Zio-2015-10-4_0415

UPDATED: City Responds to KCA’s Request for $900,000 to Fix Retaining Wall

Zio-2015-10-4_0431ORIGINAL POST UPDATED 7.24.15 The Kentlands Citizens Assembly (KCA) is requesting $900,000 from the city of Gaithersburg to fix a retaining wall that runs along Quince Orchard Road. A section of the wall partially collapsed over a year ago.

The KCA’s request was transmitted in a letter dated July 9th to the Mayor and Council and signed by KCA President Barney Gorin and board members Chris Campbell, Ty Hardaway, Glen Palman, Robert Randolph and Rob Garretson.

“On March 30, 2014, a retaining wall belonging to the Kentlands Citizen Assembly and bordering Quince Orchard Road suffered a catastrophic failure,” wrote the KCA leaders. “Our purpose in writing to you is to provide context for that event, describe the Assembly’s actions over the ensuing 15 months, and to ask for the city’s financial help in accelerating the remediation of the remainder of the wall.”

On July 21st, Gaithersburg City Manager Tony Tomasello responded to the board’s request in writing.

“This is an unprecedented funding request and will require a little time to work through, but we will do so as quickly as possible,” said Tomasello. “City staff may be reaching out to you shortly for clarification of some aspects of the letter, and possibly for additional information that we deem necessary.”

A note on the letter in this week’s Council packet indicates that both City Attorney Lynn Board and Councilmember Neil Harris have recused themselves from the retaining wall matter.

“I recused myself from participation in this matter as I am a Kentlands resident and as such pay HOA fees,” said Board in an email to MyMCMedia. “As such, the City’s decision on the retaining wall could have a direct financial impact on me personally.”

According to the KCA leaders, the collapse of a section of the retaining wall on March 30th scattered debris into Quince Orchard Road, forced the road’s closure for several days, exposed two townhouses to the danger of collapse, and required that “two families leave their homes for ‘temporary’ stays in hotels that lasted for many months.”

The KCA leaders said they took “immediate emergency action” to stabilize the situation. The homeowners association worked with city staff to provide temporary housing to the families whose properties were condemned and installed temporary structures to contain the remaining damaged sections of the wall. The KCA also worked with an engineering firm and specialty contractor to implement a city approved remediation plan for the most affected potion of the wall so the buildings adjacent to it were no longer at risk.

retainingwall9“The cost for this work was approximately $400,000,” said the KCA leaders in the July 9th letter. It was paid for from reserve funds.

“We increased the part of our monthly assessments that funds our reserves by approximately 25% in the Assembly’s calendar 2015 budget to address the emergency repair expenses,” the KCA leaders said. “This increase was approved before the full scope of the wall’s condition was understood so further increases are being considered to deal with the magnitude of the wall’s remediation. While the Kentlands demographic is relatively affluent, increases of this scale are a hardship for those seniors and young families who are part of our diverse neighborhood.”

During the summer and fall of 2014, KCA volunteers and leaders examined the wall carefully and apparently found more problems.

“The result of this investigation was the conclusion that, while stable for the moment, the entire wall complex along Quince Orchard Road is in distress and shows the same signs of structural failure that were present in the section that collapsed into Quince Orchard Road,” explained the KCA leaders in the letter. “The Kentlands Citizens Assembly leadership determined that the wall’s condition represented a hazard to the Kentlands residents living adjacent to the wall, to the public using Quince Orchard Road, and to those walking on the sidewalk adjacent to the road.”

According to KCA leaders, the wall situation was discussed in an open Kentlands meeting where it was determined that “immediate action was needed to protect its residents and the public at large.”

Since that meeting, a three-phase effort has been developed to remediate the remainder of the wall. The KCA has negotiated a sole source contract with Avon Construction for the work. KCA leaders said they “directed Avon to begin work on the design and permitting effort as quickly as possible rather than follow a competitive bid strategy to address the fact that the wall’s condition is a clear and present danger to public safety.”

The work is now underway and Phase 1 is expected to be complete by late summer, according to the KCA letter.

Work on Phase 2 and Phase 3 is planned for 2016 and 2017, respectively.

In order to pay for the work, the KCA reports that other maintenance work, such as repair and repaving of the community’s many mews, “be deferred to meet the unplanned and un-budgeted wall and remediation expense.”

The KCA estimates the total cost for the wall’s remediation is $2 million over four years. So far, KCA leaders said they have paid $400,000 for remediation work in 2014.  The cost for repairs in 2015 is expected to be $700,000 (and some of it has been partially paid by the KCA). The homeowner association leaders said costs for work in 2016 is estimated at half a million dollars, and $400,000 is estimated for the needed repairs planned for 2017.

According to the KCA leaders, insurance claims for these emergency repairs have been denied.

“We lack the resources to remediate the wall as quickly as is desirable for effective management of the risk to the public from further wall collapse,” said the KCA leaders in the letter to city officials. “The Assembly leadership believes that is in the city of Gaithersburg’s best interest to help the Assembly accelerate the wall’s remediation. We ask that the city provide the Assembly with the funding needed, $900,000, to allow us to direct Avon to press the overall project to completion as rapidly as feasible rather than on a schedule dictated by the Assembly’s cash flow.”

When asked if the letter would be discussed at the city’s July 20th meeting, Gaithersburg Mayor Jud Ashman said: “I have seen the request and am discussing it with staff. At this point, I have no plans to bring it up at the meeting.”

The city of Gaithersburg has posted the KCA letter on the city’s website in the queue for outside correspondence on the Council agenda. You can also read it below:

UPDATED: City Responds to KCA's Request for $900,000 to Fix Retaining Wall

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ORIGINAL POST UPDATED 7.24.15 The Kentlands Citizens Assembly (KCA) is requesting $900,000 from the city of Gaithersburg to fix a retaining wall that runs along Quince Orchard Road. A section of the wall partially collapsed over a year ago. The KCA’s request was transmitted in a letter dated July 9th to the Mayor and Council and […]

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Sonya Burke

About Sonya Burke

Sonya Burke is the Multimedia Manager at Montgomery Community Media (MCM). You can email story ideas at sburke@mymcmedia.org or reach her on Twitter @SonyaNBurke.

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