Saturday, June 27, 2009

Planning Board Shenanigans

Adam has an upcoming series taking you through some of the arcana surrounding the proposed new growth policy with a great focus on proposed radical changes to transportation tests for new development. However, I didn't want to let the weekend go by without flagging the approach to schools.

And Here's to You Mr. Robinson
Planning Board Commissioner John Robinson's term expired on June 15th but he is still sitting on the board. The Montgomery County Council has yet to fill the appointment. Yet there is no vacancy on the Board:

This time, the council and Planning Board Chairman Royce Hanson quietly came to an agreement to delay picking Robinson's successor until later this summer, allowing Robinson to stay on as the panel attempts to complete some major pieces of work. . . .

The decision to allow Robinson to stay a bit longer was not publicly announced or formally voted on by the council. It has not sparked any dissent from members, council President Phil Andrews (D-Gaithersburg-Rockville) said. . . .

Hanson and Andrews said they thought it was a good idea to keep Robinson on. "Otherwise we lose the benefit of his expertise," Andrews said.
No formal or public approval required, I guess.

Don't Build a School, Just Lower Standards
Needless to say, the desire to keep Robinson on the Board was related to the "major pieces of work"--and the desire to have Commissioner Robinson's vote on them.

The County requires that a moratorium be placed on new development when a school district is overcapacity. Not over 100% of capacity--that doesn't cause developers any problems or even new fees--but at 120% of capacity. And not just overcapacity in one school but in an entire cluster. The B-CC and Clarksburg clusters have to placed in moratorium in less than a month under this standard.

The Solution? Make sure the problem doesn't get worse so that the schools which are an enormous economic asset and the pride of the County don't decline? Work with the County and the School Board to increase capacity?

Nope. Not according to the Planning Board:
Montgomery County planners pushed through the approval yesterday for a 497-unit apartment building in downtown Bethesda before a residential development moratorium takes effect, despite concerns about the building's design and its potential to add students to crowded schools.
Maybe it's just a coincidence, but the project would have failed on a 2-2 vote if Commissioner Robinson had not been there to give the project a 3-2 victory.

Now, one might give the Board the benefit of the doubt and assume that this is an unusually meritorious project. Except that the proposed growth policy changes regarding schools will exacerbate the problem by raising the capacity levels at which developers begin to pay impact fees from 105% to 110% of capacity. So less money to solve the problem.

The growth policy proposal also makes it easier to develop in places like Bethesda and Clarksburg--places already out of attainment. In short, the Board's approach is to eliminate standards for public facilities rather than make sure the infrastructure, even for schools, is available.

Perhaps we should just allow teachers in the schools to lower standards and grade easier. That's the lesson that the Planning Board has been teaching this week.