Balancing progress and preservation is the focus at Rockville Summit -- Gazette.Net


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Through all the different topics discussed at the Rockville Summit on Saturday, one imperative stood out: As Rockville grows and changes, it must keep the hometown feel that makes it so attractive to residents and businesses.

The Rockville Summit is a community visioning program designed to help residents and officials shape the goals and plans for the city.

This year’s event, held Nov. 3 at the F. Scott Fitzgerald Theatre, was the successor to a similar summit last year, but this time around residents, as well as expert input and data, took to the stage to share their vision for the city’s future.

The full reports from all six working groups; including city services and budget; education; housing; job growth and residential workforce; preserving Rockville’s character and transportation and traffic are available on Rockville’s website. They include information overviews, recommendations and ideas for the city’s future development. Among the more ambitious ideas were suggestions that city officials look into getting some kind of circulator shuttle or personal rapid transit system for the Rockville Pike area and attracting an independent, four-year research university to Montgomery County.

Keynote speaker Ed McMahon, author and senior fellow at the Urban Land Institute, said as cities change and progress, they must balance density of development with amenities and a sense of place.

The most successful communities take an inventory of their assets and make plans that enhance them, McMahon said. They also pick and choose among developers, cooperate with neighboring jurisdictions, and take their community’s character, as well as ecology and economics, into account when planning.

“The image of a community is fundamentally important to economic well-being,” McMahon said. “What I mean by that, is that every single day in America, people make decisions about where to live, where to invest, where to vacation, where to retire based on what our community looks like.”

After the summit, Rockville Mayor Phyllis Marcuccio said McMahon was right on target.

“He is absolutely right,” she said. “We have to decide what our assets are and try to plan in that direction.”

The summit also included presentations by representatives from six working groups that have been studying topics such as city services, transportation and job growth.

Several presenters echoed McMahon’s emphasis on preserving Rockville’s unique characteristics as the city grows.

“We’re as well known for our parks as we are for the Pike,” said Jerry Callistein, speaking for the preserving Rockville’s character working group.

A few topics in particular came up repeatedly in the working group presentations, including population growth, the city’s adequate public facilities ordinance and Rockville’s ability to be competitive with surrounding municipalities.

Larry Finkleberg, chairman of the housing working group, said the city faces challenges from rapid population growth and a lack of developable land.

“The surrounding areas are in the same boat, and they are planning accordingly,” he said.

Both the housing and education working groups recommended that officials consider matching the school capacity limits in Rockville’s adequate public facilities ordinance to the county’s. Currently, the city halts some types of development when area schools are at 110 percent capacity, while the county sets its limit at 120 percent.

The APFO is supposed to reduce school overcrowding by keeping developers from building houses that draw more families to already-crowded schools, but the working groups questioned how much Rockville can do to fix school capacity problems since the county oversees the public school system.

“[The APFO] has effectively reduced the construction of new residences since 2005, but it certainly hasn’t had much effect on school overcrowding, which gallops along unrestrained,” the education and school capacity working group states in its report.

Doug Sanford, the group’s co-chairman, said the city should “institutionalize advocacy” for Rockville’s schools.

Read the working group reports and more about the Rockville Summit at www.rockvillemd.gov/summit.