Diana Conway and Jerry Garson agreed on something.
The staff draft of the annual growth policy needs to be changed. Conway and Garson were two Potomac residents of about 20 from across the county who came to speak at the first public forum on the document that sets standards for ongoing development in the county.
Under four of 11 options presented in the staff draft of the growth policy, Potomac would fail the schools test and be placed into a development moratorium, allowing no new homes to be built.
The controversy around the schools test is primarily the definition of “capacity.” There are three different standards for measuring how many students a school can hold. The staff draft of the growth policy proposes using the least restrictive of these allowing development until schools in that area reach 110 percent of that number.
“School capacity calculations have become a joke,” said Conway. Although she is chair of the Western Montgomery County Citizens Advisory Board, she was speaking as a citizen.
Conway and others present want the AGP to use “Program Capacity,” the capacity definition used by Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS). Program Capacity is the middle of the three capacity definitions. MCPS has yet to take an official position on the AGP, but is expected to do so at its May 27 meeting.
Other individuals and groups agreed. “Continuation of the current formula represents a serious disconnect from reality that must be addressed,” said Kay Guinane of the Greater Shady Grove Civic Alliance.
Some pointed to the preponderance of portable classrooms (trailers) as evidence of school overcrowding. “Many of our schools look like trailer parks,” said Mark Elrich, a councilmember for the City of Takoma Park.
Those who spoke about the schools were generally in favor of the draft recommendation to end the practice of “borrowing.” This practice allows development to continue within a school’s boundaries even if that school is over capacity, as long as an adjacent cluster has capacity. The theory behind this practice is that the school boundary lines could be redrawn to allow all children to fit into one school or another. But this is not how it works in practice.
“Borrowing for these phantom schools has got to end,” Conway said.
It has created situations where building could be possible because a school halfway across the county has capacity, and, theoretically, boundaries could all be shifted. However, the practice does not take into account the reality of boundary shifts, a convoluted and politicized process that can take years to accomplish.
The staff recommendation is to end the practice of borrowing at the elementary and middle school levels, but allow it to continue at the high school level.
Some felt that does not go far enough.
“The borrowing process is an even bigger joke than the current school capacity formula, and should be completely eliminated,” Guinane said.
Although it would likely not have an impact on Potomac, the roads test could have a major impact on development countywide.
Like the schools test, there are several different definitions for roads capacity. The staff draft did not specifically recommend any of the options, pending public comment.
The roads test also allows for a sort of borrowing. Road capacity is averaged over an area, not measured by a specific road.
“If there are enough cul-de-sacs feeding that [main road] it can be brought up to a passing grade,” said James Snee of the Millcreek Town Citizens Association.
“The standards you are using are based on mathematical formulas that bear no resemblance to reality,” said Jerry Garson of Citizens for Better Potomac Roads.
Garson asserts that traffic can be relieved by building more roads, such as the ICC and several new river crossings.
Conway had a different perspective on the transit issue. Running out of time to speak, she summed up her views: “More transit. No bridge. Protect the Master Plan.”