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Gaithersburg's Spiegel, Drzyzgula Defend Shady Grove Annexation

Gaithersburg city council Vice President and council member Cathy Drzyzgula defend the city's annexation of the Sears property along Shady Grove Road.

Prior to a , 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.

Ryan Spiegel:

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.

LAW

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.

POLICY

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.

 Cathy Drzyzgula:

Rockville Councilmember 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.

 


mike london August 07, 2012 at 01:22 PM
Spiegel, Drzyzgula, Katz sounds like a tight circle real tight!!!
Susan August 07, 2012 at 01:28 PM
It's interesting to hear how public officials try to convince themselves with their own words that they haven't done anything wrong. How many times have we heard these types of statements from politicians? Often they cling to their narrow definitions of what is legal, rather than examining the truth of pre-existing agreements and ethical behavior. I was reminded of Richard Nixon saying, "I am not a crook." They seem to believe that repeating words often enough will make them true.
Greg Cohen August 07, 2012 at 03:37 PM
Susan -- I'm not sure I'd go anywhere near so far as comparing this to Nixon saying "I'm not a crook." This is two neighboring cities having differing views on how to handle an issue. Gaithersburg definitely got itself out in front, though.
Peter Mork August 07, 2012 at 08:26 PM
Whereas I live in Rockville, I do not think there was anything amiss with this annexation. Mr. Spiegel's explanation strikes me as well-reasoned and not an attempt to "cling to [a] narrow definition of what is legal ... and ethical behavior." Instead, I find it dismaying that Rockville is perceived as so hostile to mixed use that the property owners had no interest in approaching our city. Good luck, Gaithersburg, I hope the project is mutually beneficial.
Tom Moore August 07, 2012 at 09:09 PM
I appreciate Councilmembers Spiegel and Drzyzgula's successful efforts to keep this discussion on a respectful, policy-based level. While my Rockville colleagues and I are deeply unhappy about the outcome here, and we have made our disappointment with Gaithersburg's actions clear in our communications with Gaithersburg's leaders, the two cities are essentially having a policy dispute, not a personal one. It is also not a legal dispute. Rockville did not advance a legal argument in this matter. If we thought there was a legal case to be made, we would most assuredly be in court. Gaithersburg, as it has repeatedly insisted, was indeed well within its legal rights. But just because something is legal to do doesn't make it the right thing to do, or a wise thing to do. We were told directly by Sears' attorney that the City of Gaithersburg first approached Sears regarding this annexation. Gaithersburg's leaders say this is not the case; I will take them at their word. Who approached whom first doesn't make a lot of difference as far as Rockville is concerned. I will note that Rockville had the opportunity to ask Montgomery County to block Gaithersburg's re-zoning of the parcel for five years, and we very specifically told the County that we did not want that to happen. Everyone is better off with that parcel being actively used. (continues)
Tom Moore August 07, 2012 at 09:09 PM
(continued) Rockville's argument wasn't that Gaithersburg couldn't do it, it was that they shouldn't do it. MOUs are not binding documents, but those who sign them are expected to live up to their conditions. Gaithersburg appears to believe it notified and consulted with Rockville adequately here. We disagree. We found out about this only after the deal was done. The relationship between our cities -- like most relationships -- goes well beyond legal requirements. This annexation is simply not the kind of move that one makes unilaterally against a friend and a neighbor, particularly a neighbor you can't ever move away from! Our residents depend on us to work together in all sorts of ways that the law doesn't require, but we need to be able to trust each other. Gaithersburg's actions here will make it far more difficult for the City of Rockville to do so in the future.
CP August 07, 2012 at 11:12 PM
Mr. Moore, please stop. Theresa thinks you speak for the Mayor and Council, but I don't agree. Were they displeased...yes, they were. Did they carry on as you are, in a nasty piece yesterday and rebuttal here today? No, they did not. Gaithersburg councilmembers have outclassed you in their statements here on Patch, and you have embarassed Rockville and its fine residents, as well as your four council colleagues. City staff screwed this up by not being on top of things 4 years ago, just as they did the courthouse fiasco, not alerting council to the RHE situation, and now town center II. Try and direct your disappointment to those most responsible.
Theresa Defino August 08, 2012 at 12:11 AM
CP--try to keep on topic and refrain from the personal attacks. You do not know what I think, you do not know what all the residents think and you are completely uneducated (apparently willfully so) about this topic. You also have shown yourself incapable of objective comments, here and elsewhere. You post under just initials and you have a big axe to grind. Enough said.
CP August 08, 2012 at 05:25 AM
Theresa, first of all you wrote "Mr. Moore is giving voice to how they (M&C) all feel and he represents us just fine, thank you". So in this instance, I do know what you think. Mr. Moore's words speak for themselves. "Preparing to to wreak serious, unnecessary, and perhaps permanent damage upon the relationship between their city and the City of Rockville". "Gaithersburg is betraying its friend and neighbor. Rockville's leaders consider this proposed annexation to be a deeply threatening move..." "Does Gaithersburg intend to stab its neighbors in the back the very first moment they think they can get away with it in every instance, or just this one"? This is not personal, and I am on topic. The topic is covered by at least three Patch articles, so there might be "spillover" from one to another. If you listened to last nights council meeting, Mr. Moore sounded as though he was plotting an enemy invasion....what can we annex that would screw Gaithersburg? Sadly, most of the council jumped on this as something to consider. I have no axe to grind...I just think Rockville deserves better than what we have as a council, and have had in the past. We have a dysfunctional body with a Mayor that can't lead or build unity. and a council that is again divided 3 to 2 on almost every major issue. The difference this time is the 2 are in the minority.
CP August 08, 2012 at 05:30 AM
My mistake...of course two are in the minority. I meant to say the minority on the last council is now part of the majority.

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