Planning Commission approves Senior Housing Complex

The controversial Victory Court, a senior housing complex, achieved a major victory at the August 12 Planning Commission meeting.  The property is bounded by Maryland, Fleet, and Monroe streets on the western edge of downtown in a Mixed Use Transitional (MXT) Zone, which permits such uses as a single family home, live/work unit, child care center, hospital, church, bar, pet grooming, clothing store, restaurant, and a medical office.   “Housing for senior adults” is allowed only as a special exception.  With sixteen conditions, the Planning Commission agreed that this land could be used for senior housing.  Although the applicant crossed an important threshold, they have other hurdles to face, including approval from agencies outside of Rockville.  Last month the project was reviewed by the Historic District Commission (it is adjacent to an Historic District on Fleet Street) and now moves to the Board of Appeals.

The room was packed with supporters on both sides of the issue and when I arrived, the parking lot was full and I was able to snag the last seat in the back (Councilman John Britton arrived just after me and had to stand at the back of the room–sorry John!).  Although the Planning Commission Chair Sarah Medearis seemed concerned that the meeting could become a brawl and warned she might have to use her gavel and call for a recess if it got out of hand, it turned out to be a very civil and thoughtful discussion (for the most part). No one said they were opposed to the proposed use for senior housing, however, some people objected to the size and scale.  Some people wanted to preserve the entire lot as woodlands (indeed, Commissioner Steve Johnson wondered if the City would consider purchasing it), but that didn’t seem to sway anyone on the Commission.   One gentleman with experience in senior housing testified that this was not a good location given that it is surrounded by very busy streets and a long distance from shopping, but he was the lone voice in this regard.

I testified on behalf of the Historic District Commission to advocate for the adjacent historic houses on Maryland and Fleet streets to ensure there remained a viable use to ensure they were preserved.  The Mayor and Council significantly reduced the size of the lots, so with just a couple parking spaces available for each building, these could only be used as residences in this MXT zone unless they found parking elsewhere (I doubt that is possible, even with the county parking garage across the street–the County made no offers during our discussions).

Sometimes the discussions by the Planning Commission seemed to go off topic and seemed unrelated to the decision at hand, and occasionally it was difficult to hear them despite the microphones.  Ultimately, I concurred with the Commission’s decision that “senior housing” is an appropriate use for this location, however, I haven’t come to a conclusion on whether it is the appropriate size (one person called it, “putting 10 pounds of potatoes in a 5 pound bag”) and I’m still not convinced they need so much parking (and Victory Housing seems absolutely unwilling to consider alternatives, such as a shuttle or ZipCars).  This project still has a ways to go, so I’m sure you’ll hear more in the months to come.

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