A group of residents opposed to the idea of parking 100 Montgomery County school buses in a Rockville parking lot is gaining momentum and the support of at least one Board of Education member.
Phil Kauffman, an at-large member, wrote a memo to his colleagues last week arguing “it is appropriate for us to pause” the process for relocating 100 school buses from an existing facility in Shady Grove to a parking lot at the school system’s Carver Educational Services Center headquarters along Hungerford Drive (Route 355).
The county, which is selling the Shady Grove bus depot land and other nearby county facilities to developers LCOR and NVR, wants those facilities to move by January 2017 to make way for 345 townhomes, 344 apartment units, a park and a new school. The Shady Grove depot has space for 410 buses.
But a group of residents called the Carver School Coalition says parking 100 of the buses at the Carver lot, even on an interim basis, would bring too much traffic to the intersection of Hungerford Drive and Mannakee Street and that the process behind the move hasn’t been transparent enough.
“It’s the proverbial camel’s nose under the tent,” said Kevin Karton, a resident on nearby Smallwood Road who wrote an online petition opposing the interim Carver bus depot that had more than 630 signatures Thursday morning. “Part of their goal is that this is going to turn from a quasi-interim to [a] permanent solution. Once they get the buses there, it doesn’t seem like there’s any real intent to solve the greater problem anymore.”
An interim school bus parking depot is proposed for the parking lot to the right of the image. The Carver Center is on the left side of the image, via Google Maps.
Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) formed an informal work group with staff in 2012 to address bus capacity issues at its five existing depots, including Shady Grove. According to County Council staff, the work group members agreed that multiple locations will be needed for relocating the 410 buses now parked at Shady Grove.
In his memo last week, Kauffman wrote that the county should delay its process for vacating the Shady Grove depot until a permanent solution is identified for the buses. He plans to ask for his colleagues’ support for a letter to County Executive Ike Leggett and the County Council asking them for the delay.
“Even though the short term plan appears to be on track, I believe Board members still have discomfort about the absence of a long-term viable solution for the replacement of the Shady Grove Transportation Depot, which is necessitating the use of the [Carver Center] lot for temporary bus parking,” Kauffman wrote.
The Board of Education approved a $1.7 million budget appropriation to provide for the interim Carver lot earlier this year.
Barry Kemelhor, who lives on Mannakee Street, said putting the buses at the Caver parking lot “is basically a slap in the face” since the school—now home to MCPS administrative offices—is a designated historic site because it was once home to the county’s only modern high school for African-American students.
“They were at first going to put in above-ground fuel tanks, portable toilet facilities and then trailers essentially adjacent to this historic landmark,” Kemelhor said. “I find it ironic that Ike Leggett was all upset about the Confederate statue at the courthouse in Rockville, but he apparently doesn’t feel the same way about defacing an African-American landmark.”
County and MCPS officials have promised the interim bus depot won’t include above-ground fueling stations or outdoor restrooms and that there will be other mitigation such as fencing that go into detailed site planning.
The parking lot, one of a few expansive lots on the Carver site, is now leased by MCPS to next-door neighbor Montgomery College, which uses it for student parking.
Council President Nancy Floreen, in a letter sent earlier this year to one of the residents opposing the bus depot, pointed out the buses will be parked on the lot closest to Hungerford Drive and not “the parking lot at the rear of the building that is closer to the neighborhood.”
Still, those opposed to the project say the school system should provide detailed traffic and environmental studies. Some involved with the Carver School Coalition wrote an informal traffic study of their own that predicted the bus trips and trips by personal vehicles of bus drivers accessing the site would result in frequent delays and “might motivate MCPS to save time by diverting some Carver buses” to neighborhood streets.
County Council member Sidney Katz, who represents the area, has said the county should consider relocating the buses somewhere else. Rockville Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton attended the Carver School Coalition’s first meeting March 22. The group’s last meeting on April 5 attracted more than 50 people.
“It’s just a poor choice and to me, it was done because it’s easy since MCPS owns the land,” Karton said. “So they thought it was a slam dunk without thinking about the effects.”