ROCKVILLE — School buses will remain parked at the Shady Grove Bus Depot for at least the remainder of the year as the Montgomery County Council considers permanent alternatives for relocating the buses.
Council members said Tuesday they still need Jeremiah Park, the county-owned property at the Shady Grove site, for parking more than 400 school buses owned and operated by Montgomery County Public Schools.
County Council President Nancy Floreen (D) then instructed staff to prepare a resolution for next week declaring there is still need for the Jeremiah Park site.
“I was very pleased that they feel that way but it does not take the problem off the table,” said City Council member Virginia Onley. “It still doesn’t take the problem away.”
Staffers said the buses would not be relocated away from the property by Jan. 1, 2017.
“Given the current status of both an interim and a permanent solution, Council staff has concluded that MCPS cannot relocate from the Crabbs Branch Depot/Jeremiah Park by January 2017. The County will still need this land in order to continue to provide school bus service,” said senior legislative analysts Linda McMillan and Essie McGuire in a June 17 report.
“There is sort of no new one site that solves the capacity and operational problems,” added McMillan Tuesday.
However, council members also did not offer a solution, whether interim or permanent, for moving the buses.
Council member Sidney Katz (D-3) described the problem as a “mess,” adding that three sites recommended as potential alternatives for parking the buses are not tenable.
Those sites include:
$1· the Carver Educational Services Center, located to the west of MD-355 along Mannakee Street;
$1· the 1000 Westmore Avenue site, located to the east of MD-355, just north of the largely African-American residential community of Lincoln Park; and
$1· the Blair G. Ewing Center at 14501 Avery Road, located north of Norbeck Road near the RedGate Golf Course. That site is located within the city.
“It’s our recommendation to not take any of the properties off the table right now,” said McMillan, adding that council members should consider them in the context of an interim solution.
Along with the three sites in and near Rockville, County officials are also examining temporarily relocating buses to the site of the Public Safety Training Academy at Great Seneca Highway and Darnestown Road, though not as a permanent site.
Potential permanent sites include putting two smaller depots at the Oaks Landfill and Avery Road, each holding 210 to 250 buses, according to staff.
“Only these two sites would be used” under that proposal, said the analysts in their memo to Council.
The County purchased the Westmore site in April for $12 million from Gaithersburg-based Interstate Westmore, LLC.
Located just across the street from the Lincoln Park neighborhood, the site is on County land just beyond the city’s borders.
However, driving to and from the site requires traveling through roads that run through the city.
Anita Summerour, who has lived in the Lincoln Park for more than 60 years, joined other Rockville residents in saying no to a potential site for the buses at 1000 Westmore Avenue.
“I’m very much opposed to it because 14 houses sit right across the street from it on Ashley Avenue,” she said.
Local resident Warren Crutchfield graduated from Carver High School when the school served African-American children during segregation.
He now lives along Martins Lane, about a quarter-mile southwest of Ashley Avenue, and said the County “disrespected” the city’s African-American residents by acquiring the property without input from Lincoln Park residents.
“To me, it’s important for the community, the African-Americans in Montgomery County, to not have that site as a bus depot,” he said. “The thing that’s on the table for me is don’t even consider it. And I think you have to stay at Jeremiah Park.”
Summerour said neighborhood residents are already dealing with trucks owned by the County running from the MCPS Print Shop along North Stonestreet Avenue, which runs nearly parallel to MD-355 on the east side of the railroad tracks.
“We have that heavy equipment coming through our neighborhood,” she said.
In the run-up to the Tuesday meeting, Rockville Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton and the City Council signed a letter asking Montgomery County Council President Nancy Floreen (D) for a “seat at the table” alongside County and MCPS representatives.
Linda Moran, an assistant to the city manager, said Floreen’s Chief of Staff Judy Jablow rejected the council’s request Friday, saying it would be “unprecedented” for a municipality to have representatives seated alongside County staffers at such an event.
“It’s usually just our staff that we have at our table,” said Jablow, noting MCPS representatives are County employees, so they’re included. She said city officials have the option of submitting testimony and speaking during public hearings, which was not the purpose of the Tuesday meeting.
Leaving Rockville out of the discussion Tuesday didn’t sit well with Newton, the mayor of Rockville, or Katz, the former mayor of Gaithersburg.
“What’s unprecedented is to leave out the very stakeholders for Carver which was built to educate (Lincoln Park residents) and Lincoln Park, which was built to house those who are most affected by leaving their representatives out of the discussion,” said Newton on Monday.
While Newton said she “couldn’t be more disappointed that we’re at this point in the discussion,” she added she “couldn’t be more vindicated” from County staffers admitting there is still need for the Jeremiah Park site.
Katz told his fellow council members that representatives from the city should be allowed to join County Council and MCPS representatives so they can talk about relocating the buses together instead of just submitting testimony and written notices.
“They should have been included,” said Katz.
On Tuesday, every Council member except for Tom Hucker (D-5) spoke about the bus depot.
The eight members who spoke all agreed the County should not complete its sale of the property near the Shady Grove Metro station until a permanent solution is in place.
Council member Craig Rice (D-2) said he agreed there is a need for the Shady Grove site but pointed out in Clarksburg, there are townhouses right by a bus depot.
“Leave the buses there until we worked this out and that will take a while,” said Council member George Leventhal (D), later adding he wished he had “not voted for the Shady Grove Sector Plan.”
“It is also obvious to this council member that we’re not going to come up with a permanent plan by the end of the year,” said Council member Roger Berliner (D-1).
Council member Hans Reimer (D-At large) echoed Katz’s sentiments about the process being a “mess” but added, “We play a role in creating this mess.”
“I want to see that there is true transparency in the decision-making process going forward,” he said.
Council member Nancy Navarro (D-4) called on the Council to take its time to solve the problem, saying it is “clear that being under a time-sensitive deadline is not good for the process.”
“It’s taken 10 years. If we take 11 years, that’s okay,” said Floreen.
Council member Marc Elrich (D-At large) questioned why the buses can’t just stay at Shady Grove.
“If this isn’t seriously a net positive for the County, then frankly the Shady Grove location seems to be the best location” among sites owned by the County, he said.