Prior to a unanimous vote approving the city of Gaithersburg's annexation of the near-28 acre Sears property along Shady Grove Road, City Council Vice President Ryan Spiegel and council member Cathy Drzyzgula defended the city's actions and annexation process.
Spiegel and Drzyzgula each provided Patch with the following notes from their statements. It should be noted that these are not direct quotes, rather guidelines for their respective comments on the matter at Monday evening's mayor and council meeting.
A few folks from Rockville have expressed strong opposition to this annexation. And I want to take a moment to address those concerns.
First let me say that I don’t believe in alarmism and hyperbole, or personal attacks, when it comes to differences of opinion in policy debates. Reasonable people can disagree reasonably.
Let me also say that I respect my friends who represent Rockville, we have worked closely with them on countless matters in the past, and it is my hope and expectation that we will continue to work together with them on countless issues going forward.
But the few comments out there about this being some sort of encroachment on the sovereignty of Rockville, or some sort of land grab, are frankly meritless.
For me, this is a matter of following the LAW. The municipal annexation process is governed by State law. There is no basis in the LAW for the position that Rockville has some sort of preexisting right to this property. Per the requirements of state law, the property is contiguous with the Gaithersburg border, but it is NOT contiguous with Rockville's. Rockville would need to annex multiple other properties just to get close enough to be contiguous before this property would even be eligible for annexation into Rockville.
Rockville may argue about whether the legal definition of “contiguousness” under state law is a good or bad definition, but the law is the law.
There is also nothing in the law—nothing in any state, county, or city’s law, regulation, policy, or agreement—saying that Shady Grove Road is some sort of acknowledged legal boundary for possible future expansions of Gaithersburg or Rockville. While Shady Grove Road might seem like a convenient reference point, since it happens to fall roughly between the two municipalities, that has no LEGAL weight.
Gaithersburg has followed an open process and a proper procedure to consider this annexation for several years, including a proposed Maximum Expansion Limit (MEL) as part of the Municipal Growth Element (MGE) in our Masterplan update which was open for public comment as far back as a hearing on Dec. 1, 2008. The County Executive, Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission, and the Maryland Department of Planning all submitted letters into our record, but none raised any concern regarding the inclusion of the Sears Property in Gaithersburg's MEL. Rockville did not weigh in on Gaithersburg’s proposed Municipal Growth Element before it was adopted.
On April 6, 2009 – over three years ago – we adopted the Municipal Growth Element of the Master Plan. It was acknowledged and considered valid by the State.
Not until December 13, 2010, over a year and half later, did Rockville adopt its own MGE, for the very first time including the Sears property in its new MEL.
And it was not until March 23, 2011 – almost two years after Gaithersburg had already adopted its Municipal Growth Element – that Rockville first commented on Gaithersburg’s inclusion of the Sears property as part of a hearing on a SEPARATE part of the Masterplan, the Land Use Element, which is NOT the element governing expansion.
On Jan. 12 of this year, Sears submitted its annexation petition to us, commencing the process.
On March 12-The Gaithersburg Planning Commission discussed the Annexation at their public meeting and voted to hold their record open until April 11, allowing a full month for comment.
On April 18, The Gaithersburg Planning Commission recommended approval of the Annexation.
On April 26, The M-NCPPC considered the Annexation and recommended approval with several conditions.
On May 21, 2012 - Following four separate notices in the Gazette on April 4, 11, 18 and 25, 2012, we held a public hearing voted to hold our record open until July 5, allowing about six additional weeks for public comments.
On July 31, the county council voted unanimously to waive any county restrictions on the property’s re-zoning to the city’s MXD zone.
Rockville took advantage of multiple opportunities to comment, including testimony on March 23, 2011 regarding Gaithersburg’s Master Plan, letters received on June 5, 2012 from the Rockville Mayor &Council and July 2 from the Rockville Planning Commission, and an email today from a Rockville Councilmember. Rockville also submitted comments to the county council.
Tonight, we reopen our record to accept additional comments received after the July 5 deadline. We do this just for good measure and to ensure that materials received after the deadline will be included in the record, even though we are not necessarily required to do so.
As you can see, this process was very extensive, open, and procedurally proper, allowing numerous opportunities for public comment along the way. Clearly the LAW has been followed.
Some have cited to a 1992 Memorandum of Understanding between the two cities and the county as evidence that this annexation should be opposed. But that MOU is now expired. And even if it wasn’t expired, the MOU has no specifics whatsoever about the boundaries of the cities, and no binding provisions regarding the legal process of annexation. Essentially all it says is that the two cities and the county should communicate with each other. In the current case, we have communicated extensively through letters, emails, phone calls, and testimony. I encourage everyone to actually read the MOU.
As a matter of policy, Rockville has never seriously tried to pursue this property for annexation – not until it found out that the Gaithersburg process was well underway. Rockville didn’t include this property in its MEL until a year and a half after Gaithersburg did. Rockville didn’t comment on Gaithersburg’s inclusion of this property in its MEL until almost two years after Gaithersburg had already adopted its MEL. Not until the later stages of this process has Rockville suddenly started ringing alarm bells.
But this is also a matter of respecting the rights and the choices of a private property owner. We did not go out and seek this annexation. The property owner came to us, asking to become part of our city. Rockville tried to coax the owner to change their mind, offering a number of incentives and arguments, and the owner politely decided, for a number of good reasons, that it wants to continue the process of being annexed into Gaithersburg. Why should the owner’s rights and preferences be subverted by Rockville’s claim that some day in the distant future, some hypothetical different owner might hypothetically prefer to be annexed into Rockville after Rockville has hypothetically annexed enough other properties to actually make the Sears property contiguous with its borders?
I respect the passion of my friends on the Rockville Mayor & Council as they try to do what they think is in the best interest of their city. But the reality is that Rockville has absolutely no legal claim to this property, which is not in Rockville, does not border Rockville, and whose owner does not want to BE in Rockville.
I want to reiterate that while they may sound strong, my comments are made in the spirit of a respectful debate. I welcome the opportunity to meet with Rockville and other interested parties to discuss ways to improve this process in the future, but as for the present issue before us tonight, I will vote in favor of annexation.
Rockville Councilmember Tom Moore posted an online statement regarding this annexation application which contains significant errors, and was closed to comments at the time I read it. I feel I must address these for the benefit of the public of both jurisdictions. The posting includes a photo of the Gaithersburg Welcome sign over 355, on the I-370 bridge. Mr. Moore states that:
Gaithersburg aims to connect to the parcel by annexing right of way down Rockville Pike, right past this sign, hanging a turn onto Shady Grove Road, and proceeding until it touches the Sears property on the Rockville side of the road.
My response is:
- Gaithersburg is not annexing of part of “Rockville Pike” or even Frederick Road, the actual name of the road at the location in the picture. Gaithersburg is in fact connecting the Sears property with other land in the City on the north side of Shady Grove Rd. and I-370. Gaithersburg already includes property on both sides of I370 further west of this area. Mr. Moore seems to have a significant lack of understanding of the parcels involved in this annexation application, which are not on MD 355.
- The sign in the photo is a welcome sign, not a boundary sign. The corresponding “Welcome to Rockville” sign, about 1/3 mile to the south cannot even be seen from Shady Grove Road. Presumably Rockville does not think that their welcome sign delimits their right to expansion.
- There is no mention of Shady Grove Road in the MOU, which was approved more than 20 years ago. It simply calls for consultation between the three parties. I am not aware of any consultation of Gaithersburg by Rockville regarding any annexations they have considered. Shady Grove Road is not part of any bright line rule, and there is no reason that it should be. Annexation decisions should be made based on a logical analysis of the needs of both cities and the needs of the property owners requesting annexation. This seems to be a point left out of much of the recent heated rhetoric.
- Gaithersburg’s purpose in agreeing to annex this property is to maintain the economic vitality of this parcel. Several privately-owned properties, as well as the Waste Transfer Station, separate the Rockville city limits from the Sears property, so Rockville cannot feasibly annex this parcel in the near future, if ever. Sears asked Montgomery County to change the existing zoning to permit a new use, but this was deemed too complex and time consuming by both the County and Sears. So Sears then approached Gaithersburg. Gaithersburg, unlike others, does not think that letting this building sit dark is good public policy, and we are acting to prevent that.
- Gaithersburg would like to maintain a good relationship with Rockville. If we are to be sister cities we need to be equals, not big sister/little sister, with one choosing the direction and the other expected to follow. There will be times when we disagree, and we need to listen and then if necessary, move on respectfully.