Big Changes Coming
President’s Letter – By Ginny Barnes
Montgomery County is facing an unprecedented budget crisis that has caused cuts in County services we’ve always taken for granted. Like our libraries. It is in large part because of reduced hours that we’ve been forced to change not only our meeting place but meeting time as well. We couldn’t book the library for all our scheduled meetings, and in order to be consistent month-to-month, we’ve moved to the Community Center on Falls Road for General Meetings. We will be starting our meetings earlier too at 7:15 p.m. and ending at 9:00 p.m. With a $300 million budget gap facing Montgomery County, there are more hardships to come, as a newly elected County Council will soon wrestle with reducing future salary increases, more reductions in the size of the government workforce, raising employee sharing of health benefits, restructuring retirement benefits, reducing debt service, and raising revenues through increased fees and taxes.
Meanwhile, our County government is dedicated to accommodating growth, and this past year approved the White Flint Sector Plan and the Gaithersburg West (now called Great Seneca Science Corridor) Master Plan. Both will bring increased density, traffic, and demand for services. Gaithersburg West alone is the size of four Pentagons and located on the very edge of land uses we have proudly dedicated to conservation the Agricultural Reserve and our residential green wedges. Do we believe this won’t increase pressures to break the zoning that protects these areas? Further indications that such land use decisions will change our long established planning patterns come with the Planning Board rewrite of the entire Zoning Code being undertaken with input from a 23-member Zoning Advisory Panel (ZAP). The most recent version, called the second discussion draft, has just been released. There are troubling aspects for every resident in proposals to consolidate our current 29 residential zones into eight and in the failure to give Master Plans the credence we’ve always counted on and defended. For Civic organizations, Master Plans are the foundations on which we depend to shape growth in our local communities.
Our roadside landscape bears painful evidence of the changes PEPCO has wrought with aggressive tree trimming and removal. In the two months since we had PEPCO representatives speak at our October meeting, PEPCO been using questions about their reliability as reason to engage in extreme cutting measures that leave whole sections of roadsides with rows of stumps and mutilated trees weakened and in danger of falling in future storms. Yet their reliability failure was based only in part on tree interference with power lines. In addition, the Countys Department of Transportation (DOT) street tree-planting budget was eliminated last year, so trees lost are not being replaced.
Closer to home, in Potomac Village we see our local retail shops replaced by businesses that can be found nearly everywhere else. What is left that is unique to Potomac? Or that brings people here for that gift found nowhere else? The Surrey was such a special shop for many years. Other commercial areas within the County have recognized the need for a balanced mixture of local business and established chains, while Potomac seems to be dominated primarily by banks and real estate offices. In both Rockville Town Center and downtown Silver Spring there has been active investment in creating community spaces where neighbors can meet, relax, talk and play. Public space features like fountains, courtyards, shaded seating areas, and gardens can serve as attractive gathering spots. And, why is there no place to meet a friend or colleague for breakfast? Or a book store with poetry readings and guest authors? Are such ventures too financially risky? The Village should and could be a lively and charming center of community life. Is it the economy? Or are we just becoming an affluent bedroom community in suburbia? I certainly hope not.
PNC Bank has withdrawn the application to replace its ATM kiosk with a “drive thru” teller island in the parking lot of the southeast quadrant of River Road and Falls Road (where Safeway and Strosniders Hardware are located).
Potomac Place Shopping Center (the southeast quadrant of River Road and Falls Road) managed by Zuckerman Gravely is planning a 550 square foot expansion that will take up part of the outdoor courtyard area near River Falls Seafood Market. The new space is to be integrated with the former M&T Bank space to accommodate a tavern to be known as River Falls Tavern. The applicant held a Site Plan pre-filing meeting on December 3, 2010. The WMCCA Board plans to meet with the applicant.
West Montgomery County Citizens Association Newsletter
P. O. Box 59335
Potomac, MD 20854-9335
President – Ginny Barnes 301 762-6423
Newsletter – Lois Williams
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