ROCKVILLE – In a twist to the debate over Rockville’s Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance and Standards (APFO/APFS) Monday night, Councilmember Tom Moore withdrew his motion to align with the county’s standards when Councilmember Beryl Feinberg said she would vote against the motion.
Feinberg later took Moore to task for what she called “inaccurate” a social media post regarding her actions.
The Rockville mayor and City Council decided to delay action and wait instead for the outcome of County Councilmember Roger Berliner’s (D-1) forum on the county’s ordinance on March 7. The forum “is intended to serve as the beginning of a conversation about what is working well in our county and frankly, what is not working so well,” Berliner wrote in a letter to each member of the mayor and council.
“Mr. Moore withdrew his motion due to lack of support and I look forward to the meeting on March 7 that Berliner is putting forward and any follow-up that might be warranted,” said Mayor Bridget Newton. “This is a problem that the county is facing as a whole. It’s not just a Rockville problem.”
The APFO/APFS for schools set guidelines for when there is enough room in schools to support residential development. Moore’s proposal would bring Rockville’s standards from 110 percent to 120 percent capacity, use cluster averaging instead of capacity per school and judge capacity five years from the application date rather than two years from the approval date.
Moore, who proposed changing the standards on Nov. 17, said he was surprised by Feinberg’s speaking out against the changes but viewed her comments as saying she did not want to take the vote that night. The morning after the meeting, Moore posted on his Facebook page he had expected Feinberg to vote with him, but did not view this as her reneging on her promises.
“Some people are saying this morning that it looks like Councilmember Feinberg has abandoned her vow to align Rockville's school standards with the county's. I want to make it clear that that is false,” Moore said. “From the very beginning, Beryl gave me her word that she would vote for this, a promise that has enabled me to be very publicly out on a limb pursuing this issue on her behalf for the past several months. Beryl Feinberg is a woman of her word,” Moore said.
But Feinberg said some parts of Moore’s Facebook post were inaccurate and changing the APFS was never her top priority. Although she said during the campaign a year and a half ago that she would support changing the city standards to align with the county’s, she had not spoken publicly about the issue once elected. She also said she told Moore privately she supported him “several months ago” but changed her mind after going through the public hearing process.
“I was very proud of that vote (the vote to add a second public hearing) because I thought it improved the process. (Moore) was the one who was only looking at letting us just get this resolved very quickly,” Feinberg said. “His error is that he was not really serving the city by refusing to hear all the comments and I think that’s what you have to do as an elected official.”
Moore was the lone opposing vote in adding a second public hearing on Jan. 26. Originally, the only public hearing on the issue would have been on Jan. 5, which some in the public and on the dais felt was too soon after the holidays.
In response, Moore said he believed Feinberg would keep her word when the issue came back to the council for a vote until he heard otherwise from her directly, even given her statements Monday night. He said Feinberg had not communicated with him prior to Monday’s meeting and did not tell him she was going to change her vote.
“She gave me her assurance she would be with me on the final vote and that’s the reason I was out there in front on her behalf for months,” Moore said. “I believe her to be an honorable person and I will believe she is breaking her word on this when I see it.”
He also said he did not vote for the second public hearing because he was surprised when it came up so late on the agenda and said he set the schedule based on Feinberg’s wishes. But he said he was ultimately glad for the second hearing as well.
“I absolutely listened to every public comment. I respond to a great deal of them over email far more than any other member (of the mayor or council) does. I have convened public meetings, I have made presentations, I have spoken to many, many more people on this issue than others,” Moore said.
Although Moore withdrew his motion at the meeting, he also Monday night added it to future agendas with the support of Councilmember Julie Palakovich Carr so the discussion would not “get lost” after Berliner’s forum. He added it during the “future agendas” portion of the meeting after Newton, Feinberg and Onley voted against his motion to set the discussion for a date in March earlier in the meeting.
Newton said she voted against setting a date because she did not want to continue to rush the discussion and was sure the council would not forget the issue even if they did not set a date that night.
“It puts us all under a pressure point and I don’t like feeling that way about something that is so important to this community,” Newton said. “I think it’s time we hear the people and hear them with ears that are really listening.”
Moore said he did not think any immediate changes would come from Berliner’s forum, especially considering the county’s Subdivision Staging Policy does not go through a review process until 2016.
But Newton said some action items or next steps could come from the meeting even if there is no immediate change.
Throughout the APFS discussion Newton said she wanted to bring in the Planning Commission and talk to other stakeholders, not just those at the public hearings.
“Had we handled this differently from the very beginning, we could have had a public conversation in the community that didn’t pit our neighbors against neighbors and our business against our residents,” she said, adding that Moore and Palakovich Carr tried to push the process’s timeline from the beginning.
Onley also said she has concerns about development in the city for fear of ending up as a “ghost town.”
Feinberg also denied claims from some constituents that she should recuse herself because she is deputy director and chief operating officer for the county’s Department of General Services, which oversees major construction projects in county government. But Feinberg said she had talked with the city attorney and confirmed she has no financial or economic conflict of interest because her role in the county has nothing to do with the school budget or funding decisions.
Palakovich Carr did not comment on her views on the issue during the meeting.