Beall's Grant II opponents file appeal
Seven complainants, including former Mayor Larry Giammo, seek to overturn city approval of housing expansion
Opponents of the Beall's Grant II apartment complex have filed an appeal to overturn the Rockville Planning Commission's approval of the use permit for the affordable housing expansion project.
Seven people are listed in the appeal to the city, including former Mayor Larry Giammo and George R. Snowden Sr. of nearby Snowden Funeral Home.
"It's basically a subset of several hundred people who have now expressed concern about the project," Giammo said Monday.
City Manager Scott Ullery acknowledged that city officials received the petition for judicial review.
He said the action the Planning Commission took was in accordance with the record "and the city will respond to specifics when we get them."
City Attorney Paul T. Glasgow said the next step is to notify those who testified at the July Planning Commission hearing of the appeal. Anyone who wishes to participate in the lawsuit has 30 days from that notice to respond to the petition.
The case will be heard in Montgomery County Circuit Court, and Glasgow anticipates the hearing will be held sometime next March or April.
Snowden said he opposes the North Washington Street project that would be built next to his funeral home because he does not agree with the size of the project and the road changes in front of his business, among other things.
"Because I think it's not necessary to put 109 units right here in our face, right here where I am, where I have had a business for 100 years," Snowden said. "They're going to squeeze 100 people, unnecessary parking, trash and crime, and I don't think it's fair."
Other appellants include residents John Anselmo, John L. Spano, Raghuveer Rao, Jack Leiderman and Victoria McMullen, who live near the proposed project site. The appeal was filed on Friday.
The Planning Commission approved the project in July by a vote of 4-1, citing a need for affordable housing in Rockville. Commissioner Kate Ostell was the lone dissenter, arguing that the West End neighborhood already bears the brunt of the city's low-income housing and that the housing should be scattered throughout the city according to the citywide master plan.
The residents opposed to the project say they are most concerned about the overcrowding of Beall Elementary School.
When Anselmo first testified before the Planning Commission, he was concerned about school overcrowding, but has since learned of Giammo's argument that the city's Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance (APFO) may not have been followed.
"That's the crux of our concern now," Anselmo, who lives on Beall Avenue, said Monday.
Giammo recently sent a letter to the City Council asserting that city staff did not make the proper calculations in accordance with the ordinance when determining school capacity in its review of the Beall's Grant II project.
City Manager Scott Ullery said the calculations were made with information from the county school system. Giammo argued that the projections made by school system staff do not comply with the APFO.
Giammo also argued that the city staff did not get the most recent enrollment numbers from the school system by the July Planning Commission meeting.
Montgomery County Public Schools officials last fall projected Beall Elementary School would have just fewer than 600 students enrolled this school year. The actual enrollment came in 20 percent over capacity. The APFO only allows new development if the school capacity is at 110 percent.
The APFO was written and adopted during Giammo's tenure as mayor. The law was intended to prevent new development from negatively impacting the city's infrastructure
"I am hopeful that the City Council and Planning Commission will take a serious look at the city government's failed implementation of the APFO," Giammo said in an e-mail to The Gazette. "It shouldn't be left to citizens to set the city government straight on a matter of this importance."
Leiderman said this could set a precedent for the city that would "render the APFO unenforceable."
"Every future developer could successfully argue that since the city didn't apply the APFO to Beall's Grant II, it can't be applied to their project," Leiderman wrote in an e-mail to The Gazette. "From a city planning standpoint, that's a nightmare scenario."
Other residents who have opposed the project expressed concern over the size and scope of the planned 109-unit expansion project, the amount of traffic the development might generate from new residents and the potential for an increase in crime.
City police have said they have not had specific issues with Beall's Grant over the years and that most crime in the neighborhood came from other areas.
A letter from the West End Citizens Association said residents of the current Beall's Grant apartments have been "good neighbors who create no problems or disruptions."
The City Council wrote a letter of support for the project in the spring when Montgomery Housing Partnership, the project's developer and a non-profit organization that builds and manages affordable housing projects throughout Montgomery County, applied for state funding. The organization was not awarded the funding for Beall's Grant II.
"We're still hoping that the Planning Commission and the City Council will do the right thing, which is that they need to fix this, but the appeal is a backup in case they don't," McMullen said.
"And if we lose," McMullen said, pausing for a second, "we're going to appeal it forever. We're never going to stop."