ROCKVILLE — Several city, county and state elected officials promised May 11 to oppose installing an interim school bus depot at the Carver Educational Services Center.
Less clear, however, was an exact plan for making that happen or identifying a preferred alternative location.
Montgomery County Council members who last Wednesday voiced their disapproval of moving school buses from the Montgomery County Public Schools Shady Grove Transportation Depot will have the opportunity for action during a June 21 work session.
County Council President Nancy Floreen (D) announced the work session in a May 17 letter to Board of Education President Michael Durso (District 5).
According to Floreen, the property disposition and depot relocation are issues on the agenda for that day.
“Until that time, we respectfully request that MCPS suspend all planning and other preparatory activity related to the proposed Carver site,” she added, later inviting Durso and his School Board colleagues to attend the discussion.
During a question-and-answer session at College Gardens Elementary School, MCPS representatives told a standing-room-only crowd of hundreds gathered in the auditorium about the potential engineering, process and procedures to set up a parking lot for roughly 100 County yellow buses.
The presenters included MCPS Division of Construction director Seth Adams; MCPS transportation director Todd Watkins; Nobis Engineering director of engineering Jason Azar, and MCPS site development coordinator Michael Sanchez.
“We are not the decision makers. We are here to facilitate the decision-making process,” said Adams to boos from the crowd and demands to speak to the actual decision makers.
At various points, the presenters told the audience:
• there is no complete interim solution for all 400 buses currently located at the Shady Grove Bus Depot;
• buses relocated to Carver would all have to test their horns in the morning, likely during the 6 a.m. hour though some would start even earlier;
• no heavy maintenance or fueling would occur at Carver though there would be a truck on site for light maintenance, like jump starting buses; and
• some buses would return after the drivers complete morning routes around 10 a.m. and then head back out again between 1:45-2 p.m. with a return time of 5 p.m. though the MCPS staffers did not offer an exact number;
• on cold mornings, bus checks would start at around 4 a.m.; and
• several different governing bodies have a stake in deciding the fate of the depot.
Dozens of residents from the Carver Coalition carried “No Bus Depot” signs and wore yellow shirts with the same message and chanted “no bus depot” at various points during a pre-meeting rally outside of the school and even inside the auditorium.
Audience members repeatedly shouted at whoever held the microphone, preferring not to wait for the formal Q-and-A to ask questions.
No one from the audience spoke favorably about the proposal, either through shouted questions or comments made at the microphone.
Three members of the County Council, three members of the Board of Education, District 17 state legislators, the mayor of Rockville and two City Council members were among the elected officials in attendance.
County Council members Sidney Katz (D-3), Marc Elrich (D-At large) and George Leventhal (D-At large) all pledged to oppose the proposed Carver depot.
County Executive Ike Leggett did not attend the meeting. Some audience members jeered his name whenever mentioned by Leventhal, who repeatedly criticized the county executive for a lack of foresight in planning where to move the buses.
If they all voted together, the three County Council members would need one more vote to block a supermajority of council members from enacting a bill stating the County has no further use for the Shady Grove Bus Depot.
Among non-elected officials, Carver Coalition vice president Eric Fulton led the opposition group in a series of “No bus depot” chants and served as the first speaker once the Q-and-A session started.
Crowd members cheered and applauded state Del. Kumar Barve (D-17), the second person from the audience to take the microphone, when he said all four 17th district legislators “are opposed to this project,” saying there is no need for a bus depot to arise near “a failing intersection that fails even more.”
Barve asked whether the Board of Education is “the ultimate decision-maker.”
Adams offered a multi-layered response, which cued boos from the crowd.
He explained repeatedly throughout the night that city commissions, including the Planning Commission, as well as staffers will have the first chance to make a decision about the plan.
However, at question was whether the mandatory referral guaranteed to the County Council would trump any decision made by the city government. Meanwhile, he noted the Board of Education also has a key say since they govern school policy.
“It does stop if they say no,” said Adams.
City Council member Mark Pierzchala said any decision by the city’s Planning Commission “could be over-ridden” by the County Council under a mandatory referral process.
Pierzchala was joined at the meeting by Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton, council member Virginia Onley and City Manager Craig Simoneau, though the latter two did not take the microphone.
“I am opposed to buses being parked at Carver,” said Katz after Pierzchala spoke before he also pointed to Elrich and Leventhal.
“You have three people here who are opposed.”
Katz told the audience the County Council members are “working very, very diligently to work this mess out.”
He recommended canning the project entirely “and then working backwards to figure out what happened.”
The former Gaithersburg mayor also rejected the idea of an interim solution being used to relocate buses.
“People use the term interim. People use the term temporary. These are false terms,” he said, noting 10 years could stretch out for longer.
Leventhal called the Carver relocation plan “magical thinking.”
“I don’t see any rush right now to dispense of the spot where the bus depot currently is,” he said. “Until we have a permanent solution for the bus depot, I don’t think we should move the bus depot” from its current location.
If the Carver project is defeated or pulled at the city or county level, the County government will still need to deal with a contract with the developer planning to build “smart growth” housing units at the Shady Grove site, which presently hosts the buses.
Although the council members insisted the property has not actually been sold yet for technical reasons, the County Council will have to reject a motion of no further need in order to keep the bus depot at its same location beyond Jan. 1.
Questions arose at the meeting about whether the developer could successfully sue the county for breach of contract, though Katz was skeptical such a lawsuit could actually be successful given the council’s ability to make its own property decisions.
Newton, the mayor of Rockville, implored those in attendance to oppose establishing a temporary bus depot anywhere in Rockville, not just the Carver site.
She highlighted a potential Plan B site near the Lincoln Park area of Rockville, which is located east of MD-355 within a one minute drive from Carver Educational Services center.
“I want to ask all of us to stop allowing Rockville neighborhoods to be pitted against each other,” said Newton to applause.
Martins Lane resident Warren Crutchfield won perhaps the biggest applause of the night.
The 79-year-old, 1954 graduate of George Washington Carver High School when it was a school designated for African Americans during segregation recalled the struggle young black citizens faced to receive an education in the County.
Crutchfield described himself as the fifth generation descendant of a slave family. He said his ancestors fought for education.
He noted how the Board of Education “did not build an elementary school for us, did not build a middle school for us” during his childhood.
The senior African American man said students from all over the County, including Burtonsville, Potomac and Silver Spring, came to Rockville “to get an education.
“And now we want to put a bus depot in front of that historical building?” he said. “No way.”