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Montgomery planning board OKs White Flint project despite school fight

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Photo - Development in White Flint (Examiner file photo)
Development in White Flint (Examiner file photo)
Local,Maryland,Kate Jacobson

The Montgomery County Planning Board approved a $5.2 million redevelopment of White Flint mall, but not before the project's developer and the board fought over a potential elementary school site.

The project would redevelop more than 5 million square feet of residential and commercial space. It also includes a park, a potential elementary school and walkable space. The sketch plan gives the board a scope of what would be included in the plan, including its amenities and development standards.

A master plan put in place by the county requires a park to be provided by the developer -- Lerner Enterprises -- free of charge within the site. The plan also calls for a school site -- but doesn't specify the school would be funded by the developer, just that the space is available. In the redevelopment plan, the space would be provided for potential sale to Montgomery County Public Schools. However, if the school board opts to build somewhere else, the land would go back to the developer for housing.

Janice Turpin, team leader with MCPS' Real Estate Management Team, said growing enrollment in the Walter Johnson school cluster means the area needs more schools and that the land should be given to the school system.

"The designated school site should be dedicated at no cost to [MCPS]," she said.

Planning Board Chairwoman Fran?oise Carrier agreed, prompting a discussion among board members on whether the board could make it a requirement for the school to be given to the schools.

"We need to determine what [the board thinks] are the priorities for the master plan compliance," she said. "In my view, dedicating that school site is very clearly a master plan priority, and I think we have an obligation to require it."

Some board members agreed, but Robert Brewer, an attorney representing Lerner Enterprises, argued it was unfair to require the land be turned over to MCPS when the master plan only calls to make the space available.

Ed de Avila, vice president of redevelopment at Lerner, said the company had already provided the park site and pushed for sale of the school site.

"I want to let you know that we're more than happy to discuss this school site if there is someone who is willing to sit down and talk about buying this school site," he said.

The board passed the sketch plan but opted to leave open whether the school site plan will be provided free or for sale. That decision will be made in a few months, when the development's subdivision plan is up for review by the board.

kjacobson@washingtonexaminer.com

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