ROCKVILLE — The Carver Education Services Center is not the only area in or near the city Montgomery County officials considering for relocating some of the buses from the Shady Grove Bus Depot.
However, the former Gude Landfill along the border between Rockville and Derwood is not one of them, though some city residents say that with substantial environmental clean-up, it could be an acceptable alternative to Carver.
According to Greg Ossont, the deputy director of the County’s Department of General Services, environmental constraints forced County officials to rule out the Gude site in 2008.
It also received pushback from Hollebrooke residents, who warned of environmental dangers that would come with relocating buses to the former landfill closed in 1982 that still contains methane and other toxic gases.
“No, it’s not currently an alternate to Carver by any stretch,” said Ossont. “We don’t have any current plans to revisit the Gude site as an alternative to Carver under this scenario.”
In fact, Ossont said County officials are “not currently looking at alternates to Carver,” which is said to be a 10-year interim fix for the buses until they can all be relocated to the same place.
“Carver is part of an overall solution at this point. It’s not the solution. It’s part of the solution,” he said.
The plan for Carver including moving roughly 100 school buses from the Shady Grove depot, the site of which the County authorized a private residential developer to build out as part of a smart growth initiative.
However, the County Council has yet to approve of a Declaration of No Further Need for the depot, which is supposed to happen by Jan. 1, 2017.
That’s created a problem about where to relocate the school buses.
City residents living near Carver have objected, sometimes loudly, to the Carver plan, with shouts of “No bus depot” echoing outside of the College Gardens Elementary School during a May 18 question-and-answer session hosted by representatives from Montgomery County Public Schools.
According to Ossont, officials from the MCPS system put the Carver site on the table.
He said from his department’s perspective, Carver is a desirable location because the County owns the site, there’s an existing parking lot and it’s in a geographic area in the center of the County.
However, Carver isn’t alone on the table for relocating the 400 buses parked at Shady Grove.
Under a County plan, an untold number of buses would head to 1000 Westmore Avenue, just to the east of Carver at the northern part of the Lincoln Park neighborhood along MD-355.
“I don’t think you have to go through neighborhoods,” said Ossont, referring to routing the buses to and from the Carver and Westmore Avenue sites. “I think that’s completely controllable through an operations plan that MCPS would be able to implement.”
Ossont distinguished between a bus depot and a parking lot for buses.
“The bus depot is a much more intensive use than the parking of vehicles, which is all we’re proposing for the Westmore site,” he said. “The County has been working on this for the better part of a decade… There are very few places that meet that parameter, that you’re not impacting any residents anywhere.”
He added, “To find property and land that’s available, that’s not approximate to something that may or may not be perceived as incompatible, has been extremely challenging in our evaluation of any site.”
County officials are also considering another site off of Crabbs Branch Way, separate from the current Shady Grove site along the same road.
“I’d be happy to talk to anybody with private property that’s available to consider as part of this process,” said Ossont. “They all involve the potential for property acquisition… We’ve vetted many, many sites over the years. Some are public lands. Some are private.”
Meanwhile, Rockville assistant city manager Jenny Kimball described in a May document the details about how the former Gude Landfill, 1000 Westmore Avenue and the Blair E. Ewing Center could function with the buses.
Kimball said at least one local resident has suggested “the possibility of locating a new school bus depot on top of the closed (Gude) landfill located at Southlawn and Incinerator Lane.”
The property, owned by Montgomery County’s Division of Solid Waste Services, in the Department of Environmental Protection, “is just outside the city limits and there are no residences in the immediate vicinity,” said Kimball.
However, she added the ground “still produces significant methane gas and has stormwater-related leachate which is currently collected, and treated. It also has contaminated groundwater underlying it.”
Using that property would require approval by the Maryland Department of the Environment, which means it would need “remediation to stop the groundwater infiltration and to clean up the existing contamination,” said Kimball.
“This remediation would include recapping the facility and thereafter leaving it vacant for at least 5 years to let the remediated facility and its cap settle and for new vegetation to take hold,” she added.
Eric Fulton, vice president of the Carver Coalition which opposes the buses being relocated to the Carver site, said the Gude site is at least worth considering.
“I would have to get out there and look at it and see if it was impacting any homes or anything but our first priority is to make sure buses don’t come to Carver,” he said.
Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton said the former landfill is large enough to handle the buses.
“It’s huge. It could hold all of the buses well away from the Derwood community,” she said.
The mayor said an environmental mitigation of the site “clearly needs to happen” and that she would like to see cost comparisons for what it would take to set up a bus lot there and at other sites.
“But the bigger issue is all of the jurisdictions have to work together,” she said.
City Council member Mark Pierzchala also said he’s had trouble obtaining some records from the County about the bus depot.
That led him and other council members May 23 to consider supporting a Maryland Public Information Act filed by an attorney for the Woodley Gardens West Civic Association, asking the County to turn over “all electronic and paper correspondence” regarding the property.
“There is certain information that we’re just not getting out of the County that would be achieved by this,” said Pierzchala.
He warned against writing a “blank check” for the documents but did hint at supporting a cost-sharing partnership, though the council did not approve of spending any money on the MPIA request.
City attorney Debra Yerg Daniel said the City Council would need to state supporting the MPIA request financially is “in the city’s best interest.”
She also suggested the city government could help private citizens with their efforts to reach the state MPIA ombudsman in order to obtain the documents, an idea backed by Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton.
Newton said while she didn’t think the city “should be in the position of funding such requests, as much as I think they’re the right requests.”
Newton said May 31 she was still waiting for a review from her council colleagues of a letter she drafted, directed to the County Planning Board.
Pierzchala noted there “has been poor long-range planning by the County” and that the Shady Grove transportation depot is overcapacity with buses.
“Not one but probably two transportation depots are needed by the County,” he added.
Pierzchala said he and the council don’t know about any County efforts to potentially acquire private property, either industrial or commercial, in case there is no acceptable and feasible publically-held property for a bus depot.
Working on behalf of the Woodley Gardens West Civic Association, attorney Michele Rosenfeld earlier this month sent a Maryland Public Information Act letter to the County’s assistant chief administrative office, requesting documents about the Shady Grove transportation depot, also known as the Jeremiah Park Montgomery County Service Park.
Ossont responded May 23 with a letter estimating fees for obtaining those records to run $2,332 in order to “search for, prepare and produce public records.” Rosenfeld wrote back May 31, requesting a waiver of the fees.
Pierzchala called the $2,332 fee “excessive” as the City Council discussed whether to protest the fees or front any of the money as the council members agreed they also have an interest in seeing those records.
“I would conclude that the cost, $2,000-plus dollars, is unreasonable,” said Newton.
Montgomery County Public Schools officials identified the Ewing Center site at the corner of Norbeck Road and Avery Road, bordering the city’ limits, Kimball noted in a City document.
School officials deemed it the “most viable for a permanent bus parking solution” and included a $31.3 million request for the County to fund redeveloping the site in the school system’s five-year capital improvement projects plan.
However, the County Council rejected the Board of Education’s request and did not fund it.