Montgomery County Planners Recommend Against Stashing School Buses at Rockville Site

Montgomery County Planners Recommend Against Stashing School Buses at Rockville Site

County wants to buy gravel parking lot to park buses now stored at Shady Grove Depot

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In the latest setback to the redevelopment of a county school bus depot, county planners have recommended against using a 10-acre gravel lot in Rockville to park 100 buses.

The planners, who are recommending the county Planning Board disapprove the county’s purchase of the site at 1000 Westmore Ave., say putting buses on the site “could potentially have significant negative impacts regarding traffic, noise, safety, compatibility and environment on the surrounding uses,” especially the nearby Lincoln Park neighborhood.

Westmore Avenue property slated for a county bus depot, via Planning Department

The board’s approval of the purchase isn’t required. A mandatory referral hearing is set for June 16 at Planning Board headquarters in Silver Spring.

The county has long struggled to find replacement sites for the more than 400 county school buses now parked nightly at the Shady Grove Depot on Crabbs Branch Way.

In 2014, the county entered into an agreement to sell that land, along with the adjacent land used by other county agencies, to developers LCOR and NVR as part of its Shady Grove Smart Growth Initiative.

Under zoning established by the 2006 Shady Grove Sector Plan, the developers can build up to 345 townhomes, 344 apartment units and a new park and prepare a new elementary school site on those 45 acres near the Shady Grove Metro station.

But for the deal to move forward, the county must vacate the Shady Grove Depot. So far, no permanent replacement site has been found and not enough interim sites have been identified to accommodate the buses.

The county’s Department of General Services (DGS), the agency tasked with finding sites to park the buses, has faced community opposition to two recent suggestions for interim bus lots—the Westmore Avenue site and a surface parking lot on Route 355 on the school system’s Carver Educational Services Center property.

The Carver lot proposal led hundreds to attend a raucous public meeting in May in which elected officials at the city, county and state levels all proclaimed their opposition. The school system has since abandoned any planning activities for that interim lot, which would’ve accommodated about 100 of the more than 400 buses.

The Westmore lot was supposed to provide room for roughly another 100 buses, according to county spokesperson Patrick Lacefield. But that proposal has since run into official opposition from City of Rockville leaders and now county planning staff.

With the county facing a December deadline to vacate the Shady Grove Depot to allow the redevelopment to move forward, county officials are expected to brief the County Council on the issue June 21.

In June 2015, the council approved a $27 million capital budget item to buy and develop interim bus depot replacement sites. Some of that money would be used to acquire the Westmore Avenue site, according to an April memo from DGS Deputy Director Greg Ossont to the Planning Board.

In county planners’ recommendation for disapproval of the site, they said DGS hadn’t provided a site selection study or analysis and that they “likely cannot support the acquisition of this site, or any other site, until a comprehensive analysis has been conducted and submitted for review.”

Staff also noted the letters, emails and phone calls received from City of Rockville officials and Lincoln Park residents opposed to the bus depot.

“Staff believes that the amount of noise and traffic expected to be produced by a bus depot directly across Ashley Avenue from the Lincoln Park Neighborhood on the Property has the potential to go well beyond the low-intensity light industrial” zoning for the area, planners wrote. “Although, given the limited information provided at this time, it is difficult to effectively analyze the negative impacts of the proposed use on the surrounding neighborhood.”

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