March 26 Planning Board Meeting Update

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 <> (Forest Conservation Plan) and <> (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.