Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2008

Developer selected for Bowie Mill

Plans include a mix of housing but do not include much-desired gymnasium

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After years of controversy, a development team has been selected for the county-owned 32-acre property on Bowie Mill Road in Olney, but a gymnasium, which many area residents lobbied to include, is not part of the plan.

The county Department of Housing and Community Affairs last week announced its selection of the team of Montgomery Housing Partnership and Elm Street Development to construct up to 117 mixed-income homes on the site.

Montgomery Housing Partnership (MHP) is a non-profit organization that develops, renovates and manages affordable rental housing and helps revitalize distressed neighborhoods and other housing projects.

MHP⁄Elm Street was one of six developers who responded to the county’s request for companies interested in developing the site.

‘‘We are excited about this new model for using county-owned land to create a mix of affordable and workforce housing in Montgomery County,” said Robert Goldman, president of Montgomery Housing Partnership.

Officials of the Greater Olney Civic Association, which has been involved with the development of the property since 2001, caution that the selection of a developer does not mark the end of the process.

‘‘The selection of a developer for this property is just one step of many that leads to the ultimate development of the property,” President Barbara Falcigno said. ‘‘It’s not over yet. GOCA will continue to be involved to keep an eye on the environmental, traffic, and compatibility issues as this property moves through the approval process.”

Scott Reilly, chief operating officer for the county Department of Housing and Community Affairs and chairman of the selection committee, said the next step is negotiating a development agreement between the developer and the county.

‘‘It will then be up to the developer to get the process under way,” he said. ‘‘They will have to go through rezoning, subdivision, site plan and applying for building permits. All of these steps have an opportunity for public input.”

The 32-acre site is located at 18241 Bowie Mill Road and bounded by Darnell Drive and Ivy Lane.

The Olney Master Plan recommends that the site be developed as affordable housing and designed to be compatible with the surrounding residential neighborhood under the R-200⁄PD-3 (residential⁄planned development) zone.

Under the PD-3 zone, up to 117 single-family detached houses and townhouses may be approved on the site.

The county requires that 30 percent of the homes be sold at Moderately Priced Dwelling Unit (MPDU) prices (approximately $155,000), 30 percent at workforce housing prices (approximately $231,000-$361,100) and 40 percent at market rates.

The MHP⁄Elm Street proposal calls for a mixture of detached houses and townhouses. Plans include extensive landscaping and walking paths, preservation of as many trees as possible, protection of the stream and wetland areas on the site, and a large public green space near the center of the site.

The development is expected to take more than three years to be built.

No gymnasium

The Olney Boys and Girls Club has lobbied extensively for a gymnasium to be included on the property, citing lack of gym space in the community.

The county considered reserving a portion of the site for construction of a gymnasium, but rejected that possibility.

The official Request for Expressions of Interest required that each developer submit two concept plans — one with all housing and the other with housing and a gymnasium.

OBGC Chairman Dan Dionisio said the organization’s goals were to raise the awareness about the need for more gym space in the community and ultimately get a gym built for children.

OBGC and members of the community that signed petitions have sent more than 3,000 letters to the county executive and County Council in support of building a gym in the Olney area.

‘‘Organizations like ours are being forced to require 8-, 9- and 10-year-old children to either not practice their indoor sports during the week or play well past their normal bedtimes on school nights,” he said. ‘‘It’s the only time programs can get access to gym permits and it’s a problem for children and their families.”

As a result of the selection process, the county launched a study to determine the need for additional gymnasium space and alternative locations.

Dionisio said the organization is pleased the county will conduct a formal study to search for another site in Olney that could be used as a gymnasium, but is worried about the timetable.

‘‘Given the length of such an approval process and the county’s budget concerns, we realize a new gym is now probably five to 10 years away,” Dionisio said.

Site history

Several years ago, the Montgomery County Board of Education gave the Bowie Mill site to the county as part of a plan to pay for the construction of Forest Oak Middle School in Gaithersburg.

The decision was made in a closed session of the school board. The land-use records maintained by the county Planning Board continued to list the site as a future school even after the deed was transferred to the county.

Throughout much of the process of updating the Olney Master Plan, which began about seven years ago, residents believed the property was a school-owned site.

Shortly before the public hearing draft of the master plan was released in July 2003, it was learned that the site had been returned to the county, and was recommended to be used for affordable housing.

In May 2004, area groups, including the Olney Coalition and the Greater Olney Civic Association, and numerous individuals convinced then-County Executive Douglas M. Duncan to delay the disposal of the property until the master plan process was completed.

As the master plan was approved in March 2005, the County Council voted to zone the site R-200⁄PD-3. The base zone is R-200, which would allow a maximum of 78 units, including Moderately Priced Dwelling Units.

Whoever develops the property has the option of applying to have it zoned PD-3, which allows for a maximum of 118 units.

Last year, the county issued a Request for Proposal (RFP) for the site, but later withdrew it after members of the community expressed concerns over fairness it its wording and in the process.

There were allegations that the language was unfairly biased towards one or more of the developers, and that language limited the number of respondents.

The site is one of several being transferred by the county in order to meet the demand for a mix of housing needs in the county, specifically MPDUs and workforce housing, designed to be affordable for those who work in the county as police, firefighters, teachers and others who are unable to purchase or rent due to high housing costs.

Community members have raised many concerns over the county’s handling of the property.

Reilly said the county is reviewing the process as it begins to work on other county-owned sites slated for affordable housing.

‘‘We hope to make the process a little cleaner, quicker, and more responsive to community interest,” he said.