Shady Grove plan shortchanges area, group argues
Apr. 13, 2005
Warren Parish
Staff Writer

Civic alliance vows to press council on public facilities

The proposed build-up around the Shady Grove Metro Station is an attempt at Smart Growth -- on the cheap, says Kay Guinane, Shady Grove Civic Alliance co-president.

"The existing community is being asked to absorb an enormous amount of density," while already suffering from overcrowded schools and "nonexistent public facilities," Guinane told the County Council's Planning, Housing and Economic Development Committee on April 5.

New public facilities, needed if the proposed construction of 5,400 to 6,350 housing units around the Metro station occurs, are being shortchanged by the county, Guinane said.

"What's been driving [the plan] from the beginning," she said in a telephone interview, "it's this idea that the plan has to be revenue neutral and the county is not going to make an investment in the public facilities required by this new housing. I think it's not appropriate and it's not fair."

During the course of 15 meetings, the Planning, Housing and Economic Development (PHED) Committee has struggled to fix the locations of the main elements of the proposed Shady Grove Sector Plan: a new library, an elementary school, a park and a recommended community center.

The latest plan, tentatively agreed to in March, is a series of development options revolving around several publicly owned facilities in the 91-acre County Service Park located on both sides of Crabbs Branch Way south of Shady Grove Road.

The committee has followed Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan's (D) recommendation, trying to make the relocation costs revenue neutral to the county.

That depends on the result of feasibility studies and if developers agree to pay for the move in return for rights to the service park land, a process that will be decided after the sector plan has been approved and turned over to the executive's office.

Councilwoman Nancy M. Floreen (D-At large) of Garrett Park defended the revenue neutral aspects of the sector plan, focusing on one option that would acquire a school site for the county as part of a development package.

"All of this is intended to acquire critical community benefits rather than have to spend it on land acquisition," she said.

"If the (County Service Park) facilities aren't moved, we're not going to get all of the things we'd like to have for this community," she added.

Guinane argues the current plan sacrifices the community center, which was removed from the plan, and park space in exchange for public savings on relocation and, potentially, a school site, which may be paid for by private developers.

The alliance wants the committee to assure a minimum of 10 acres, the amount recommended by the Planning Board, to be reserved for the proposed Jeremiah Park. The latest plan calls for four acres.

The possibility that public services and light industry such as the Ride On bus facilities will be relocated within the planning area is a problem, Guinane said during the PHED Committee meeting.

"I think it's fair to say that what we have before us is not what the community would have put forward," agreed Councilman Philip M. Andrews (D-Dist. 3) of Gaithersburg, who has been sitting in, but is not a voting member, of the committee.

"The community sees an important benefit of this plan -- of removing the (light) industrial uses from within their community," he said. "So I understand why, if those industrial uses just go right next door and stay within the general vicinity, they don't see that as progress."

"They don't see that as compensation for absorbing the huge amount of density next door that they didn't ask for in the first place," Andrews said.

Opportunities to find relocation alternatives will exist over the next two years, as the county executive negotiates a land swap with developers, said PHED Committee Chairman Steven A. Silverman (D-At large) of Silver Spring.

"There will be an opportunity, but we, we the council don't have the ability in this master plan to do anything that's going to be binding on the executive branch," he said. "And I don't know that the council wants to weigh in on suggesting where something ought to go or not go."

Guinane said the civic alliance would continue pushing for more county spending when the sector plan makes it to the full council.

"We'll still be squawking" she said.