2020 | Development

Planning board removes schools, clusters from building moratorium

List will be reviewed if changes made to growth policy

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Fewer areas of Montgomery County will be in a residential building freeze over the next year.

In its annual vote, the Montgomery County Planning Board on Thursday decided that two school clusters and four individual schools will be in a residential building moratorium because neighborhood schools are too crowded.

Previously, four school clusters and 13 elementary schools were covered by moratoriums.

School clusters — groups of elementary and middle schools that feed into nearby high schools — that will spend the next year in moratorium are Richard Montgomery and Quince Orchard.

Entire school clusters are placed in moratorium when projected enrollment exceeds 120% of its capacity. Individual schools trigger moratorium when a single school’s projected enrollment is more than 120% of its capacity.

A moratorium does not prevent projects that have already received final approval from the Planning Board from proceeding. Rather, a moratorium ensures that additional residential projects are not approved.

Individual schools in moratorium areas are: Argyle Middle School, Highland View Elementary School, Mill Creek Towne Elementary School and Judith A. Resnik Elementary School.

There are three other clusters and five schools that would be placed in moratorium due to severe crowding, but there are either placeholder or planned school addition projects that spare them from the list. Clarksburg Elementary, for example, is at more than 200% of its capacity, but will not be placed in moratorium this year because a new elementary school is opening in the area in 2022. It will pull students from the school and ease crowding.

The Planning Board is reviewing its policy that dictates when school areas are placed in moratorium.

In a proposed revised version of the policy, county planners want to eliminate automatic moratoriums outside specific areas of the county, called “greenfield impact areas.” The areas are characterized as having increased student enrollment “due largely to increased growth in predominantly new single-family housing.”

Some county leaders have voiced frustration about residential building freezes, saying it stifles development of housing in areas that need it.

Others say moratoriums are necessary to ensure there is adequate space for students as additional housing is built.

If the Planning Board makes changes to the policy, the list of schools in moratorium for Fiscal Year 2021 will be reviewed, according to a news release from the county.