GAITHERSBURG – Mayor Jud Ashman and members of the City Council and Planning Commission held a public work session at City Hall Monday night to consider proposed changes to the city’s Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance, a regulation which restricts commercial and residential development based on school capacity.
“If a particular school in the City of Gaithersburg is at 120 percent capacity, we go into a residential moratorium for any potential residential projects that would feed into that school,” Ashman explained at the start of the meeting.
John Schlichting, director of planning and code administration for the city, and Martin Matsen, planning division chief, outlined proposed revisions to the ordinance. City staff have proposed raising the moratorium to 150 percent, after concluding from a statistical analysis that there is only a two percent likelihood that any school in the city would be at greater than 147 percent capacity. The proposed chances also call for a new Gaithersburg Schools Facilities Payment Fee to be charged to the developer of any residential units within the boundary of a school with enrollment projected to exceed 105 percent.
Council Vice President Ryan Spiegel and Council Member Cathy Drzyzgula asked how funds collected from this fee would be spent.
“What we are proposing is that you [the city council] would have the purse strings, and you would be able to decide where those funds go,” Schlichting said. “Our recommendation is based on MCPS’ Capital Improvements Plan, which would already have projects identified. The ideal would be that a project would be identified that would fit perfectly for those funds, whether it be for that particular school that’s overcrowded or for another school to relieve congestion.”
The proposed revisions state that the fee must be used for the needs of the specific school which has exceeded the enrollment threshold within 15years of its collection. Montgomery County collects similar fees, but these are assessed on the basis of school clusters rather than individual schools.
Council Member Neil Harris said that the city should take steps to ensure that money collected from such fees and given to MCPS will be used for its intended purposes.
“What we don’t want is for them to say, ‘Okay, we’ll take the money and give it back to you in 15 years, we have no intention of building a school, but thank you for the use of your money for 15 years,’” Harris said. “There needs to be some agreement that there’s an interest rate that’s associated with that money if it’s not used. It should be something like the incremental cost of capital with MCPS.”
Council Member Henry Marraffa also stressed the need to ensure that MCPS would make good use of any collected funds. Marraffa, a longtime critic of the APFO who voted against its implementation, said he believed it was impeding that city’s economic development.
“The school board doesn’t build schools unless we keep the pressure on them,” Marraffa said. “We need to open out of this moratorium. We are doing ourselves a disservice the longer we wait, especially around the Lakeforest area and places like that. We’re going to get to a place where nobody can save it, and we don’t ever want to get there.”
The Planning Commision’s record is scheduled to close at 5:00 pm on Monday, August 24. The Commission anticipates making a final recommendation to the mayor and council on Sept. 2.