Monday, January 9, 2012

Is Rock Creek Hills Park "available"?

This Wednesday, the new site selection advisory committee for Bethesda - Chevy Chase middle school #2 will hold its first meeting. Our community is looking forward to participating in an open fact-based site selection process that we are confident will find solutions superior to Rock Creek Hills Park, which fails to meet the overwhelming majority of the official site selection criteria. (On November 17th our County Board of Education rescinded their April 28th decision to take Rock Creek Hills Park from the Parks Department, but the park remains at risk as a "candidate site".)

Rock Creek Hills Park is unique among listed candidate sites in that it is the only site whose availability has been questioned by our Superintendent of Schools.

Thirty years ago, after Kensington Junior High School was closed, about one-third of the former school site was deeded to the Housing Opportunities Commission, which built the Kensington Park Retirement Community on much of the footprint of the old school. The remainder of the former school site was developed into Rock Creek Hills Park by the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC) using federal Land and Water Conservation Funds (LWCF) and/or state Program Open Space funds:

(Public records state that Federal Land and Water Conservation Funds, administered through Maryland's Program Open Space, were used to develop Rock Creek Hills Park.)

In November, Dr. Joshua P. Starr, Superintendent of Montgomery County Public Schools, explained that this "... was inconsistent with the reclamation terms of the transfer agreement under which the M-NCPPC took title to the property. This was the case since use of these funds places restrictions on future public use of parks, in contradiction with the terms of the original transfer agreement." Indeed, the Act authorizing LWCF states that "No property acquired or developed with assistance under this section shall, without the approval of the Secretary [of the Department of the Interior], be converted to other than public outdoor recreation uses." Under the law, parks developed with these funds may not be converted from park use without providing replacement land of equal value in the community. Similar restrictions apply to parks developed with funds from our state's Program Open Space.

We are confident that the new site selection process will find solutions superior to Rock Creek Hills Park, which fails to meet the overwhelming majority of the official site selection criteria  –  including that most essential criterion, availability.

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