For some voters, the Adequate Public Facilities Standards (APFS) serve as a litmus test for candidates for the upcoming Mayor and Council election on November 3. This past year the Rockville City Council debated revisions to the APFS, including a change in school capacity from 110% to 120% to match the county’s standards. Development must meet these Standards, unless they receive a waiver from the City, and went into effect on June 1, 2015 (among other changes to the APFS) with the support of Councilmembers Moore, Onley, and Palakovich Carr and over the objections of Mayor Newton and Councilmember Feinberg. At the Rockville Chamber of Commerce Forum on October 7, several candidates stated their opinions on these new Standards, with Richard Gottfried and Patrick Schoof stating they would overturn them if elected; Brigitta Mullican stating that we need to get out of this discussion because the City has no control over schools; and Mark Pierzchala noting that the APFO failed to prevent school overcrowding and that the city needs a new approach focused at the county level. Beryl Feinberg confirmed her opposition to the APFS changes and went into detail by stating:
As many of you are aware, I voted against the APFO and the weakening of those standards. I believe we have to have an adequate infrastructure. That infrastructure is not only for schools but it is also for transportation, public safety, fire, and water and sewer services. I voted against it because in my view we can have development but it was the developers who were really for the adequate public facilities changing. What we have seen since the change has been an influx of almost one thousand different units from different developers coming through the pipeline without really concerning adequate infrastructure, notably in transportation. One area has been along Wooton Parkway where 102 are proposed for the Rockshire community* as well as an EYA proposal off Preserve Parkway with about 350 units.** Both of those will be on Wooton Parkway.
Her claim of “an influx of almost one thousand different units” since June 1, 2015 caught my ears. By coincidence, the city staff completed a study for the Planning Commission on October 7 (same day as the forum) that summarized residential development activity since the modifications to the APFS on June 1, 2015. It turns out that Feinberg’s claims are either untrue or grossly exaggerated. It’s easy to substantiate this conclusion not only from the staff report but with the data provided on the City of Rockville’s web site. At any time, you can look up current and past development projects and see what’s happening.
Currently, there are thirteen projects with applications before the City, of which five are residential developments and the rest are churches, a school, a landscape plan, side yard encroachments, and retail stores (one of which eliminates residential units previously approved). If you examine only those projects that have a residential component (which has the greatest impact on school overcrowding) that were submitted after June 1, 2015 (when the revised APFS took effect), they are:
- Dewberry/Syms (12720 Twinbrook Parkway) with 240 units requested in June 2015
- Chestnut Lodge (500 West Montgomery) with 7 units requested in June 2015
- Silverwood-Carmax (15931 Frederick Road) with 425 units requested in August 2015
- EYA/Tower Oaks (Preserve Parkway) with 375 units requested in August 2015
That totals 1,047 residential units that are currently awaiting approval from the Planning Commission, however, all of them started with a pre-application process that began months, even years, before June 1 with the same number of residential units and thus do not seem to affected by the revisions to the APFS. The only change that might have been prompted by the revised APFS is the EYA/Tower Oaks project, which increased from 365 to 375 units after June 1—a difference of 10. To cast a wider net, there are 393 units in the pre-application process but it’s unclear what the results will be after review by staff and the community, plus most of those units are exclusively for seniors and will have no impact on schools, thus shouldn’t be considered in this analysis. I also discovered that the JBG/Choke Cherry project on 5 Choke Cherry Road was previously approved for 293 residential units but its current application proposes eliminating all of them in favor of retail and that the Dewberry/Syms project at 1900 Chapman Avenue dropped from 339 units to 70. So while we can say that more than 1,000 residential units are currently being considered by the City, what we can’t say is that they’re a result of the changes to the APFS because all of those projects began with the same number of units before June 1. Nor can we say that development is happening without considering their impact on “roads and public transportation facilities, sewerage and water service, schools, and fire and emergency services protection”—that’s required for all development projects (I’m not sure why Ms. Feinberg would even claim that this is being overlooked; see 25.20.02 of the City Code).
Here’s a chart to explain current residential applications graphically (yellow is a current application, pink is pre-application, and green is approved, and red vertical line represents June 1, 2015 when APFS changed).
For a future analysis, it would be interesting to examine how the projects would have differed under the old and new APFS (would the number of residences been the same, higher, or lower?) or how this level of development in 2015 compares to previous years (did the dam burst or is the typical flow?).
*I have unable to identify the project that Feinberg mentioned as “one area that has been along Wooton Parkway where 102 are proposed for the Rockshire community.” There are no projects in pre-application stage or in the application process with this address or number of units. Even if it were included in this analysis, it will not raise total to the level of “almost one thousand units” claimed by Feinberg.
**The EYA project is for 375 units.