Vernon depot defeated
By Kym Soper
VERNON — A proposed $7.9 million transportation center for downtown Rockville was quashed Tuesday night in a 6-5 vote by the Town Council as it decided against sending the package before voters next month in a special town meeting.
A divisive, hot-button issue for more than five years, the project would have been funded 80 percent by the federal government and 20 percent by the town. The town’s share was to be set aside in four annual allocations, two of which already have been budgeted. Voters would have decided at the public hearing next month whether to continue and allocate the third or scrap the project entirely.
The original concept called for a transportation hub that included a parking garage, retail outlets, office space, and bus station that would restore the downtown area to a thriving city and government center. But it’s gone through at least three major alterations in recent years and a number of site changes, making it difficult for council members to envision an end product.
Many said it would be little more than a bus station, while others believed that when partnered with additional projects, such as the much hoped for state music hall of fame, it could be a catalyst for economic boon.
Republican Mayor Jason L. McCoy said today that nothing is ever totally dead.
But by refusing to hold the public hearing in June, the Republican-led council effectively killed the project, as it wouldn’t be able to meet the October deadline for concrete plans.
Council Republicans who opposed the plan say it was the inability to nail down a precise concept for the project that led to its demise. There were too many “mights and maybes” and they wanted more solid information before bringing it to public hearing, they said.
Republican Councilman Mark Etre voted against his party, joining Democrats in their support of the project, saying it was a step toward revitalizing Rockville.
Democratic Councilwoman Marie Herbst says beyond that, the vote denied residents the right to weigh in on the project.
“That’s wrong — we’re a democracy. You can’t be making decisions on major projects like this without the public’s input. People have to be involved, particularly the people that live there,” Herbst said. “They denied the people of this community the right to speak for or against the project, and that is the crux of the problem.”
The Economic Development Commission and Rockville Downtown Association also urged the council to move forward with the project, saying it was only one piece of a larger puzzle.
But Republicans bristled at the thought of having nothing more than a bus station in the middle of downtown.
“I think the heart of the issue was, if I drive my car there to take the bus, where am I going to park my car?” said McCoy, who as mayor doesn’t cast a vote unless there is a tie.
McCoy said the plan does allow for some parking, but nothing that would compare with a multi-level garage.
“The sticking point however, is that we don’t know what we’re going to get until after we spend the money,” he added. “Operating expenses were also a concern for some of the council members, and there were no good answers for using it as an enterprise fund.”
Herbst, though, says the council has again given millions in funding to another town.
“The money will now go to Enfield,” who is also in line for receiving the funds and more willing to do the work on their own transportation center, she added. “It’s the same thing that happened with the YMCA when they refused to send it to referendum, and that went to Ellington.”
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