ROCKVILLE – The city’s elected members Tuesday asked Montgomery County Council President Nancy Floreen (D) for “a seat at the table” during the June 21 work session to discuss the future of the Shady Grove Bus Depot.
Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton and the four City Council members signed the June 14 letter requesting the County “formally coordinate with the City on the bus depot relocation discussions.”
At stake is where to relocate more than 400 school buses parked at the Shady Grove Bus Depot. The County has to sign off on a Declaration of No Further Need before a residential developer could construct buildings on the site next year.
City Council members and the mayor also asked to be included in an interagency workgroup in order to help County officials “find a solution that is more cost-effective and strategic in location, and will not adversely impact existing neighborhoods.”
“The lack of foresight, planning, and public process for this significant undertaking is disappointing,” they said in the letter, adding County officials have known about it since at least the time of the 2003 draft of the Shady Grove Sector Plan.
“Further, it is surprising that the County’s proposed solution is to relocate a massive bus depot with 400 buses, 700 parking spaces for staff, and maintenance operations, that is projected to be at 182 (percent) over capacity in (Fiscal Year 2017), to one or more residential neighborhoods.
Council members said they do not support relocating buses to:
• the Carver Educational Services Center on the west side of MD-355;
• the Lincoln Park community at 1000 Westmore Avenue on the east side of MD-355; or
• the Blair Ewing Center site near the intersection of Avery Road and Norbeck Road, southeast of the RedGate Golf Course.
“These proposals have pitted neighborhood against neighborhood, which is contrary to one of the most fundamental purposes of local government, which is to bring communities together.”
The letter’s signatories asked the County Council to “rescind its funding approvals for all activity related to the relocation of the Shady Grove Bus Depot, except for studies that evaluate proposed sites and impacts to traffic and the environment.”
They also requested the County Council to reject a Declaration of No Further Need for the Shady Grove site, which would allow a residential developer to start construction on the site once the buses are relocated, which would be slated to happen in 2017.
City Council members also are asking their County counterparts to find a permanent location for the buses instead of moving them on an interim basis.
The City Council endorsed evaluating two alternative locations as potentially acceptable locations.
One is the former Public Service Training Academy at 9710 Great Seneca Highway, less than half a mile west of the city’s border.
The other is the former Gude Landfill site at 600 East Gude Drive, right along the north-central part of the city’s border.
Members cited a Department of General Services study from April 2015, saying “253 buses could be handled there with very few modifications, and with a little planning, all 430 might just fit,” which they said made it a potentially viable interim solution.
The problem is the site, like Shady Grove, is subject to redevelopment, with this one planned for a mixed-use community as part of the Great Seneca Science Corridor Master Plan.
Meanwhile at Gude, there are several environmental concerns that remain, years after County officials initially opted against relocating the buses there.
At the time, they faced opposition from Hollybrooke residents in Derwood.
“Rockville is aware that there is methane gas begin emitted at the site and contaminated groundwater underlying the property. The remediation work that needs to be conducted should not be viewed as an obstacle to using the site as a long term solution, as it must be done anyway,’ they said, later asking for the work to “begin immediately.”
Council members approved of the letter’s draft Monday night during a regularly scheduled meeting at City Hall.
Newton drafted a version of the letter weeks ago but the City Council signed off on the final version June 13, eight days before the County Council is scheduled to host its discussion.
Meanwhile Monday, one of the signatories on the letter defended her involvement in the entire process.
Last month, Carver Coalition chairman Kevin Karton asked during a council meeting for Council member Beryl Feinberg to recuse herself, saying her work as chief operating officer for the County’s Department of General Services conflicted with her role as a City Council member on this particular issue because DGS officials are involved with the site selection for the bus relocation.
Feinberg acknowledged there is not a written policy in place between her and other top DGS officials such as her boss, director David Dise, and her peer, deputy director Greg Ossont.
“No, we have not designed that because one needs to say what is a conflict of interest,” she said, noting that is decided on a case-by-case basis.
She added she had not economically or otherwise benefited from anything involving the depot.
Feinberg said she’s specifically asked other employees within her office to not include her on emails or other communications involving the bus depot relocation, asking to be kept at “arm’s length” from decisions about the depot.
“I was not privy to, I was not on emails. I did not have any advance knowledge,” she said, later adding, “I have nothing to do with it, the timing and everything.”
That includes whether the department responded to a Maryland Public Information Request for documents detailing conversations among County staffers about the bus depot.
“I have nothing to do with the MPIA response,” she said, later adding people should not ask her to recuse herself from the vote and then ask her to help acquire the MPIA documents.
Feinberg cited discussions last year about relocating the Confederate statue, which also fell under the purview of the DGS.
She was the only council member to vote in favor of moving it to the Beall-Dawson House property, something she said she did so it wouldn’t be placed in storage.
However, she lost the vote 4-1 and the statue remains surrounded by a wooden box on the grounds of the historic Red Brick Courthouse.
Yet, Feinberg said no one asked her to recuse herself from that vote.
As for the current debate, Feinberg said she does not have blanket opposition to relocating any of the buses inside the city’s borders but they would have to meet certain criteria.
That includes a certain though undetermined distance from homes, the bus drivers not using neighborhood streets as their primary bus routes, environmental concerns such as noise and fumes, and traffic congestion.
She said the 1000 Westmore Avenue site at present is a non-starter for her but she wants to “wait and hear more information because there has been nothing about the design.
“But at this point, I cannot support it being that proximate to a neighborhood.”
Feinberg did point out though that while industrial sites could be acceptable for the buses, NIMBY concerns will come up anytime that a residential area is scoped out for a site.
“And the issue is in this County, nobody wants buses parked near their neighborhood,” she said.
Newton said she’s comfortable with all five elected members within the city, including Feinberg, to fully participate in the debate without recusal.