Frederick County Public Schools and its representatives turned out for a Workshop with Walkersville’s Planning Commission Tuesday evening. Residents of Glade Village and Mill Run communities also came out for the discussion.
The Planning Commission meetings usually draw a very small crowd consisting of the applicants. Tuesday’s meeting found about two-dozen attendees including all of the Town’s Commissioners. While the Planning Commission’s rules do not allow comments from the public at Workshops, Commission Chair, Dick Brady asked his fellow Commission members to allow a few minutes for each resident with questions or comments after the applicant and Commission’s discussion.
Frederick County Public School’s representatives began their presentation by outlining the changes they made to their plans in response to comments made in January.
A lot of those changes focused on the handling of storm water on the property. The Planning Commission questioned the original design’s ability to handle the water draining from Colony Village and parts of Old Town Walkersville to what is currently a large parcel of grass and a track behind Walkersville Middle School.
Upon further study, FCPS engineers found they had not accounted for a lot of water. In response, they proposed a cement swale that would be thirty-feet wide running from culverts near Maryland Avenue to a storm pond in Mill Run. This would be in addition to the storage and slowed release of storm water run-off in underground facitilies into the same Mill Run facility.
The FCPS representatives stressed their goal to convey water from Walkersville through their property without adversely affecting neighbors’ properties. They discussed the difficulties of moving water along a path with only a 0.4% decline from Maryland Avenue to culverts under the Walkersville Southern Rail Road tracks. They also discussed the issues of mosquitoes and standing water.
The revised plans would close access to the school property on Maryland Avenue, and close a walking path from Mill Run to the Middle School. Upon further discussions leading up to the meeting, FCPS suggested re-routing the path from Mill Run along the property line with Mill Run and to Maryland Avenue.
FCPS met with Frederick County and Town of Walkersville staff earlier and began considering a grass swale that would have a liner underground. They estimated such a swale would be forty-five feet wide. The increased size of the swale would reduce the size of the green space at the east of the property near Maryland Avenue.
FCPS will also have to move a sewer line that runs through the property. They propose moving that sewer line under the proposed swale.
The tree line between the school property and Mill Run will have to be removed for the grading and placement of the swale along the property line. Two of the trees, a mulberry and black cherry, are considered “specimen” trees and require Planning Commission approval before being removed. FCPS would like to plant a new tree line on Mill Run HOA property to replace the trees on their own property.
FCPS proposes removing a third specimen tree, a red oak. The red oak is currently in an island of the Walkersville Middle School parking lot. In the site plan, this piece of land would be a basketball court.
Planning Commission members grilled FCPS on their plans.
Commission member Michael Kuster questioned the height of a retaining wall along Glade Village Properties. FCPS stated that the retaining wall will range in height from zero to eleven feet tall. Mr. Kuster asked for confimation that the retaining wall would be topped with a four feet tall chain link fence, and FCPS confirmed adding that the fence would be lined with vinyl.
Commission member David Ennis asked FCPS to confirm that the parking lot lights will be another twenty-five five higher on top of the retaining wall. FCPS confirmed this, but said lights would face away from the back yards of Glade Village residents.
Commission chair Dick Brady asked of what material the retaining wall would be constructed. FCPS stated the wall will be concrete and may have a form liner to give the appearance of stone or brick.
The retaining wall will be separated from Glade Village properties by a swale for storm water that will flow to the same exit point as the swale at the rear of the property. A small swale exists along this property line now.
The parking lots and school will be built at and above the elevation of the retaining wall. FCPS will plant shrubs between the retaining wall and the Glade Village properties.
Mr. Kuster asked the depth of the swale along the rear of the property. Both the cement and the grass swale would grow from eight inches to four feet deep. Both would also have another four feet of grass on either side of the swale to accommodate a hundred year rain event. The Town’s engineer proposed a much more narrow cement swale in the center of a grass swale.
Mr. Kuster asked about plans for the path from Mill Run to Walkersville Middle School. FCPS confirmed they are considering putting a path that would direct walkers east around the swale to Maryland Avenue and then back west to the middle school. Planning Commission member Russ Winch requested an ADA compliant path that is more direct to avoid sending students in the opposite direction of the middle and high schools.
Mr. Kuster noted that FCPS responded to written questions that they do not want to light their proposed path. Kuster argued that the property is already used for smoking and vaping with a wide open field and narrow tree line. He requested FCPS light the path for residents and State Troopers to see what is happening behind the school and on the path.
Mr. Winch returned to the loss of parking at Walkersville Middle School. In January, Mr. Kuster noted that the Middle School loses scores of parking spaces in the plan. The revised plan does nothing to improve upon this.
Mr. Winch noted the use of the Middle School for elections, sports, and other after-school activities requires a lot of parking. He expressed concerns with people having to park along neighboring streets and using other properties for parking. Parking for voting would be a real problem.
Commission member David Ennis returned to concerns about proposed parking for school buses. Currently, school buses park on the property overnight and over weekends. They take up car parking spaces. The proposed site plan includes sixteen parking spaces for buses. Mr. Ennis stressed that buses should not be parking on the property. He questioned whether the current and proposed use is compliant with zoning as it was never expressly permitted.
Mr. Ennis questioned the maintenance of landscaping that FCPS proposes planting on Mill Run’s HOA property. FCPS stated that the landscaping would be a gift to the HOA to screen their properties. FCPS planned on Mill Run maintaining the landscaping. Mr. Ennis pointed out that site plan approvals require not only planting, but continued maintenance of landscaping shown on the plan. So, FCPS would need an easement or some legal agreement to provide for the continued maintenance of any landscaping.
Mr. Ennis asked Town staff if FCPS was required to apply for a waiver to Town Code limiting lots to a single principle building. Susan Hauver, Planning and Zoning Administrator, noted that there was not a requirement for a waiver. The Town Code states that the Planning Commission may approve more than one principle building if the plans meet “excellence of design standards, including, but not limited to the following:
- Encouragement or concentration of complementary uses;
- Provision for well-planned integrated development with maximum convenience and efficiency for users;
- Where due to size and location of the development and its relationship to surrounding properties, flexibility of planning may be desirable without disturbance to the harmony of the neighborhood;
- Facilitation of a development plan with a unified and organized arrangement of buildings, service areas, parking and landscaped open space providing for maximum convenience of customers.”
In response, FCPS responded that they would draft a response to show how they meet those requirements.
Residents in attendance were asked to comment or question on any items that were not already discussed by FCPS or the Planning Commission members.
Matt Lubold, a resident of Mill Run, questioned how close to property lines construction would occur. FCPS responded that grading would occur up to the property line with Mr. Lubold’s neighborhood. Town staff confirmed that this is allowed by law.
Mr. Lubold expressed concerns with people parking on Ports Circle and walking to Rock Creek. Planning Commission member Russ Winch explained that such a concern would have to be addressed by the Burgess and Town Commissioners to restrict parking.
Michael Malek, Vice-President of the Mill Run HOA, brought the lack of communication from FCPS to everyone’s attention. He complained that no one had been contacted by FCPS. Mr. Malek said the HOA had not discussed any of the easements or agreements with FCPS.
Mr. Malek also noted the flooding that occurs because the culverts that run under the railroad are too small. Water backs up without the added water being routed around the proposed school. Neighbors showed photographs of the flooding conditions. FCPS representatives suggested that this was by design or poor design by the builder.
Carol Lubold asked for 3-D renderings. She complained that it is very difficult for neighbors to understand what they will see when they look out their windows or from their back yards. To help visualize, FCPS explained that the school building will be built on a pad that is five to six feet higher than the current grade of the property.
Mrs. Lubold worried that they will see nothing but a school from their homes. She noted that her family bought their home less than two years ago. When they purchased their home, nothing like this school was planned. The property was a large field between their home and the middle school.
Kasey Ramsburg, another Mill Run resident, also rose concerns about the loss of screen for her property. She asked how long it would take for the proposed trees and screening to grow and block their view of the school. The FCPS landscape architect responded that it could be twenty years. Then, he said some of the faster trees could be there in ten years.
Residents asked if FCPS had gone back to its list of possible sites for Rock Creek School since encountering all of the issues in planning for this site. “It feels like you’re trying to fit a square peg in a round hole.” Mr. Winch agreed. FCPS staff said that was a Board of Education issue. When asked who to contact about that, they referred folks to Board of Education President Brad Young.
Residents asked what would happen if Mill Run HOA does not sign an agreement or easment with FCPS. Members of the Planning Commission explained that the site plan proposed cannot be approved without an easement. They further explained that FCPS would have to go back and re-design their site without the need for an easement or any agreements with Mill Run.
With the Rock Creek Site Plan scheduled for the Walkersville Planning Commission’s April 23rd Public Hearing, residents asked if it was possible to arrange an easement with FCPS and Mill Run. It was explained that an approval could be conditional on the two parties reaching an agreement. If no agreement were reached, the final approval would never be given.