Where Is Sustainable Growth When We Need It?
By Patricia Fenati
Citizens’ concerns about the Westbard project in Bethesda are just one more example of how the County Council and the County Planning Board seem to have no end to the projects they recommend that will greatly disturb the way of living for the citizens of their county. One has to wonder: what is the purpose of public hearings? Hours of objections presented by communities really seen to bore the committees as they shuffle through papers, respond to text messages and look at their computers during the hearings. And when the hearings close, there is no consideration taken of the objections presented to them.
Another project that was strongly protested by a county community is Woodfield Commons in Damascus. This project is going in behind a shopping center and next to a post office. It backs up to a hill. The only egress is to a state highway. It will introduce four story apartment buildings that tower over the single story shopping center and post office buildings and will obstruct the view of nearby neighborhoods. The development squeezes 89 apartments into a very small area which will allow only 100 parking places after the building is done. There is no nearby parking. The shopping center will not allow long term parking and will tow cars left there.
Of the 89 apartments, 80 will be low cost housing. The small town of Damascus will not be able to provide jobs for most of the people who will come there to live, and there is almost no public transportation in the town. Bus service runs every half hour and only goes to the Shady Grove Metro. To get to Germantown by bus (only about seven miles away) can take up to two hours.
The purpose of the five-member Montgomery County Planning Board is to “maintain and improve quality of life in our community. Acting upon such issues as growth, transportation, environmental protection, agriculture, historical preservation and forest conservation, the Planning Board affects your everyday life.” Of these 7 issues it seems the only issue the county is concerned about in Damascus is GROWTH. But we can be sure the Woodfield Commons decision by the Planning Board WILL affect the everyday life of Damascus residents.
My family has lived in Damascus for 43 years. We have seen considerable growth in the outlying areas of the town over the years with mostly single homes and a few town home developments closer to town. But with all the growth, the town has kept its friendly small town rural atmosphere. Under the Master Plan, Damascus was not targeted for high density growth. But putting four story apartment housing into Damascus is certainly high density.
A few years ago, Governor O’Malley boasted about the Smart Growth program that he formed and which was “centered on concentrating development in suitable areas, and protecting sensitive areas.”
The vision of Smart growth was to “concentrate new development and redevelopment in areas that have existing or planned infrastructure to avoid sprawl.” What we are talking about in Woodfield Commons is crowded dense sprawl.
Smart Growth had four straightforward goals:
- Support existing communities by targeting resources to support development in areas where infrastructure exists;
- Save our most valuable natural resources before they are forever lost;
- Save taxpayers from the high cost of building infrastructure to serve development that has spread far from our traditional population centers; and
- Provide Marylanders with a high quality of life, whether they choose to live in a rural community, suburb, small town, or city.
With the Woodfield Garden plans none of those goals will be met:
- There are no planned targeted resources to support this growth. The schools and traffic will be negatively affected. Bus service will be inadequate,
- Insufficient attention has been paid to natural resources and the character of the town will be lost forever
- There would be great costs involved to build the infrastructure needed to support these projects that are so far from population centers
- And the quality of life Damascus Residents chose when moving to a small community will be lost
Not only is Woodfield Commons not suitable for the current residents, but its suitability for projected residents is questionable. Will they find the schools, the roads, the public transportation they need and will their environment be suitably protected? Part of Smart Growth is that adequate public facilities and infrastructure under the control of the county or municipal corporation are available or planned in areas where growth is to occur. I know of no such planning.
Part of the reason given for sustainable growth was to enhance the ongoing efforts to preserve and protect natural, agricultural and historic resources. Damascus is a close-knit community with much history. The small town atmosphere should be preserved and protected.
I have heard that the sustainable growth program has prevented farmers from building a home on their own farms for their grown children. Is sustainable growth only for regulating people’s private lives and property, or is it really, as was stated, to prevent overdevelopment and to sustain the countryside and small towns that make up our county and state? If only the former, then it is simply a political game that O’Malley’s party is playing. The only party representing Montgomery County has certainly violated the spirit of this plan in Clarksburg, the town next to Damascus, as green fields have morphed into a small city. This citification is now moving into Damascus.
People who move to the country move there because they want to live in the country. They do not want the city to follow them. But there seems to be no one who will listen to our concerns.