Residential Building Freeze Covers 12% of County

Residential Building Freeze Covers 12% of County

Planning Board vote places 1-year moratorium in areas with crowded schools

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About 12% of the county will go into a residential building freeze July 1.

Graphic via Montgomery County Planning

Residential construction will be frozen in about 12% of Montgomery County for one year beginning July 1 because neighborhood schools are too crowded, the county Planning Board decided Thursday.

The areas around four clusters of elementary, middle and high schools and 13 individual elementary schools will fall into moratorium after the Planning Board’s 2-1 vote. Two board members were absent Thursday.

Most of the schools in moratorium are in the southeastern, more populous areas of Montgomery County, including portions of Bethesda and Silver Spring.

Some county leaders have voiced frustration about residential building freezes, saying it stifles development of much-needed housing in areas that need it, while others say moratorium is necessary to ensure there is adequate space to accommodate students additional housing would bring.

Planning Board member Norman Dreyfuss voted against certifying the list of areas in moratorium, saying the County Council needs a greater sense of urgency about easing school crowding.

A Planning Department staff member said if the list was not certified, it is likely the Planning Board could not approve any new developments until the issue was resolved.

“My view is, if we throw a monkey wrench into this and force the County Council to work on it, pretty soon the whole map (will be in moratorium),” Dreyfuss said. “I don’t want to participate.”

Representatives from the state’s building trade association could not be immediately reached.

School clusters, groups of elementary and middle schools that feed into nearby high schools, that will spend the next year in moratorium are James Hubert Blake, Montgomery Blair, Albert Einstein and Walter Johnson high schools.

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 to proceed. Rather, a moratorium ensures additional residential projects are not approved.

Elementary schools in moratorium areas and how many students over capacity they are:

• Burning Tree Elementary, Bethesda, 127 students
• Burnt Mills Elementary, Silver Spring, 277 students
• Clopper Mill Elementary, Germantown, 148 students
• Cloverly Elementary, Silver Spring, 143 students
• Farmland Elementary, Rockville, 183 students
• Highland View Elementary, Silver Spring, 114 students
• Lake Seneca Elementary, Germantown, 173 students
• Thurgood Marshall Elementary, Gaithersburg, 179 students
• William T. Page Elementary, Silver Spring, 289 students
• Judith A. Resnik Elementary, Gaithersburg, 154 students
• Sargent Shriver Elementary, Silver Spring, 167 students
• South Lake Elementary, Gaithersburg, 176 students
• Stonegate Elementary, Silver Spring, 161 students

There are 14 other schools that would be placed in moratorium due to severe crowding issues, but there are either placeholder or planned 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 that will pull students from the school and ease crowding.

Additionally, two school clusters, Damascus and Rockville, and nine more schools are within 40 students of triggering a moratorium, putting increased pressure on the school system to plan and approve projects to ease crowding.

Bannockburn Elementary School, in the Walt Whitman High School cluster, was just one student shy of falling into moratorium this year.

This story will be updated

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