Residents in Gaithersburg’s Deer Park community have grown increasingly concerned that their once quiet neighborhood across the street from Gaithersburg High School has become a crowded and often noisy parking lot for students.
Tulip Drive homeowner Margaret Bielecki said the student parking near her home first became an issue in mid-2011, and has continued to cause a variety of problems ever since.
“It’s continuing to get out of control all the time,” she said.
The parking predicament likely stems from the modernization and restoration project taking place at the school at 314 S. Frederick Ave. While the modernization phase is over, the restoration part has not yet been completed.
The new Gaithersburg High building is finished and opened to students in August 2013, but parking lots and athletic facilities are still under construction as the remnants of the old school are being removed, according to Dana Tofig, spokesman for the school system. The project started in spring of 2011.
Finding street parking for residents in the neighborhood has become tricky, Bielecki said, since the students’ cars steadily line the road. For some who live on the street, it has become difficult to pull in or out of their driveways because students often park too close to the driveway or partially block them, she said.
“The fact that I can’t come home and park in front of my own house is a little ridiculous,” she said. “If you need a vendor to come over and fix something in your home, you’re out of luck.”
Students throw trash, including water bottles and fast-food wrappers, on her lawn, Bielecki said. And noise has been on the rise, too, she said.
“Car noise (doors, engines and stereos) wakes us up since they park between 6:30 a.m. and 7:00 am.,” she wrote in an Oct. 22, 2012, email to Kevin Roman, the director of neighborhood services for the city. “While school ends around 2:30, we’ve seen people parked on the street as late as midnight when there are after-school activities such as football games ...”
Feeling “beyond frustrated,” Bielecki, along with her neighbors, petitioned the city of Gaithersburg in September 2011, requesting resident-only parking on Tulip, Dogwood and Peony drives.
City officials denied the petition, saying they wanted to wait and study if any action was needed.
“Because we are not yet sure of the impact on your community, we do not feel it is appropriate to pursue resident only parking restrictions at this time,” Roman wrote in a Oct. 14, 2011, letter to the Deer Park neighborhood. “Staff will continue to monitor impacted areas to ensure vehicles are parked legally.”
In a Tuesday email to The Gazette, Roman wrote that students are allowed to park on any public city street or in the city parking garage at 112 Olde Towne Ave.
Students who park on Tulip Drive on a daily basis said they do so because there is nowhere else for them to park close to the school.
“This is like the only area that we have available to park,” said senior Yasmine Reed.
Some other nearby neighborhoods and residential streets have permitted parking only, making them off limits to students, she said.
Aaron Taylor, also a senior, said if he and his classmates park in other lots near the school, such as the one at the Episcopal Church of the Ascension at 205 S. Summit Ave., they run the risk of receiving a ticket or having their vehicle towed.
Gaithersburg High School Principal Christine Handy-Collins said she is aware that some residents are not pleased about the extra cars in their neighborhood, but that students have a right to park on city streets.
“Students are parking on city streets, which they are allowed to do,” Handy-Collins said. “We have been in touch with the city of Gaithersburg and the streets are open to the public.”
A makeshift parking lot, comprising 65 spaces at the Bohrer Park Activity Center, has been created for staff members while the construction continues, but there is currently no student parking on the school’s property, Handy-Collins said.
The high school serves 2,079 students, according to the school system’s website. However, it is unclear how many students drive to school in a private vehicle.
In light of the complaints, Handy-Collins said she and her staff have been encouraging students to exhibit good behavior and make smart decisions, such as not blocking driveways, when parking on the residential streets.
“We have made announcements and tried to reiterate to our students to be good citizens,” she said.
With the restoration phase expected to wrap up by August, Handy-Collins said she doesn’t think parking will be an issue after this school year.
“We don’t anticipate that this will be as much of a problem next year,” she said. “Certainly the new school is an asset to the community and we just have to be patient because next year we plan to have on-site parking for our students and staff.”
A student parking permit to park in school lots costs $37.50 per semester in accordance with Montgomery County Public Schools policy.