ROCKVILLE — Nothing mobilizes passion in the City of Rockville like schools.
The Jan. 22 public hearing on a proposed change to the Adequate Public Facilities Standards ignited passions among residents, with 61 residents signed up to speak on the issue. People lined the hallway at Rockville City Hall, with the cozy council chamber overfilled, as many had to watch the hearing on a hallway television.
The change to the APFS, proposed by Council member Mark Pierzchala, would amend the school capacity of Richard Montgomery from 120 to 150 percent. Under Rockville’s Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance, a moratorium on new development is enacted when Richard Montgomery High School reaches 120 percent of its capacity — something that officials from Montgomery County Public Schools anticipate will happen in the coming year.
Given that the moratorium would prevent development in the city and jeopardize plans to build mixed-use residential and commercial properties in Twinbrook, Pierzchala proposed amending the APFO to allow the limit for Richard Montgomery High School’s enrollment to be at 150-percent capacity, so that development in certain key parts of Rockville can continue as planned.
The proposal was met with fierce opposition.
Of the 61 people signed up to testify Tuesday night, the overwhelming majority came to speak against the idea. Many of the people who testified explained that they were parents of children who would attend Richard Montgomery in the coming years, and changing the APFO to allow for 150-percent overcapacity, when the school is already too crowded is a bad idea.
“Actioning this is a terrible gamble and a dereliction of your duties. Adequate Public Facility Standards use the word ‘adequate’ correctly and purposely,” said Ethan Baker, a resident and parent of a child in MCPS. “Do you really think it’s adequate to allow for 150-percent utilization of their schools?”
However, while the city is debating Pierzchala’s proposal, it does not likely have enough support on the Mayor and Council to pass. After Julie Palakovocih Carr left her seat on the council to serve in the Maryland House of Delegates, there are now only four members left. Both Rockville Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton and Council member Beryl Feinberg have already voiced their opposition to the plan, meaning that it is unlikely Pierzchala will get the three votes, a majority, to pass his proposal — at least until a fifth member joins the mayor and council again.
For many parents of elementary- and middle-school aged children in the city, the proposal to purposely overcrowd Richard Montgomery High School is a non-starter.
“We already permit 20-percent overcrowding, and more than that is just crazy talk,” said parent and resident Louis Leibowitz. “The greatest threat to education in our community is overcrowding.”
The development that the city’s APFO could stop is Twinbrook Quarter, a planned mixed-use development along Rockville Pike near the Twinbrook Metro Station that would have condos and brick-and-mortar stores and a Wegman’s supermarket serving as one of the anchors. While many residents are excited about the planned development, they see the prospects of overcrowding Richard Montgomery to do so as an untenable solution.
However, not all residents in the city feel that way. Some testified Tuesday night in support of the plan, stating that the city’s future is tied to development and that changing the APFO would help Rockville’s school in the long run.
“The Twinbrook Corridor project in particular presents a unique opportunity to transform 18 Metro-adjacent acres and preserve affordable housing in the surrounding neighborhood by relieving the development pressure from more single-family homes,” said resident and parent Vincent Russo.
The mayor and council will debate and vote on the proposed changed to the APFS on Jan. 28.