Property Disposition Proposal for 175 Watts Branch Parkway
Staff recommends that the Mayor and Council:
1) Consider submitting a proposal to Montgomery County for the reuse of 175 Watts Branch Parkway.
2) Review a draft proposal recommending that Montgomery County provide the property to the City of Rockville to incorporate into Woottons Mill Park.
The property at 175 Watts Branch Parkway totals 5.07 acres and is zoned R-150. It is located just west of I-270, with the Woottons Mill Park to the west of the property and the Rockshire neighborhood to the south and east. The site currently includes a driveway from Watts Branch Parkway, a 15-space parking lot and a basketball court. The northeast portion of the site is forested. A map of the vicinity is provided in Attachment A. An aerial view of the property can be found in Attachment B.
Montgomery County owns the property. Until 2010, a home located on the site served as a residential facility for at risk youth called the Karma Academy. In February 2013, after the Karma Academy vacated the site, a fire destroyed the building on the property. Montgomery County demolished the remaining structure and the site has been unused since that time. The aerial photo provided in Attachment B was taken when the home still existed on the site.
The residential neighborhoods surrounding 175 Watts Branch Parkway have maintained communication with the City about the property over the past several years. The Mayor and Council heard from individual neighbors and neighborhood association leadership about concerns with the Karma Academy use, the upkeep of the property following the closure of the Academy and subsequent fire, and the future use of the property.
Individual neighbors, Rockshire Association, Inc. and Fallsmead Homes Corporation have expressed concern about the future use of the site. Last summer, the neighborhood associations requested that the Mayor and Council ask Montgomery County to make the property part of Woottons Mill Park. Neighbors also communicated that they do not support any development at 175 Watts Branch Parkway. In response, the Mayor and Council sent a letter to County Executive Isiah Leggett on September 12, 2013 asking that the County make the property parkland and incorporate it into the City's existing park. The letter to the County Executive is provided in Attachment C.
Property Disposition Process
The County's Department of General Services conducted a reuse analysis and is proceeding in accordance with County Code Section 11B-45, Property Disposition to determine the future of 175 Watts Branch Parkway. All County departments and agencies, including the City of Rockville, were invited to submit a proposal for the reuse of the property. Proposals are due on November 22, 2013.
Staff reviewed Section 11B-45 for information about the County's property disposition process. Highlights were shared with the Mayor and Council in a memo dated November 7, 2013 and include:
- County staff will assess the advantages and disadvantages of submitted proposals and make a recommendation to the County Executive;
- The County Executive holds a public hearing on the recommended reuse and seeks comments on the recommendation from the County Council and M-NCPPC;
- If the Executive approves a reuse by an outside agency, the transfer of ownership involves executing an agreement and payment to the County of the appraised fair market value based on the highest and best use, unless otherwise stipulated in an Executive Order or other County Executive policy decision;
- Proposals that respond to certain reuse preferences of the County may be given priority over proposals offering higher prices; and
- All other things being equal, County-wide public uses are given first priority, municipal uses are given second priority, quasi-public uses third priority, and private uses fourth priority.
City staff reached out to the County to collect more information and details about the property disposition process and will share that information with the Mayor and Council.
Staff recommends that the Mayor and Council consider submitting a proposal to the County. We do not have information at this time about what reuse proposals other agencies and departments might submit to the County. The Mayor and Council has the recommendation from Rockshire and Fallsmead to acquire the property for parkland, but staff recommends that the Mayor and council consider what other potential uses are possible and would have advantages or disadvantages for the city. In terms of fiscal considerations, for example, having another entity acquire the land for development could lead to additional future tax revenue. Having another entity acquire the property would also relieve the city of any annual operating expenses to maintain the property.
The information we do have at this time is the interest from the neighboring residents in making the property part of Woottons Mill Park and avoiding any development on the site. A draft proposal in Attachment D is based on the September 2013 letter to County Executive Leggett and notes the City's interest in:
- Increasing parkland in Rockville;
- Protecting the environment;
- Avoiding the challenges associated with developing the site; and
- Supporting the neighbors who have communicated with the Mayor and Council and Montgomery County about the future of the site.
The FY 2014 budget does not include funds for land acquisition and preliminary work on the FY 2015 budget did not anticipate dedicating funds for land acquisition. Therefore, the draft proposal requests that the County Executive consider foregoing the payment of fair market value of the property or negotiating a reduced dollar amount in order to pursue the important goals of protecting the environment and maintaining open space. Staff requested from the County Department of General Services the latest assessed value of 175 Watts Branch Parkway and will share the County's response with the Mayor and Council. Attachment E provides the State Department of Assessment and Taxation's latest assessment, dated January 1, 2012 (prior to the demolition of the building on the site).
If the County were to accept the City's proposal and require any payment for the property, the Mayor and Council would need to consider:
1) The appropriate investment of resources for this specific site given the needs for additional parkland in other parts of the City.
2) Depending on the County's timeline, how to reprogram FY 2014 funds or designate FY 2015 funds to pay for the property.
The Mayor and Council should also take into consideration that acquiring the property for parkland would mean foregoing future tax revenue that could be generated if another entity acquires and developed the property.
Mayor and Council History
This is the first time that a proposal for reuse of 175 Watts Branch Parkway has been brought before the Mayor and Council. On July 15, 2013, four Rockshire residents, the president of the Rockshire Association and the president of the Fallsmead Association spoke at Citizens Forum in support of making the property at 175 Watts Branch part of the adjacent Woottons Mill Park. The Mayor and Council subsequently directed staff to prepare a letter to County Executive Leggett.
Boards and Commissions Review
The Recreation and Park Advisory Board discussed the option of incorporating the space at 175 Watts Branch Parkway into Woottons Mill Park. The Board supported the request that the Mayor and Council made of the County Executive in the September 2013 letter (Attachment C). Staff shared this agenda item and draft proposal with the Board by e-mail. The Board's next meeting is in December.
If the Mayor and Council direct staff to submit a proposal to Montgomery County, any suggested changes to the draft will be made and shared with the Mayor and Council for final review via e-mail before submitting it to the County by the November 22 deadline.
Attachment A 175 Watts Branch Pkwy Map 1.pdf Attachment B 175 Watts Branch Map 2.pdf
Attachment C Sept 2013 Letter to Leggett.pdf
Attachment D Draft Proposal to Montgomery County.pdf
Attachment E SDAT-Real Property Search.pdf
Assistant City Manager:
Jenny Kimball, Assistant City Manager
Approved on: 11/13/2013
Barbara B. Matthews, City Manager
Approved on: 11/13/2013