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Rockville Council debates merits of Fireside apartments

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Published on: Thursday, October 11, 2012

By Daryl Buchanan

ROCKVILLE-An issue concerning the Fireside Park Apartments brought out a number of residents that nearly rivaled the Pumphrey’s parking lot debate. The discussion filled the council chambers as twenty plus people came out to testify.

The issue at hand concerned the proposed purchasing of the Fireside Park Apartments located at 735 Monroe Street by Rockville Housing Enterprises (RHE). RHE wants to purchase the apartments to help maintain affordable housing in Rockville, at a time when affordable housing is becoming increasingly hard to find.

RHE was established by the Mayor and Council in 1957 as a state chartered housing agency for the city. It is a government entity and operates separately from the Rockville government. RHE’s mission is to help provide affordable housing for Rockville citizens. RHE already currently owns a number of low to moderate income rental units within the city.

However, for RHE to purchase the apartments they are asking the City of Rockville for a $2 million dollar loan. The loan would be repaid over a period of seven years at three percent interest. If RHE were able to purchase the apartments they say they would make a number of upgrades to the apartments. Roof replacement, plumbing, tree pruning, asphalt repair, and more were listed in a presentation RHE made to the council.

“What will happen with Fireside? Pretty much nothing, household income levels will remain the same. In terms of occupancy we don’t expect anything to change. And certainly we wouldn’t change anything except through attrition. We would not make anybody move or change whatever situation they have right now,” said Ruth O’Sullivan, Executive Director of RHE. “We will continue to maintain as it [Fireside Park] has been and hopefully better than it has been.”

O’Sullivan says RHE is confident they can effectively go through with the project citing their current record with affordable housing around the city such as Legacy at Lincoln Park. Under RHE 60 percent of the units will be at market rate and 40 percent of the apartments to be at or below the area median income which is $64,500 for a family of four. 142 apartments will be market rate and 94 will be affordable.

Opponents of the loan spoke before the city council citing fiscal responsibility and the risks involved in a shaky economy. Neighbors from nearby Waddington Park, New Mark Commons, and New Mark Esplanade also expressed concerns that another buyer in the mix, Pride Rock, could also effectively manage the property without a loan from the city.

Tim Foley lives in nearby Waddington Park and feels the loan would be a risk to the city. “This is not the once in a generation opportunity that madam Mayor and the Council were sold by RHE. This is a very risky business venture wherein if everything in this project were to go according to plan the earnings by RHE would barely be enough to cover the interest on the property. What Mayor and Council have before them is two options, Pride Rock and RHE. Pride Rock is a guarantee of some affordable housing for the Rockville area as well as income and property tax. RHE on the other hand is a risk and would provide little to no income to the City of Rockville,” said Foley.

Those in favor of the loan also spoke. Many of these were current residents at Fireside Park and also citizens of Rockville who wanted to preserve affordable housing in the city for those that need it most.

Sarah Dickinson lives in Fireside Park and testified two weeks ago before the council concerning the issue. She returned again Monday night to testify again. “I’m an office manager. My roommate is a teacher and we are heavily invested in the city and heavily invested in Fireside. I would ask that you make the same investment in us,” said Dickinson. 

“I think you can look at this as a short term investment and a long term reward in keeping the people that love to live here, that work here, and maybe in a few years will buy a home. I ask that you make the same investment in us that we have made in the city.”

RHE has requested a final decision by the Mayor and Council as soon as possible. The record is open until October 15 where the issue is on the Mayor and Council agenda for further discussion.

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