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B-CC Middle School / RCH Park

Update on new B-CC middle school planned for the site of Rock Creek Hills Park

By | B-CC Middle School / RCH Park, From the RCHCA Officers, RCHCA Biz | No Comments

Dear neighbors,

Today a crew from the Parks Department removed some swings from the playground in Rock Creek Hills Park, so that they can be re-used elsewhere. The park is slated to close permanently; groundbreaking for the new school is now scheduled for August 20th.

As you may know, county Planning Board staff expressed concern about safety hazards in the site plan, and proposed a solution; we testified in support of their recommendation at the Mandatory Referral hearing in March (see postscript). Unfortunately, these efforts to improve safety have so far not resulted in substantive changes. However, since the conclusion of litigation, in response to Dr. Zuckerman’s letter to the community, a group of RCH parents has met with MCPS officials to address issues of pedestrian safety and traffic planning/circulation; they are working with MCPS to explore options that would improve site and building functionality.

With best regards,
Jim Pekar
President, Rock Creek Hills Citizens’ Association

P.S. http://rchca.org/2015/04/02/march-26-planning-board-meeting-update/

March 26 Planning Board Meeting Update

By | B-CC Middle School / RCH Park, From the RCHCA Officers | No Comments

Dear neighbors,

[March 26] the Montgomery County Planning Board held a hearing to conduct their “Mandatory Referral” (and Forest Conservation Plan) review of plans submitted by Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) for construction of a new middle school on the site of Rock Creek Hills Park. As you may know, those plans include retaining walls 21 feet high (constructed as a pair of 10.5′ walls) topped with safety fencing, as well as the loss of most of the trees on the site.

More than two dozen Rock Creek Hills neighbors attended, about half of whom testified. I testified in support of the Planning Board staff recommendation (of approval with conditions), which you can find at <http://goo.gl/po048P> (Forest Conservation Plan) and <http://goo.gl/ZTzQ8R> (Mandatory Referral).

The key “condition” in the staff recommendation is: “Revise the Preliminary Forest Conservation Plan and variance request to show a realigned parent drop-off loop, pedestrian entrance, and associated site engineering… The realigned parent drop-off loop must minimize grading and retaining walls to maximize forest and tree retention…”

Following Planning Board staff presentations, MCPS staff presentations, citizen testimony, and some discussion, the Planning Board commissioners voted unanimously for conditional approval of the Forest Conservation Plan, consistent with their staff recommendation.

Please find below the text of my testimony (as prepared).

With best regards,
Jim Pekar
RCHCA President

***

[Testimony before the Montgomery County Planning Board, 26 March 2015 (as prepared).]

My name is Dr. James Pekar. I reside at 9723 Kingston Road, Kensington, directly across Saul Road from Rock Creek Hills Park. I serve as President of the Rock Creek Hills Citizens’ Association. I won’t need more than five minutes of your time, to testify in support of your staff recommendation.

As you may know, we’ve worked to preserve Rock Creek Hills Park, because it is our neighborhood’s central green space, and because the site is obviously inappropriate and inadequate to the proposed school, and will yield a middle school that does not provide parity with others in the County.

In 1986, a memo from your staff assessed the Park, stating: “Development outside the flat portions of the site should be restricted… The site slopes steeply on three sides, and drains into a tributary of Rock Creek…” And that year, our County Council resolved that: “Primary consideration [shall be given] to the conservation of the trees and other unique natural features for the continuing enjoyment of the … community.”

The park fails to meet the Board of Education’s official middle school site criteria for location, size, topography, and access. Indeed, the site fails to meet each element of the “access” criterion: Frontage on a primary (70’ right-of-way) road; three access points (for safety, to separate cars, buses, and trucks); community sidewalks.

In light of the foregoing, I wish I could ask you tonight to recognize that, “If it does not fit, you must not permit!” – not because we disagree with your staff’s recommendation, but because the decision to build is wrong. We understand, however, that this hearing assumes that the school will be built on the site of the park, and seeks the best possible outcome. With that understanding, I am compelled to testify in support of your staff recommendation to uphold Maryland’s Forest Conservation Law by moving the car entrance up the hill, preserving a riparian forest stand. This doesn’t just save trees and protect the creek – it reduces retaining walls, reduces stormwater runoff, and improves pedestrian safety. It represents the safest, most balanced approach to the site.

There are many reasons to support the recommendation of your staff (which is consistent with your staff memo from almost three decades ago). Let me mention just one. As noted in your staff’s transportation memorandum of February 27th (of this year), “…the relocated access point would have more than the minimum 200-foot sight distance required on secondary residential streets…” In contrast, the car access point proposed in the submission has intersections just 100 feet and 150 feet away (on either side), well within the 200 foot sight distance requirement, raising serious concerns about safety.

So please, uphold the law, adopt your staff recommendation. Save some trees, protect a creek, and most importantly, protect children. Thank you.

###

Thank you for your support

By | B-CC Middle School / RCH Park, From the RCHCA Officers | No Comments

Dear neighbors,

Three years ago, seeking to uphold the law and protect Rock Creek Hills Park, we started an uphill battle against Montgomery County, the Montgomery County Board of Education, the Maryland-National Capital Area Parks and Planning Commission, and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. One local citizens’ group, Rock Creek Hills, took on multiple county and state government agencies, each with a bottomless legal purse.

Thanks to your support and encouragement, we continued to fight hard against various unfounded arguments thrown our way. It was a complex fight, but we came together with one voice and contributed in various ways. Your counsel, Bil Chen, reduced his hourly rate; our team of three Rock Creek Hills attorneys donated countless hours pro bono; many others contributed what was asked at different stages of the litigation, because of the merits of our case, the belief that we were working for the public good, and to uphold the right of a community to defend its central public green space.

Unfortunately, we were not successful – not because of any weakness in the merits of our case, but because the courts, who could not bring themselves to see how we would be directly impacted by this questionable decision, ruled that we lacked standing.

Currently we have to close out on our legal obligation and I have to ask you for help. Your counsel agreed to cut his final bill in half, leaving an outstanding balance of $10K. Since the first of the year, we have raised over $5700! When we first started on this hard journey, three years ago, we knew that victory was not certain, and now we need to address this obligation.

Please – if you have not yet contributed this year (and thank you very much if you have!) – could you send a check to the RCHCA treasurer, Ms. Maria Marzullo, at 9801 East Bexhill Drive, Kensington, MD 20895? Checks should be payable to RCHCA and marked “litigation fund.” Or you can contribute online at <http://tinyurl.com/ca9kp5m>. A contribution of any amount would be appreciated.

Thank you for your support, and thank you for your consideration of this request. I am proud of our sustained efforts to uphold the law, protect the park, and build quality schools, and I would be deeply grateful for your help at this difficult time.

Sincerely yours,
Jim Pekar
RCHCA President

A letter to the Planning Board, regarding the middle school project

By | B-CC Middle School / RCH Park, From the RCHCA Officers | No Comments

Dear neighbors,

Please find below an email sent today to the Chair of the Montgomery County Planning Board.

With best regards,
Jim

———- Forwarded message ———-
From: Jim Pekar
Date: Wed, Dec 10, 2014 at 7:26 AM
Subject: Concerns over lengthy delay in Mandatory Referral submission for B-CC Middle School #2 on the site of Rock Creek Hills Park.
To: “MCP-Chair@mncppc-mc.org” <MCP-Chair@mncppc-mc.org>

Dear Chairman Anderson,

Our community is concerned by the lengthy delay by Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) in submitting, for the Planning Board’s Mandatory Referral review, plans for a new middle school on the site of Rock Creek Hills Park.

As you may know, the site is severely reduced from its original middle school configuration, thereby constraining the ability to construct an adequate educational facility consistent with safety, environmental, and community concerns. This heightens the importance of your Mandatory Referral review. Yet, MCPS has failed to respond to concerns of our community and your staff, and, as of this writing, has still not submitted revised plans for the Mandatory Referral that had been originally scheduled for July of this year. After your staff requested additional information from MCPS, the hearing was rescheduled for September. After the failure of MCPS to provide the requested information, the September hearing date was cancelled and the hearing has not been rescheduled, although our understanding is that MCPS maintains that groundbreaking remains scheduled for July of 2015.

In September, staff from the Planning Board and MCPS attended a meeting of the Rock Creek Hills Citizens’ Association. While this was not an MCPS community presentation, it did give our community a chance to learn of your staff’s concerns, and to share our concerns. We have communicated periodically with staff, and our understanding is that new plans for Mandatory Referral review have not been submitted by MCPS.

Our specific concerns with the plans (as originally submitted, and as discussed in September) include:

  • The number and size of unsightly retaining walls. The plans call for many hundreds of feet of retaining walls as high as 22 feet (constructed as tightly-spaced pairs of 11 foot high walls). Our understanding, based on the Cabin John MCPS site, is that most of these walls will be topped by chain-link fencing; however such fences are not indicated on the plans. Many of our neighbors have said that it is hard to understand what the walls would look like, and have asked to see a “wall schedule” depicting the proposed walls.
  • Poor circulation of vehicular traffic, due to a tight layout of roadways on the site.
  • Steep slopes of onsite parking lots and roadways, creating a hazard in wet or icy conditions. The lower parking lot will have more than a 30 foot elevation change, and greater than five percent grades.
  • The pathway for walkers enters beside the car entrance, and then crosses the car drop-off loop, requiring students entering on foot to cross vehicular traffic, creating safety hazards.
  • Excessive removal of vegetation, including specimen trees, resulting in little visual screening of the building (and retaining walls).
  • Excessive discharge of stormwater into Silver Creek, which is a tributary of Rock Creek. Plans call for onsite retention of only the first inch of rainfall; all other runoff from the new building and surfaces would be discharged directly into the creek.
  • • We remain concerned that the estimated two-year period of construction will endanger the residents of the neighboring Alzheimer’s care facility (built on the footprint of the former Kensington Junior High).

The small site makes it difficult to meet educational criteria in a way that is sensitive to safety, environmental, and community concerns. We are concerned that the extraordinary delay in submission of plans, and the lack of responses to community and Planning Board concerns, may lead to inadequate time being available for review of plans, once they are submitted. Accordingly, we respectfully request that you contact the Montgomery County Board of Education, to request that these concerns be addressed, prior to submission of plans for Mandatory Referral review.

Sincerely yours,

James J. Pekar, Ph.D.
President, Rock Creek Hills Citizens’ Association

Rock Creek Hills Park Update

By | B-CC Middle School / RCH Park, From the RCHCA Officers | No Comments

Dear neighbors,

I am writing with an update on the proposed use of Rock Creek Hills Park for a new middle school.

In late September, the Court of Appeals of Maryland declined our petition for certiorari, thereby upholding the previous finding of the Court of Special Appeals that we lack standing to bring suit to enforce the law and preserve the park. Specifically, the Court of Special Appeals held that adjacent property owners lack adjacent property owner standing because the County’s option to reclaim the land for educational use was not a land-use related provision. We recently met with legal counsel to review this outcome, and concluded that no further legal action should be taken.

It does look like a new, second, middle school for the Bethesda – Chevy Chase cluster will be built on the site of Rock Creek Hills Park, with groundbreaking scheduled for July 2015, and opening in August 2017. The funds have been approved by the Council, and the construction program is in the Board of Education’s capital budget work plan.

Although our efforts – to direct the new school to a more suitable site; to enforce the law; to defend the park – did not succeed, they should be a source of pride. I am proud of our community’s sustained engagement on behalf of these goals. At this point, we need to focus on the many changes that the new school will bring, and on working together to seek best outcomes.

Thank you for your support and understanding.

Sincerely yours,
James J. Pekar, Ph.D.
President, Rock Creek Hills Citizens’ Association

The Court of Appeals has Declined our Petition for Certiorari

By | B-CC Middle School / RCH Park, From the RCHCA Officers | No Comments

Dear neighbors,

I regret to inform you that the Court of Appeals of Maryland has today declined our petition for certiorari, thereby upholding the previous finding of the Court of Special Appeals that we lack standing to bring suit to enforce the law and preserve Rock Creek Hills Park. Your RCHCA Board of Directors will consult with legal counsel regarding what steps may be available to us at this point. Thank you for your support, and please consider renewing your support for the park’s legal defense fund, at <http://tinyurl.com/ca9kp5m>, especially as we have an outstanding balance with our counsel for work done to date. Thank you again.

With best regards,
Jim Pekar
President, Rock Creek Hills Citizens’ Association

Rock Ceek Hills Park Litigation Update

By | B-CC Middle School / RCH Park, From the RCHCA Officers | No Comments

Dear neighbors,

A brief update on the status of our litigation seeking to uphold the law and preserve Rock Creek Hills Park, the transfer of which for construction appears to be unlawful.

Our petition for certiorari is pending before the Court of Appeals of Maryland.

That is, we are waiting for our State’s highest court to decide whether it will review our case — and finally address its merits.

Thank you for your support of this effort. Ongoing litigation has ongoing costs, and you can contribute to the park’s legal defense fund at <http://tinyurl.com/ca9kp5m>. Thank you again.

With best regards,
Jim Pekar
President, Rock Creek Hills Citizens’ Association

Notice of Next RCHCA General Meeting: Monday 9/22 @ 7:30 pm

By | B-CC Middle School / RCH Park, From the RCHCA Officers, Meetings, RCHCA Biz | No Comments

Dear neighbors,

The Autumn Meeting of the Rock Creek Hills Citizens’ Association will take place at 7:30 PM on Monday, September 22nd, in the multipurpose room of Grace Episcopal Day School, at 9411 Connecticut Avenue. The primary topic of the meeting will be review of the plans submitted by Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS), to the Montgomery County Planning Board, for construction of a middle school on the site of Rock Creek Hills Park.

You can see the site plan at <http://goo.gl/DV26Xi>, the architectural drawings at <http://goo.gl/5Jdz7B>, and the “preliminary forest conservation plan” at <http://goo.gl/ZNLf2U>. The Planning Board has posted the full MCPS submission at <http://goo.gl/Yhhv72>.

As you may recall, the Planning Board’s “Mandatory Referral” hearing, for review of these plans, was originally scheduled for July 17th. In late June, the hearing was rescheduled to September 18th, because MCPS had decided to study revising the site design, in order to respond to concerns from Planning Board staff regarding tree loss and excessive retaining walls; the Planning Board expected new plans to be submitted by MCPS in late July or early August. However, as of this writing, the Planning Board has not received new plans from MCPS, the September 18th hearing has been cancelled, and no new date has been given for the hearing. Under these circumstances, it is reasonable for us to review the plans that have been submitted. We will be assisted in this by Ms. Amy Lindsey, Senior Planner, Montgomery County Planning Board, and we have invited MCPS to send a representative.

The meeting will also include:
• an update on our new online directory;
• a treasurer’s report.

At the last meeting of our Association, the membership asked your Board to report on the subject of accessory apartments for rental purposes in Rock Creek Hills. The Board did so electronically on July 18th (see <http://goo.gl/02DRcF>), and via first-class mail to all Rock Creek Hills households soon after. If members have questions about this matter, there will be an opportunity to discuss them at the meeting.

[I note that it would not be appropriate for us to discuss pending litigation seeking to preserve Rock Creek Hills Park, the transfer of which for construction appears to be unlawful, at a meeting to which we have invited representatives of the Planning Board and the Board of Education.]

If you have any other matters you would like discussed at the meeting, please advise me or any Board member at your earliest convenience.

I hope to see you on the 22nd of September!

With best regards,
Jim Pekar
President, Rock Creek Hills Citizens’ Association

Mandatory Referral hearing rescheduled to September 18th

By | B-CC Middle School / RCH Park, From the RCHCA Officers | No Comments

Dear neighbors,

The Planning Board’s Mandatory Referral review of the MCPS plans for B-CC Middle School #2, which was to have taken place in mid-July, has been rescheduled to Thursday, September 18th.

The reason for the rescheduling is that MCPS has decided to study the possibilities of revising the site design, in order to respond to concerns from Planning Board staff regarding tree loss and excessive retaining walls.

The Planning Board expects new plans to be submitted by MCPS in late July or early August. We will keep you updated.

With best regards,
Jim Pekar
RCHCA President

Your Rock Creek Hills Park Update in Two Parts: Litigation & ‘Mandatory Referral’

By | B-CC Middle School / RCH Park, From the RCHCA Officers | No Comments

Dear neighbors,

Here is an update on Rock Creek Hills Park, in two parts:

• LITIGATION
Our “petition for writ of certiorari” has been submitted to the Maryland Court of Appeals (our State’s highest court). Our understanding is that it is likely to take several months for the Court to decide whether to take our case.

We continue to believe that the merits of our case are strong and that the transfer of the park land is unlawful. If we prevail, then the park would be preserved, and the damage already done would be remediated.

• “MANDATORY REFERRAL”
Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) has submitted building plans to the Montgomery County Planning Board for “Mandatory Referral” review (a general overview of Mandatory Referral is available at <http://goo.gl/WQcBof>). Groundbreaking for construction remains scheduled for July of 2015.

The Planning Board has posted the MCPS submission at <http://goo.gl/Yhhv72>. There’s a lot there – correspondence, reports, plans – and the website does not appear to be available 24/7, so for your convenience we’ve reposted the site plan at <http://goo.gl/DV26Xi>, the architectural drawings at <http://goo.gl/5Jdz7B>, and the “preliminary forest conservation plan” at <http://goo.gl/ZNLf2U>.

The Planning Board will hold a Mandatory Referral review hearing on Thursday, July 17th (time to be announced). Please note that this review is advisory; MCPS can disregard the Planning Board’s advice. Planning Board staff may be willing to meet with us in advance of the hearing, so that our concerns can be reflected in their report; we are working to schedule such a meeting, and will keep you informed.

Please note that this Mandatory Referral process assumes that a school will be built on the site of the park, and tries to minimize impacts and get the best outcome. This is simply not the right venue to argue about the inadequacies of the site or the unlawfulness of the land transfer. Making such arguments to the Planning Board would be counterproductive.

In Closing:
Thank you for your support of litigation seeking to uphold the law and preserve the park. As you may know, three Rock Creek Hills attorneys have devoted countless hours of their time at no charge, which has substantially lowered costs; however, ongoing litigation has ongoing costs. As of this writing, we need to raise $12k for legal fees. Please recall that the site of the park fails to meet almost all of the official middle school site evaluation criteria (see <http://goo.gl/JwbXor>); please look at just what MCPS is proposing (for example consider the profound loss of trees shown at <http://goo.gl/ZNLf2U>); please consider renewing your support. Checks payable to “RCHCA” with a memo noting “litigation fund” may be sent to your RCHCA Treasurer, Ms. Maria Marzullo, at 9801 East Bexhill Drive, Kensington, MD 20895, or contributions may be made online at <http://tinyurl.com/ca9kp5m>. Thank you.

Sincerely yours,
Jim Pekar
RCHCA President