Tuesday, June 28, 2016

nobody wants these school buses in their backyard, but moving them is worth it

Montgomery County wants to move a school bus lot away from the Shady Grove Metro station to make room for new houses there, but residents of other neighborhoods don't want the buses in their backyards. But the move is worth it if it means more people can live walking distance to the train.

MCPS Shady Grove Bus Lot from Westside Roofdeck
The Shady Grove bus depot across from new townhouses being built. All photos by the author.

This week, the Montgomery County Council could vote not to sell off a school bus depot on Crabbs Branch Way in Rockville, next to the Shady Grove station. Montgomery County Public Schools has outgrown the lot, and the county wants to move it to make room for a new neighborhood around the Metro station that would have 700 new homes, parks, a school, and a library.

The move is part of a decade-long effort that County Executive Ike Leggett calls the Smart Growth Initiative. Until recently, the Shady Grove Metro station was surrounded by government warehouses and depots storing everything from Ride On buses to school cafeteria food. The county's been able to move nearly all of the facilities, many of them to a new site in Montgomery Village. In their place, construction has already begun on an adjacent, 1500-home neighborhood, called Westside at Shady Grove.

The school bus depot needs to stay near Rockville, since its 400 buses serve schools in that area. But neighbors fought attempts to move the buses to a nearby school, an empty parking lot at the school system headquarters, and a gravel lot in a historically-black, working-class neighborhood. At each location, neighbors have raised concerns about traffic, pollution, or reduced property values.

Naturally, councilmembers are nervous about proposing to move the buses anywhere else. Councilmember Marc Elrich has suggested that the best option may be to keep the buses where they are.

But even if the depot stays, the county still has to find more space to store buses. And in an urbanizing county, those buses are likely to go in somebody's backyard.

Councilmember Craig Rice notes that there are already school bus depots next to houses in Glenmont and Clarksburg, and those residents haven't had any problems with them.

Jamison Adcock, one of the bus lot opponents, told me on Twitter that existing communities' needs should come first. But what about people who want to live here but can't afford to because there aren't enough homes to meet the demand, driving up house prices? Or what about people who either can't or don't drive and would like to live near a Metro station? The county is responsible for their needs too.

Moving the bus depot has serious benefits for the county and the people who could live on that land. There are only thirteen Metro stations in or next to Montgomery County, and they represent some of the most valuable land around. We know that lots of people want to live near a Metro station, and that people who already do are way more likely to use transit and have lower transportation costs.

It's increasingly expensive to live near Metro because the demand outstrips the supply of homes near Metro stations. So if the county's going to build new homes, we should prioritize putting them there.

EYA Westside at Shady Grove Model Homes
This is a better use of land next to a Metro station than a bus lot.

Meanwhile, there are roads all over the county, and the trucks that carry things to and from the county's warehouses can go pretty much anywhere there's a road. That's why ten years ago, county leaders decided that it made more sense to put homes near the Metro, and warehouses and bus depots somewhere else.

That won't make everybody happy, but it's the right thing to do.


Robert said...

The County isn't going to build the new houses; profit-making developers will. So instead of forcing homeowners somewhere else in the county to bear the costs -- the noise, pollution, etc. -- from a school bus lot so the developers can maximize their profits, how about requiring the developers to build a new multi-story bus garage as part of their housing development? The houses would still be built. Potential buyers could decide if they want to live next to the garage or not -- a choice which would be denied to current residents or other areas if the bus lot is moved near them. The county might not get as much when it sells the land the bus lot is on and the developers might not make as much money, but at least the county and the developers wouldn't be passing on the negative aspects and costs of the redevelopment to others.

Just like polluters should bear the costs of their pollution, developers (and that includes the County in this case) should bear the full costs of their development.

JamisonAdcock said...

The bus depot at Shady Grove can certainly be relocated, *after* a satisfactory replacement site or sites have been secured. That hasn't happened in ten years, but please don't beat up on the residents who do not want the noise (sometimes starting as early as 4am!), pollution, traffic, environmental damage, or loss of green space. The fact that people are willing to fight to protect their communities from bad planning is probably one of the things that makes Montgomery County such a desirable place to live.

None of the three sites mentined above (Avery Road, Carver Ed, and Westmore Ave.) are acceptable for buses for a variety of reasons. The implication that targeted neighborhoods should just suck it up so a developer can build expensive townhouses makes no sense to me... and I cannot see how $700,000 townhouses will help the affordable housing crisis, in any case.

With regards to the site on Avery Road, it is home to an active school (the Blair G. Ewing Center), a recreational park (the Mark Twain Athletic Fields), and a forest conservation easement that covers more than a third of the property. It simply does not make sense to demolish those at a time of school overcrowding, tight budgets, property tax increases, and rampant urbanization throughout the County.

Lastly, Rock Creek Park is a treasure, and putting a bus depot on top of steep hills that drain straight into the creek (a mere 400' away) would have a disasterous effect on both the park and the creek. That is why a number of communities - both within and outside of Rockville - are opposed to putting buses on Avery Road.

Anonymous said...

"Meanwhile, there are roads all over the county, and the trucks that carry things to and from the county's warehouses can go pretty much anywhere there's a road. That's why ten years ago, county leaders decided that it made more sense to put homes near the Metro, and warehouses and bus depots somewhere else.

That won't make everybody happy, but it's the right thing to do."

There are indeed "roads all over the county." Avery Road is a 2-lane winding road with lots of hills, and adjacent to already-congested MD Route 28; nothing like adding a couple hundred more buses to that traffic flow in addition to the other issues with the site (inadequate road, parkland, active school site) - the opposite of what hundreds of buses would need. The roads to and from the Westmore site are also crowded 2-lane roads, and one - N Stonestreet - is already something of an obstacle course with a lot of industrial traffic already (and can we talk about the MCPS "warehouse" on that street? Yeesh!). The Carver site is adjacent to homes, already needed and used by Montgomery College for satellite parking, and opens onto Mannakee & MD 355 - also already crowded roads. You are talking about imposing buses on neighborhoods that would not have a choice in the matter, rather than leaving the depot where it is and allowing the NEW homeowners to decide whether they can live across the street from a bus depot (if, as Rice says, it's no big deal, let it not be a big deal for the new folks), not to mention adjacent to a busy rail line across from which is the Waste Transfer Station (have you SMELLED the area on a muggy summer day? LOL The bus depot may be the least of their objections!).

The bus depot was located where it is because there wasn't housing there; any future housing communities WILL need to have additional bus storage in mind along with new schools - and perhaps new schools could come with their own bus parking for their clusters. It was unspeakably short-sighted of the County Council to not truly consider the ramifications of their bad planning here - and I see no reason that Rockville neighborhood residents should have to pay for that.

Dan Reed said...

As I said, housing prices keep going up because there isn't enough supply to meet demand—and while $700,000 townhouses may not be affordable, they expand the supply, which helps stem rising costs. Besides, of the 2200 homes planned to go at Shady Grove (and 700 on the bus lot site), about 15% would be set aside for low-income or workforce housing, or about 300 homes (a third of which is on the bus lot). So not moving the bus lot actually does have an impact on housing affordability.

This isn't one-sided. I don't see why people should have to suck it up and deal with rising house prices and a housing shortage because someone doesn't want school buses in their neighborhood.

Anonymous said...

There is other housing going up on the west side of the Metro as well. Heck, the entire King Farm community didn't even exist 15 years ago, and there are new apartments built and being built. But it's not the job of established neighborhoods (and East Rockville is also a Metro-walkable neighborhood - just saying) to pick up the detritus of the County Council's inability to plan carefully.

Comparing Clarksburg, where the bus depot was integrated into a new community as it was being planned and built with that capacity in mind (at least this is my understanding), to East Rockville, where roads and homes are much smaller and have no room to expand, is not remotely valid; it compares better to the situation at Shady Grove, where the development is new, not established.

If anyone should be making the choice about whether they want to live near the bus depot, I say let the 2200 new families living downwind of the Waste Transfer Station decide if it's worth it without moving the current depot. There's been talk for years about extending Metro up toward Frederick, and about improving access to public transportation overall; I'd rather see that than using a highly-overpriced (at over $1 million/acre) tiny lot inaccessible lot at the end of a tiny road (which would have to be widened significantly, displacing both established residents and businesses, in our Metro-accessible neighborhood of East Rockville). We're all dealing with rising house prices and shortages - even those of us in East Rockville. Refusing to be the County's dumping ground, to pay the price for bad planning, is hardly elitist; assuming that we won't mind a hundred buses on N. Stonestreet 12 hours a day (AM magnet bus runs, mid-day Head Start & pre-K runs, PM runs & magnet & activity bus runs), on the other hand...

Dan Reed said...


I hear what you're saying, but the county has to make the best decision for the county, and (for the reasons I've stated above) that's moving the lot. The question isn't whether or not to move the lot from Shady Grove - it's where to move the lot, and how to make that lot the best neighbor it can be, wherever it ends up.

Anonymous said...

Fair point - but it's not going to be by shoehorning it into a location that can't accommodate it in the first place without outright displacing a number of other homes, businesses, and/or services.

Would Craig Rice be fine with it adjacent to HIS property? How about Leggett? Would you? It looks from your profile like you live in Silver Spring; what streets would you widen to accommodate 100 buses in your neighborhood; how many homes would you be okay with inconveniencing, of families who have NOT moved there to be adjacent to 100 buses (whereas new buyers are more likely to know up front that the depot is there)? Have you physically been to the Westmore site, the Avery Road site, and seen the neighborhoods and the infrastructure in those locations?

The depot site shouldn't have been signed away in the first place, not without a plan already in place. There *still* isn't a viable plan.

Anonymous said...

I disagree that the buses should be moved at all, BUT.....

If they had to go somewhere, why not, say, DowntownCrown? That is an ENORMOUS parcel of land with more than enough space for a couple hundred buses, and even with what's been built so far, room to make sure roads are wide enough and buffers are wide enough to mitigate noise and bother. Why not the landfill off Gude Drive, which is already large enough for industrial traffic (unlike North Horner's Lane, which can't accommodate commercial truck traffic easily) that was explored before? Oooh, Rockville has a sizeable golf course property - how about there? (No, that isn't a serious suggestion; it also opens onto Avery Road, which is absolutely not suitable for that kind of bus traffic.) As development accelerates between Clarksburg and Damascus, the Clarksburg facility will need to be expanded or moved or a separate facility built; has that been planned for? And what is it that makes the Clarksburg site less onerous than, say, the Westmore site? How large are the roads in and out of that site? How substantial a buffer between buses and homes? Did the homebuyers know in advance that there would be buses there? These things matter - and there simply isn't room to accommodate the buses at Avery Road or Westmore, and the space at Carver is already needed as well in addition to the question of traffic flow and proximity to homes. This isn't NIMBY - this is simple logistics. Go and see the Westmore site. Drive up N. Stonestreet, and then along the facing street across to Horner's and back down, and consider what would need to be done to the site and to the entire neighborhood to accommodate the buses on those narrow streets. Do the same for the Avery Road site: drive along Avery Road during morning rush - for a real wake-up call, try it later in the year on an icy morning, driving as large and unwieldy a vehicle as you can find - and multiply that by at least 100. Not gonna work.

As future developments are built, they will need schools; any new schools built should have bus parking included at least for each catchment area. The current Shady Grove Depot should remain where it is IMO; Rockville is already a Metro-friendly spot (if anything, perhaps more homes could be built on the Westmore site, assuming infrastructure could be provided), and Avery Road is already in use, too close to Rock Creek Park/Lake Needwood (that IS our water supply here in Rockville), and simply too small to fit that many buses safely. Even accounting for MPDU's, the home prices there will be out of reach for most families, and as usual there will be a tiny fraction of them available for the number of people who need them/qualify for them. But if the depot DOES need to be moved - find a logistically realistic place to put it - which means a location with AT LEAST as much space as the current depot, and which none of the 3 sites that were under consideration even have. You can't put 10 pounds of sugar into a 5-pound sack.

Dan Reed said...

"It looks from your profile like you live in Silver Spring; what streets would you widen to accommodate 100 buses in your neighborhood; how many homes would you be okay with inconveniencing, of families who have NOT moved there to be adjacent to 100 buses (whereas new buyers are more likely to know up front that the depot is there)?"

I live in a formerly industrial neighborhood that is being redeveloped with apartments. My building is next to a fire station, a homeless shelter, and an active train line. The train was there when my building was built, the fire station came after, and the homeless shelter is being built right now. I see it every day. And I'm fine with it, because I live in society, and these things are all beneficial to the society I live in, even if I am personally inconvenienced by the noise or the traffic. I live in an awesome community, and the things I love about it aren't diminished by the presence of fire trucks or homeless people.

Again, the bus lot will have to move, and I think it's a net positive for the county, for all the reasons I listed. The county needs to find a good place to put it where it can also be a good neighbor - though those neighbors will also have to come to this with an open mind. They live in society too.