Long-Range Development Plan Could be Tied Up by School Crowding

Long-Range Development Plan Could be Tied Up by School Crowding

Forest Glen-Montgomery Hills concepts under review as moratorium looms

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A map outlining recommended land use along the Montgomery Hills/Forest Glen sector plan corridor. Click here to view larger image.

Photo via Montgomery County Planning

A new development plan being considered for the Silver Spring area could generate roughly 720 new students over 30 years in an area already constrained by school crowding.

The county Planning Department on Friday released a draft of the Forest Glen/Montgomery Hills sector plan, which aims to maintain the area’s affordability, take advantage of planned infrastructure improvements and leverage community amenities, according to Melissa Williams, lead planner for the project.

The sector plan, a document that outlines land use and zoning policies for defined geographic areas, includes up to 2,186 high-rise housing units, estimated to bring approximately 370 new elementary school students, 148 middle school students and 199 high school students.

Planning Department staff cautioned it is difficult to predict enrollment and school capacity impacts because some properties identified for more housing may not be redeveloped in the 30-year life of the plan, and school system enrollment projections extend six years, covering about one-fifth of the plan.

The area covered by the plan, a 2-mile stretch along Georgia Avenue from Spring Street to Dennis Avenue, includes Albert Einstein High School, Sligo Middle School, Flora M. Singer Elementary School and Woodlin Elementary School.

Einstein is now 133 students over its 1,762-student capacity and projected to be nearly 500 students over capacity by the 2024-2025 school year, which would put the school’s service area into a residential building moratorium unless county leaders develop a plan to ease crowding.

Einstein’s projected utilization for each of the past four years has been high enough to trigger a development moratorium under the adequacy thresholds established by Montgomery County’s Subdivision Staging Policy, but the County Council has approved a placeholder project for the school with each capital budget from fiscal 2016 through 2019, based on guarantees from the school system that it was pursuing a solution to Einstein’s crowding issues.

But because the school system’s proposed capital budget for the next year does not include plans at Einstein “it remains to be seen whether the Council adopts a fifth consecutive placeholder for Einstein” in the next budget, the draft sector plan says.

Because the sector plan is so early in its development process — it will go through several rounds of refinement before consideration by the Planning Board and County Council — Williams said planners anticipate solutions to the area’s crowding issues to be ironed out.

“What we’ve talked about in the plan is there are several remedies that could happen, so hopefully there’s a solution by the time it comes online,” Williams said. “But there is an issue with the schools.”

The sector plan area also overlaps slightly with the “worst-case scenario” for plans to add toll lanes to Interstate 270 and the Beltway.

County planners said potential impact of the roadways’ widening, however, would be minimal. The plan will be updated to reflect final recommendations for the Beltway and I-270, Williams said.

Maryland’s governor proposed the $9 billion plan two years ago as a public-private partnership. It remains in early planning phases, according to state officials.

“Based on the tight boundaries of the plan … we really don’t see much impact of that on what we’re recommending,” she said. “But we’re still staying in contact and trying to keep the lines of communication open with state officials.”

The county Planning Board is scheduled to review the plan for the first time during its Thursday meeting.

Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at caitlynn.peetz@bethesdamagazine.com

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