Board favors school site outside White Flint
Rocking Horse location would mean redistricting Walter Johnson cluster
The Planning Board voted Monday to recommend a former school site for use as a potential new elementary school in the White Flint Sector plan, even though it is located outside of the plan's boundaries.
The 3-2 decision in favor of the Rocking Horse Administrative Building in Randolph Hills came because of the swing vote of Commissioner Joe Alfendre, who was absent at a previous discussion that ended with a split. Commissioners Jean Cryor and Amy Presley favored the prevailing site and Chairman Royce Hanson and Vice Chairman John Robinson voted for one adjacent to White Flint Park within the sector in North Bethesda.
The Planning Board has recently begun voting on piecemeal preliminary recommendations for the redeveloping Master Plan for the area surrounding the White Flint Metro, which is to be transformed into a more transit-oriented, densely populated, walkable district over the next 30 years. The Planning Board is scheduled to approve the sector plan as whole by June to move it to the County Council for consideration for adoption by July.
Alfendre said following a visit to the Rocking Horse site, which features a former school on roughly 18 acres just outside the sector boundaries, he concluded it was a good fit for the sector because it is spacious and roughly the same distance from the core of the White Flint Sector Plan as the White Flint Park site. The potential to connect the old Randolph Hills neighborhood to the urbanized White Flint was also a motivating factor, even though Randolph Hills is entirely outside the sector plan boundaries.
"I think it's a better model for what we're trying to do with … urbanizing a suburban community," Alfendre said.
The Rocking Horse facility is currently used as offices by MCPS. The recommendation, if followed by the County Council and Montgomery County Public Schools, would require redistricting the Walter Johnson Cluster, one of the downsides cited by Hanson and Robinson in their dissenting votes.
Presley, who was absent at Monday's decision but previously expressed strong support for the Rocking Horse location, and Cryor both said the White Flint Park location was too small and would not best serve both the park and school functions, a position ultimately echoed by Alfendre.
Bruce Crispell, the director of Montgomery County Public Schools Division of Long Range Planning, said the recommendation is only a first step. He said when it is time to find a site for a new school MCPS will go through its own site analysis and does not have to abide by the recommendations of the Planning Board.
"We believe there should be a site in the sector plan itself and I guess we'll have to take it up with the County Council when it goes before them," Crispell said. "[White Flint is] a smart growth community and it's somewhat inconsistent with the plan to bus kids out of their neighborhoods to the site."
Representatives of the Randolph Civic Association, which has lobbied for the Rocking Horse location to be considered for the new school, were buoyed by the board's decision.
"We are thrilled that the Planning Board really took all the logistical and logical arguments that we've been making for the last couple of years, that they took that into consideration, and we definitely think they made the right choice," said Daniel Hoffman, the vice president of the Randolph Civic Association.
He said the association is aware there are "hurdles" at the County Council and MCPS levels, but said the Planning Board recommendation is an important first step for the neighborhood.
"We definitely see our neighborhood as one with a lot of potential and we hope this is just a first step toward major improvements."