High School Capacity Issues Could Halt White Flint Redevelopment Projects

A June 19, 2015, Bethesda Magazine article reported that enrollment capacity projections for Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda may trigger a development moratorium and jeopardize two projects in the White Flint area. According to the article, the school is projected to reach 119.8 percent of its capacity within 5 years.  If capacity exceeds 120 percent, an adequate public facilities ordinance (APFO) requires all new residential development in the school’s cluster area to stop.

Properly implemented, APFOs serve as an important warning mechanism when growth in a particular area exceeds the capacity of local infrastructure (schools, public safety, water and sewer, roads, etc.) to handle incoming population.  MACo has supported the ability of a county to enact APFOs that serve to slow or halt growth until the infrastructure needs have been addressed.  Critics of APFOs argue that they sometimes end up serving as a permanent ban on development in a region. MACo does not support APFOs acting as a permanent ban but there is currently no funding mechanism at the State or federal level to address expensive infrastructure upgrades that exceed the ability of a county or municipality to budget for.

From the article:

While no school clusters in this year’s schools test are projected to surpass the moratorium mark in the next five years, county Planning Department staff cautioned that Walter Johnson— located at 6400 Rock Spring Drive—is projected to get close.

Developer Saul Centers’ plan for high-rise apartments along Rockville Pike near the White Flint Metro station could be affected. …

East Village at North Bethesda, a joint development project between Promark and Foulger-Pratt just north of White Flint Mall, could also be impacted.

Planning staff warned that the 614-unit, multi-family development might have to go forward in pieces.

“The Planning Board could approve only that part of East Village for which there is sufficient capacity [in the schools], leaving the remainder of the project in the queue until additional capacity becomes available, but this is not desirable,” Planning Department staff wrote.

The article noted that Montgomery County planning staff are set to review the capacity standards later this summer.