Tower Oaks next for residential development

ROCKVILLE -- The extent that a proposed residential development at Tower Oaks will affect local public schools depends on whether a new school opens on time and the boundaries for that school.

On Monday, the mayor and City Council hosted a public hearing for a 375-unit residential development proposal. Boston Properties, Inc. is selling their heavily wooded, 41-acre site along Preserve Parkway to residential developer EYA. Their proposed residential site would feature townhouses and single-family houses and keep 14.2 acres of forest area, though one local resident said to the mayor and council it could result in the removal of 600 trees.

The residential proposal did win at least some approval from the council, which did not vote on it Monday.

The site had been zoned for commercial office space. However, the original developer pulled the project because of a downturn in the market and empty office space next door, according to Sean Sullivan, a senior project manager at Boston Properties.

"The demand did not justify building a spectacular office building," he said.

City planner Brian Wilson noted the original development concept dates back to 1986 but it has since changed.

It is currently approved for three buildings and about 755,000 square feet of office space.

They don't want to build the office, so they're proposing an amendment to the overall development to make it residential,” said Wilson.

EYA officials would still have to submit a site plan, which would have to win approval by the Planning Commission and City Council before it could actually be built, said Wilson.

According to the project plan application for Tower Oaks, the proposal would generate 57 elementary school students, 25 middle school students and 34 high school students.

The affected schools included Ritchie Park Elementary School, Julius West Middle School and Richard Montgomery High School.

Montgomery County Public Schools statistics show all three of those schools are overcrowded in the 2015-2016 school year.

An addition at Julius West slated for completion before the 2016-2017 school year will boost capacity by 390 students and keep the school under the 100 percent enrollment limit until 2025.

However, those numbers do not include students from Tower Oaks.

Meanwhile, the fate of future overcrowding at Ritchie Park ES rests on the fifth elementary school in the Richard Montgomery cluster opening on time for the 2018-2019 school year after it has been previously delayed.

If the mayor and City Council approve of the 375 units at Tower Oaks, the first 30 to 40 homes would come online by the second half of 2019, according to Aakash Thallar, the senior vice president of acquisition and development for EYA.

Thaller said the entirety of the community would likely be completed between 2025 and 2026 as it is constructed in phases.

Current MCPS enrollment numbers put Richie Park ES overcapacity by 144 students, with 532 students enrolled for the 2015-2016 school year at a campus built for 388 students.

MCPS projections though the 2021-2022 school year put Ritchie Park over capacity between 108 and 134 students each year.

Last year, Melissa McKenna, the Capital Improvement Plan president of the Council of Parent-Teacher Associations, said the No. 5 school at Hungerford Park is due to have a capacity of 602 students rather than the typical 740 for an elementary school in the county.

When the City Council last year raised its Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance to match the County's higher standard for overcapacity, it ended the moratorium on residential development in the cluster.

"I view the project positively," said Council member Mark Pierzchala, noting it would provide housing, moderately priced dwellings and take up less space than an office park. "(With) any new development, you're going to get trade-offs."


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