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Rockville City Council Supports Transforming Former Karma Academy Site to Park Land

City has until Dec. 31 to submit proposal to Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett.

FILE | Rockville Patch
FILE | Rockville Patch

Rockville City Council supports transforming the former Karma Academy site into park land, should Montgomery County agree to sell the property to the city.

In a 4-1 decision Monday, the council agreed to ask city staff to draft a resolution stating the city’s intention to buy the site from the county for park use. The council would still have to vote on the resolution.

Montgomery County has been trying to figure out what to do with the former Karma Academy, at 175 Watts Branch Parkway, which was destroyed by a fire in February 2013. The site had been vacant since 2010, when it was a treatment facility for boys.

Ever since the fire, the county had been considering other jurisdictions’ ideas for reuse.

The issue came before the Mayor and Council on Nov. 18. The Mayor and Council unanimously agreed the city should try to acquire the property but couldn’t reach a consensus on what the city should do with it.

Residents who live near the site have said they’d like to see it be folded into Woottons Mill Park, which surrounds the site.

The property was appraised at $760,500.

Councilman Tom Moore, the opposing vote, said he would have a hard time justifying the cost when there were other places in the city in greater need of parks and green space.

Rockville Science Center had also expressed some interest in the site, but were still actively looking for other sites, according to city staff. In order to accommodate such a site, the land would have to be rezoned and as many as 100 parking spaces would have to be added, under the city’s code, city staff said Monday.

Much of Monday night’s discussion was about the idea of placing affordable housing at the site.  The city wouldn’t be able to build townhomes or apartments, but a special exception could be made for residences serving the elderly or people with disabilities.

While the council body seemed to agree there was a need for affordable housing in Rockville, there also seemed to be a consensus that the 5-acre space would not be suitable for housing.

"I just can't see this site being an affordable housing site or even a housing site," said Councilwoman Virgina Onley.

Onley said transforming the site to a residential use would be too disruptive.

Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton and Councilwoman Beryl Feinberg said if there were more time, the city could pursue other options, like partnering with a nonprofit or even affordable housing plans. But they said the deadline posed too many challenges for anything other than park use.

“We're racing too fast,” Feinberg said. “The devil is in the details with something like this.”

Councilwoman Julie Palakovich Carr said she was concerned with the environmental impacts of developing the site.

The county extended the deadline to submit bids until Dec. 31, to give the City of Rockville more time.

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