This is my last letter before I step down as President of WMCCA and
leave the organization in the hands of the indefatigable spirit that is
Ginny Barnes – recently recognized by the County Council as one of the
“40 Environmentalists to make a significant impact in Montgomery County
during the last 40 Years.” As we move into our summer hiatus, there is
an important issue in process that deserves the collective attention
and concern of our community – the County Council’s attempt to
dismantle the Montgomery County Department of Parks. The Department of
Parks is part of the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning
Commission, a State organization. The County Council’s proposal
includes the elimination of the Park Police force, whose function will
be transferred to the Montgomery County Police, and the transfer of all
recreation activities managed by the Department of Parks not central to
the core mission to the Department of Recreation under the County
Executive. The Department of Recreation has an entirely different
focus to their offerings, commonly contracted out to commercial
entities rather than offered by County or Park staff, educators and
naturalists. The Council has also proposed the elimination of the
Office of the People’s Council for one year. The People’s Council
provides significant support to citizens and community groups trying to
navigate the legal system when facing special exception cases,
development issues, and mandatory referrals, among other issues. This
plan is being proposed in part to address County budget woes, but it is
unclear if these changes will have any significant impact on the
County’s bottom line. Regardless of budget impact, the influence of
the Department of Parks on the quality of life in Montgomery County
will be diminished, and this is a loss for all of us.
Western Montgomery County is a treasure reflecting hundreds of years of history through its buildings, trails, parks, farmlands, woodlands, scenic roads and open fields. It is also a place that has seen significant changes, including the demise of farming and equestrian life, and increased housing developments. Change is inevitable and often necessary for a community to sustain itself in the face of an increasing population, but despite pressures for zoning changes, Potomac remains a window to our County’s history and a place that values the environment and our natural resources. WMCCA has had a heavy hand in supporting these protections, which make the quality of life in Potomac so high. I credit WMCCA’s success in this regard to our assiduous Board of Directors, the time they invest in studying the issues and concerns of our community, and their work in communicating with the County Council, Park and Planning, the Department of Environmental Protection, and other County entities on behalf of the community. WMCCA Board members collectively invest hundreds of hours attending meetings, testifying at hearings, writing letters and testimony, and reaching out to neighbors to listen to their concerns. The greatest reward of our work is to see that much of what we cherish in Montgomery County remains unchanged, protected, and conserved. It has been a great privilege to be entrusted with WMCCA’s agenda, and as I conclude my term as President, I feel gratitude for the opportunity to work on behalf of this community and also a delight to have worked beside so many dedicated individuals.
Good News / Bad News About the Great Seneca Science Corridor – by Diana Conway
The name of the project has shifted from “Gaithersburg West Master Plan” to “Great Seneca Science Corridor,” and the area near Shady Grove Road and Darnestown Road is in for big changes. Nearby communities like ours are destined to feel the impact on our roads, our schools, and community resources. There are some key improvements to the plan to protect surrounding communities from unacceptable levels of traffic congestion, thanks to effective, sustained advocacy by many individuals and community organizations, including WMCCA’s watchdog group – Diana Conway, chair, Elie Cain, Betsi Dahan, Mike Denker, Cindy Fain, and Carol Van Dam. But we remain deeply concerned.
On the Upside – Density for areas around Shady Grove was reduced from 20
million to 17.5 million square feet. Traffic tests were kept at current
standards of 1,450 cars per lane per hour, rather than rising to 1,600, as
had been proposed. The community’s touchstone landscape will be partially
preserved – the Belward Farm at Route 28 and Muddy Branch Road will be
somewhat protected by requiring Johns Hopkins to push its footprint back
from that unique landscape, so the rolling hill and vista to the barns will
be preserved in perpetuity. Greater staging triggers were imposed, such as
requiring 5,700 of the new
housing units to be part of the staging plan for transportation (as the commercial development is) – this means that after a trigger point, no further commercial or residential growth may occur until completion of infrastructure improvements to support that growth. The Corridor Cities Transitway must be at least halfway constructed before commercial development can go beyond the 13 million square feet already approved to 17.5 million square feet now allowed. There will be more affordable housing, a Planning Board implementing committee, and an advisory committee. And there is more specificity about how the Plan achieves environmental sustainability (e.g., a specific target for tree canopy), uses open space, and provides connectivity to surrounding neighborhoods.
Now the Downside – As community activist Donna Baron put it, County Council reductions in density took us from the equivalent to 4.5 Pentagons, down to a mere four Pentagons. This increasing density pressures all surrounding areas, including Potomac’s Green Wedge and the Agricultural Reserve. The closest Metro stop is five miles from the Great Seneca Science Corridor area – thus more drivers, more roads, and more congestion. The Corridor Cities Transitway (CCT) is predicted to carry, at best, only 12 to 15 percent of additional commuters, so 85 percent (over 50,000 cars) will be added to already congested roads. Expect six- and eight-lane highways with ten- and twelve-lane multilevel highway interchanges to handle the additional traffic – at odds with the County’s stated goal of more pedestrian-friendly in-filling. Historic Belward Farm will be developed for 15,000 people in ten- to 15-story buildings up to 150 feet tall, in violation of the terms of the gift/sale by Ms. Banks to Johns Hopkins Real Estate.
Election of WMCCA Officers and Directors
The Nominating Committee proposes the following slate of WMCCA Officers and Directors to the membership for a vote at our May 26th meeting. Nominations may also be made from the floor.
President: Ginny Barnes
President Elect: Susanne Lee; Vice President: Shawn Justement;
Immediate Past President: Liza Durant
Treasurer: George Barnes; Secretary: Kate Anderson; Newsletter: Lois Williams
Directors nominated for a two-year term: Elie Pisarra Cain, Diana Conway, Betsi Dahan, Carol Van Dam
Directors serving second year of a two-year term: Mike Denker, Cynthia Fain, John Yassin
Director nominated to serve second year of Shawn Justement’s term: Barbara Hoover
West Montgomery County Citizens Association Newsletter
Check the web site for information on issues we are working on.