Rockville officials are discussing how to encourage development in areas like Rockville Town Square, while making sure the city doesn’t outgrow its facilities.
To try and prevent population growth from outpacing growth in schools, roads, water and other facilities, both Rockville and Montgomery County have standards that limit development that will bring in more people than the infrastructure can handle. The Adequate Public Facility Ordinances, as they are called, prohibit developers from building more housing, for example, in areas where schools are already crowded.
Rockville’s APFO sets a cap on certain developments when school capacity is projected to reach 110 percent. The county, which manages the public school district, sets its capacity limits at 120 percent.
At Rockville’s Planning Commission meeting Sept. 12, commissioners discussed whether the city should loosen its school capacity limits to match the county’s, or whether changing the limits will have any tangible effect on development or school crowding.
“Some people feel that raising the school limits higher would encourage development; some people think it would hurt things in the city,” Commissioner Jerry Callistein told The Gazette.
Commissioner Kate Ostell questioned whether the city's stricter requirements can alleviate overcrowding, since the county — rather than the city — manages the school district, but that does not mean she likes the county's approach.
"As a person who had kids in a very crowded school — not as crowded as it is today — I disagree with the county's approach," Ostell said.
Commissioner Don Hadley said he thinks there is a general feeling that while the county's approach may be better for budgeting and development, it may not be the best for education. He and Commissioner Jack Leiderman said the city should figure out whether the ordinance really is stalling development before it makes any changes.
"The demand that we're thinking is there may not be there," Leiderman said. "I would disagree with this [assumption] that the development of Town Square can't move forward with the APFO. ... That's a theoretical fear."
Zoning Administrator Deane Mellander told The Gazette that right now, most of the schools in the Richard Montgomery school cluster, located in Rockville, are already at more than 120 percent capacity. If the city raised its limit to 120 percent and capacity dipped below that level, he said, it might be possible to approve more development.
School district officials do not see any prospect of substantial reductions in enrollment in the next five to six years, however, Mellander said. While the district plans to build a new school in the Richard Montgomery cluster, the city probably will not know how it will affect school capacity until 2016.
Lowering the city's standards would make it difficult for Rockville to advocate for educational quality at the county level, Leiderman said.
Hadley said the quality schools in Rockville are a major draw for families to move to the city, which then encourages development.
"If we lose our educational advantage, we also lose our development advantage," he said.
Callistein told The Gazette that school capacity is a complicated issue, and he is trying to keep an open mind about whether the city should raise its school capacity limits.
“We don’t really have a consensus of the commission yet; that’s what we’re working on,” he said. “... I’m still unsure how it’s going to affect things.”
Eventually, the Planning Commission will draft a recommendation for the Mayor and Council to vote on.
The commission is scheduled to discuss school facilities standards again at its next meeting on Sept. 19 at 7 p.m.