary solution.
“To try to come up with a permanent solution now under the time frame they have left will only result in a bad choice and I think that we’re better off taking a temporary solution and taking a deep breath and figuring out what it is we really need to do,” Elrich said. “We need to look at the bigger picture for the school system because this is not the be-all and end-all of their problems.”
One permanent solution for the bus depot relocation MCPS proposed is to use the current site of the Blair G. Ewing Center, which houses alternative education programs, and move those programs to the old English Manor Elementary School. But the county has now told MCPS to conduct two feasibility studies to find the best place for the programs before moving forward.
Residents who live near the current Ewing Center on Avery Road have objected to the traffic and environmental impacts of having a bus depot in their neighborhood. The Ewing Center site is about 22.5 acres including at least 6 acres protected by a conservation easement.