Rockville City Council members John Hall Jr. and Tom Moore are backing away from a contentious proposal that would have allowed developers to ask permission to bypass land use rules for projects near Metro stations.
The move comes after residents voiced concern—calling the proposed amendments “aberrations” and threats to their children’s’ education—during public hearing that dragged on for more than three hours Monday.
The proposal would have applied to projects within 2,000 feet of a Metro station and would have required a supermajority council vote.
There was also a proposal that would change the threshold for school capacity.
Under current policy, the city won’t approve developments if they bump school enrollment past 110 percent capacity. One of the proposed changes would increase that capacity to 120 percent—to match Montgomery County’s benchmark, according to city records.
After the meeting, Councilman Mark Pierzchala asked that the council members’ draft be sent to the city’s Planning Commission for review.
“It was clear last night that most people did not appreciate that there may be good reasons for waivers; reasons that may well be in their interests,” Pierzchala said in a memo to his colleagues.
The city’s Adequate Public Facilities Standards (APFS) are a set of rules meant to act as a safety valve so that new development doesn’t overburden schools, roads and other public resources.
“No one wants too see their city paved over with parking lots and Taco Bells,” Moore said after Monday night’s meeting. “The idea of controlling growth and getting the growth you want are good things.”
Hall and Moore have long held opposing views on how to deal with the APFS but they said the policy’s problems were enough to get them to come together to fix it.
“Disharmony, discord, distortion are now accepted —even anticipated—features of our political discourse,” Hall said in a follow up email to Patch. “Yet, in this one case, two steadfast opponents, with sharply-contrasting views, have continued to work hard to rise above the invective to do something more meaningful than to bash each other to death on something that is so contentious and yet so vital to our community.”
The APFS has triggered lawsuits and, in one case, almost cost the city its land use authority. Another reason was out of concern for Town Center II, which they said has not been able to attract projects that match the exuberance of Town Center.
“The only reason we're not seeing that because under the APFS, the only thing you could build is a bank, drug store or senior home,” Hall said after Monday’s meeting.
Moore and Hall said they put the draft out there hoping to get more input for the public. They said they knew there were things they would need to change.
“I thought the public hearing was a terrific success,” Moore said. “It did exactly what we hoped it would do. We wanted to take the temperature of the community.”
Moving forward, they said they plan to pursue the “noncontroversial” amendments, which include excluding of schools, churches and nursing homes from the city’s land use rules.