Beaten by Gaithersburg on Shady Grove Annexation, Rockville Council Folds, Ponders Next Step
Councilman: "I don’t want us to be at war with Gaithersburg."
Rockville has folded its effort to annex the Sears Great Indoors property between it and the city of Gaithersburg, apparently conceding that Gaithersburg got to it first.
Monday night's Rockville City Council meeting evolved into a pledge to resolve the controversy that has caused a rift between the neighboring towns. The move came the same night the Gaithersburg City Council voted unanimously to annex the former Great Indoors site on Shady Grove Road.
The Rockville City Council opposed the annexation of the Sears, Roebuck and Co.-owned property—and told Gaithersburg officials so in a letter in June.
Gaithersburg's vote to annex the Sears site could "wreak serious, unnecessary, and perhaps permanent damage upon the relationship between their city and the City of Rockville,” Rockville City Councilman Tom Moore wrote in a blog post on Patch on Monday.
The Rockville council launched a counteroffensive in June with a proposal to annex part of Shady Grove Road. Rockville officials hoped to establish a clear border with Gaithersburg and get the two sides talking.
On Monday, the Gaithersburg City Council called their bluff. As Gaithersburg prepared to vote on its annexation plan, Rockville officials acknowledged that they could not stop their neighbors to the north and opted not to pursue the Shady Grove Road annexation.
"Let's forget the Gaithersburg event, as I would call it, and let's move on with what we'd like to do," Rockville Mayor Phyllis Marcuccio said a short time after Moore announced in the Rockville council chamber that Gaithersburg had approved the Sears site annexation.
A new approach toward annexation and the city's borders will be a subject for the Rockville council to consider “for the next couple of months,” Moore said. The council, which won’t meet again until Sept. 10, began to erect the framework for a new approach on Monday.
Rockville officials said they want the city’s Planning Commission to reconsider the maximum expansion limits set out in the city’s master plan.
“We have shown through fairly aggressive moves on this Gaithersburg annexation that we’re willing to move fairly aggressively on this—and expanding the MEL is definitely part of that,” Moore said.
But not all Rockville council members agreed.
“Isn’t this how superpowers go to war?” Councilman Mark Pierzchala said.
Pierzchala said he wondered if Rockville would even be considering its borders if not for the Gaithersburg annexation.
“That’s right,” Councilman John Hall said. “That doesn’t mean that we should not have been considering it anyway.”
“This is not limited to the Gaithersburg border,” Moore said.
“I don’t want us to be at war with Gaithersburg,” Hall said. “I’d like for us, after a time, to have as good communication, consultation. I’d like for us to get to work on a revised [memorandum of understanding].”
Marcuccio has pressed for a task force to revise a 1992 memorandum of understanding between the cities that provided guidance for annexations. The agreement expired July 23, Marcuccio said. The four-member task force would include two representatives of Rockville and two representatives of Gaithersburg, Marcuccio said.
The final two points of the 10-point, 20-year-old agreement stated: “The principles contained within this Memorandum are meant to apply to all future actions pertaining to land in the Cities or on or near the Cities’ borders,” and “We recognize the importance of moving ahead on an early basis to establish a schedule of action and agree to meet frequently on these important issues.”
The Montgomery County Council on July 31 approved a zoning change for the Sears property, clearing the way for the Gaithersburg annexation and leaving Rockville officials to question whether Gaithersburg had followed the spirit of the agreement.
“Just remember, Gaithersburg has known that the MOU was going to run out in this year, in July, just as much as we knew,” Marcuccio said. “And they—even though when they sat here with us in a joint meeting—made no effort to do anything about trying improve it or change it. It is time we pushed them for it. And I think we can get that done.”
Rockville must “take care of ourselves first,” form its own plan and not engage in an argument with Gaithersburg, she said.
Gaithersburg worked toward the annexation even before the MOU expired, Pierzchala said.
“So the question on the MOU is: If they were that aggressive against us, why would we, at this time, even bother with it, given that they really were breaking the terms of it in the first place?” he said.
Rockville revised its maximum expansion limits in a 2010 master plan revision.
“What’s different now than two years ago, except for the fact that Gaithersburg [did this]?” Pierzchala said.
“I think that is the fact,” Marcuccio said. “We had, perhaps in a complacent way, just accepted that we had a sister community here who had the same kind of interests in a border that we did. And we were wrong.”
Moore asked if the Rockville council wanted to begin taking steps to annex properties around the former Great Indoors site, including the Shady Grove Solid Waste Transfer Station and the U.S. Postal Distribution Center and Post Office, which is being considered for closure.
Marcuccio suggested talking with the Montgomery County Council.
Moore suggested a more aggressive approach.
“We were concerned if [Gaithersburg’s border] jumped Shady Grove Road that they could just work their way down that side [of the road],” Moore said. “One way that we could get around that is grabbing every property around it.”