Thursday, January 26, 2012

Is Rock Creek Hills Park "available"?

Last night, the second meeting of the site selection advisory committee for Bethesda – Chevy Chase middle school #2 took place. Presentations by staff from Montgomery County Public Schools and the Maryland - National Capital Park and Planning Commission touched on the question of whether Rock Creek Hills Park is "available":

• MCPS staff testified that the use of federal Land and Water Conservation Funds and/or state Program Open Space funds to develop Rock Creek Hills Park does not result in any encumbrances to conversion of the site to non-park use. They based this conclusion on one letter taken from a stream of communications between citizens and government officials. However, both the recipients and the author of the letter acknowledge that the letter was followed by other communications, that substantive issues still exist and are pending, and that the author of the letter committed to responding to the substantive issues. The core issue is that parks developed with LWCF and/or POS funds are protected by strict conversion restrictions, and arbitrary limits on enforcement of these restrictions have no basis in law.

• M-NCPPC staff explained the process of "mandatory referral," which is the technical term for Planning Board review of a construction proposal. Staff explained that while mandatory referral review is generally only advisory, their review of a site Forest Conservation Plan is binding. This raises questions about the availability of candidate sites with significant forested areas, including Rock Creek Hills Park.

Last year, MCPS conducted a "feasibility study" for construction of a middle school on the site of Rock Creek Hills Park. The 2011 feasibility study proposed a middle school that is too small to meet projected enrollment; to meet bus, faculty, parent and visitor parking; and to provide adequate playing fields. To accommodate 1200 students would require expansion, which will increase costs and limit sports programs even more. The site does not provide parity with other middle schools in the county. We are confident that the new site selection process will yield solutions superior to the site of Rock Creek Hills Park, which fails to meet the overwhelming majority of the official site evaluation criteria.

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