County officials informed Rockville residents at a project update meeting in July that they are open to putting up sound barriers and fencing to separate the Diversion Center site from their neighborhood. Credit: Department of General Services

Hoping to partner with Rockville residents and mental health advocates further, Montgomery County officials are establishing a stakeholder engagement team in mid-August to develop plans for the future Diversion Center in Rockville.

“You should be part of the process and not just hear what the process is,” Earl Stoddard, the county’s Assistant Chief Administrative Officer, said to Rockville community members at a July 20 project update meeting. 

One attendee, Hannah Fisher, a Fallsmead resident, said that before the forum some residents felt the county dismissed their concerns about the center.

“We’re still not thrilled about the project,” she said. “But hopefully, by meeting together, collaborating on not just landscaping, but really security and safety issues like fencing. … Hopefully, the end product will be better than what we initially anticipated.”

At the meeting, which was the third community forum about the project, county officials shared more details about the $18.7 million county-funded project and attempted to clear confusion about facility operations.

Previously the county called the center a “Restoration Center,” but have now steered away from the name as it does not completely align with the type of facility the county wants to operate, Stoddard explained at the meeting. Now dubbed the Diversion Center, it will operate as a facility that aims to divert people experiencing a mental health crisis or substance use crisis from arrest or going to the hospital.


The site will be located on Seven Locks Road next to the Montgomery County Detention Center and a Department of General Services (DGS) office building, and will be operated by the Department of Health and Human Services or a DHHS contractor, according to the project page.

Officials explained that the diversion center will provide short-term crisis stabilization services and referrals to community-based resources, and is only available for county residents age 18 and older who are transported by public safety responders, transferred from a hospital or transferred after release from the neighboring detention center.

Residents near the Seven Locks site as well as Rockville Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton and the City Council have been opposed to the project and are concerned that the facility may negatively impact neighborhood safety. At the meeting, a handful of residents brought up an incident this March in which a detainee escaped a police patrol car at the detention center and ran into the neighborhood, as reported by WTOP.


Attendees of the meeting included members of the Seven Locks Alliance – a group of residents in the area surrounding the diversion center site – all four members of the Rockville City Council, Mayor Newton, County Councilmember Sidney Katz (D-Dist. 3) and mental health advocates.

The Seven Locks Alliance have strongly opposed the construction of the diversion center and are concerned about neighborhood safety, noise and pollution from construction and stated the site should be built somewhere else in the county.

For the stakeholder engagement team, which will also include Stoddard, the county proposed a composition of:

  • Two members from the neighboring community
  • Two members of the recovery community, National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)
  • One member from the Department of Health and Human Services
  • One member from the Department of General Services
  • One member from the Department of Correction and Rehabilitation

Composition of the team is subject to change and could include more members from the neighboring community – such as the Falls Ridge, Potomac Springs, Fallsmead neighborhoods – Stoddard said at the meeting. Those interested in being part of the team must advise county officials by Aug. 15. The team will begin meeting in early September, county officials said.

At the meeting, DGS director David Dise explained the site layout and design. He said that the department is open to constructing sound walls, visual barriers and landscaping design that would provide the nearby residential neighborhoods separation from the center.

Evelyn Burton, the Maryland Advocacy Chair for the Schizophrenia and Psychosis Action Alliance, said the center is a “welcome addition to crisis services” in the county, but is not a complete answer to the problem of overcrowded emergency rooms or diversion from jails.


“But it is one piece that we’ve been missing and would help in that regard,” she said.

Stoddard noted during the forum that the county made mistakes early into the planning process with communicating the project to the public, for example, with client intake operations, determining who is permitted to use the center, as well as the size of the facility.

The facility will not be open to non-county residents, walk-ins, referrals from behavioral health organizations and children or adolescents.


Marissa Valeri, a long-time Rockville resident currently running for City Council, attended the meeting and said that she was very happy to hear the news about a future diversion center.

“I was very proud that Rockville was going to be home to such a cutting-edge model for assisting this community that is very much already marginalized,” Valeri said. “It is truly shameful, that for a county of over a million people, we have exactly one crisis center that people can walk into or call, you know, it’s just unconscionable.”

Currently the county has a 24-hour crisis center at 1301 Piccard Drive in Rockville with four crisis beds available. The diversion center will have 25 spaces for people staying less than 24 hours and 20 beds for stays less than 72 hours.


Burton said the success of the diversion center will depend on whether the facility will provide any follow-up or continuing care to individuals after they are released.

“That wasn’t really addressed in the meeting, but I think it’s an important component,” she said.

Stephanie Rosen, the executive director of NAMI (the National Alliance on Mental Illness) in Montgomery County, told MoCo360 at the forum that she believes the county has more work to do in developing plans for how the diversion center will operate. Rosen also said she wants the center to accept walk-ins.


In a statement to county officials, NAMI Montgomery County expressed support for the facility but called on county leaders to develop a comprehensive plan for diversion from the criminal justice system such as pre-arrest diversion, creating incentives for people who are booked or jailed to utilize the diversion center and on a site that is not associated with county criminal justice facilities.

“Mental illness has long been criminalized, and the Seven Locks campus has long been linked to incarceration in the minds of Montgomery County residents. DHHS must defuse stigma and decouple mental illness from criminality by locating the Diversion Center on a site that puts people at ease,” the statement from NAMI said.

Next steps for the project will include forming the stakeholder engagement team, continuing with the design phase and additional community forums for the public to attend later this year. According to Dise, the project could take up to three years to be complete and in operation.