Overcrowding at Local High School Could Mean Development Moratorium in White Flint

Overcrowding at Local High School Could Mean Development Moratorium in White Flint

Walter Johnson is projected to reach moratorium mark, which could stall residential projects

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Proposed layout for the East Village at North Bethesda project, which could be impacted by overcrowding at Walter Johnson High School

Via Montgomery County Planning Department

Enrollment in a local public high school is dangerously close to putting a development moratorium into effect that could impact two anticipated projects in White Flint.

Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda is projected to reach 119.8 percent of its capacity over the next five years, according to the county school system’s annual schools test, which will be reviewed next week by the Montgomery County Planning Board.

If enrollment at any school level in any of the public school system’s 25 clusters surpasses 120 percent of capacity, all new residential development in that cluster must stop.

While no school clusters in this year’s schools test are projected to surpass the moratorium mark in the next five years, county Planning Department staff cautioned that Walter Johnson— located at 6400 Rock Spring Drive—is projected to get close.

Developer Saul Centers’ plan for high-rise apartments along Rockville Pike near the White Flint Metro station could be affected. Planners said the developer expects to file its preliminary plan for approval soon.

East Village at North Bethesda, a joint development project between Promark and Foulger-Pratt just north of White Flint Mall, could also be impacted.

Planning staff warned that the 614-unit, multi-family development might have to go forward in pieces.

“The Planning Board could approve only that part of East Village for which there is sufficient capacity [in the schools], leaving the remainder of the project in the queue until additional capacity becomes available, but this is not desirable,” Planning Department staff wrote.

Other pending development applications affecting the Walter Johnson cluster include those for 58 low- and mid-rise units at the Wildwood Manor Shopping Center, an addition of 10 high-rise units at White Flint View and six townhouse units to be known as Offutt Estates south of White Flint Mall.

Of the 25 high school clusters in the county, 16 will have at least one school enrollment level (elementary, middle or high school) that surpasses 105 percent of capacity. That’s the same amount as last year.

Clusters that project to have school enrollment levels over 105 percent of capacity mean approved residential developers must pay additional school facility fees.

Anyone who gets a residential project approved in the Walt Whitman High School cluster will have to pay double—the high school and middle school in the cluster are at or projected to surpass 105 percent of capacity.

To avoid a moratorium in four clusters included in this year’s schools test, the County Council this spring agreed to add placeholder classroom addition projects to the county’s capital budget.

The projects include six classrooms at Albert Einstein High School in Kensington, 10 classrooms at Northwood High School in Silver Spring, four classrooms spread around middle schools in the Wheaton High School cluster and 10 classrooms spread around elementary schools in the Gaithersburg High School cluster.

In March, county officials explained the surge in enrollment at county schools is coming mostly from turnover in existing single-family neighborhoods and not from new multi-family building development.

But development and school capacity continues to be a hot button issue. After much debate, the city of Rockville recently decided to loosen its moratorium standards to reflect the county’s 105-percent and 120-percent process.

County planners are set to review the standards—known as the county’s Growth Policy—starting this summer.

School officials have recently said it could be necessary to convert the old Woodward High School on Old Georgetown Road (now home to Tilden Middle School) back into a high school to accommodate the expected growth in White Flint.

Tilden Middle School is set to move back into its old building on Tilden Lane after a revitalization and expansion project on the building is complete, expected by August 2019.

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