Traffic, Sprawl on Readers' Minds

Thursday, December 31, 1998; Page M01

This is a selection of the letters that were printed.

Montgomery County residents have plenty to say about what issues or problems county officials ought to tackle first in 1999.

Asked to tell us their advice to County Executive Douglas M. Duncan and the County Council, most wrote of paralyzing traffic congestion and pleaded for transportation solutions as well as restraint on development and sprawl. The letters, which were trimmed for space and edited for clarity, urged officials to listen more to residents on growth issues, protect the county's open space and deal with crowded schools.

There were other suggestions: Build more libraries, particularly in the fastest growing areas of the county; spend more for playing fields and recreation centers for children; put cameras at traffic lights to catch red-light runners; and reduce the deer population. One resident who likes to go swimming before the morning commute asked only that the pool she uses open on time at 6 a.m., so that she'll have time to take a dip.

For the most part, most said Montgomery is a great place to live. But many are worried about the impact of traffic and development, and they want their elected officials to do something about it.

A Developed Vision

I would like to tell Mr. Duncan and the new members of the County Council that there is way too much development going on in the county, and it appears that the county will not be satisfied until every last bit of green space is taken and every last tree is cut down. I am specifically concerned about the development that is taking place up and down Rockville Pike.

With Mr. Duncan's blessing, the last of the trees and green around the Grosvenor Metro will soon turn into approximately 1,000 apartments. And the county is planning approximately the same number of units at the Twinbrook and White Flint Metro stops, in addition to the convention center with hotel that will go up within two miles of the 3,000 units. Then it hires firms to do traffic studies that say there will be no impact on the traffic on Rockville Pike!

Mr. Duncan should have saved the county's budget for the traffic studies and spent a few hours on Saturday on the pike, and I can assure you he would have a different opinion of the traffic than those of his "experts." He should also stand around and admire the trees because they soon will be gone and apartment buildings will be in their place.

The convention center is being built so that Montgomery County will not lose money to other counties competing for the money that conventions bring in--and obviously it's the money driving the county to build and build new apartments, but at what cost?

The county will soon look so ugly and be so overdeveloped and the traffic so bad that the only ones left will be the attendees at the conferences who will look around and think to themselves that they're sure glad they're just visiting because who would want to live in a county that looks like the vision Mr. Duncan currently has for it.

Susan Fusi

Ideas on Traffic

In my family, there is little else about the county that gets our ire more than the subject of traffic.

For starters, county officials should push aside Baltimore BWI biases and rural protection programs for high-bred horse farms and work toward building another bridge between Potomac and Fairfax, west of the American Legion Bridge. Ultimately, the county should link Gaithersburg with Dulles Airport. Besides making traffic sense, it makes good economic development sense.

Then, toss away the costly and time-consuming alternative route studies and federal environmental brown-trout concerns and build the intercounty connector already. This road should have been built long ago along the route where more than 65 percent of the rights of way have been purchased. This route will have the least impact to residents and the most benefit to traffic. And whatever the environmental impact to our already degraded streams, so be it, it will be short-lived. The current road congestion is no environmental panacea, either.

Last but not least. Our Virginia neighbors have figured out a way to keep tails on red-light runners using cameras at signals, catching offenders and sending them traffic fines in the mail. The Europeans have been using these cameras for more than 20 years. But for some political reason in Montgomery County, few lawmakers have had the chutzpah to do the same. Poppycosh.

My family passes through green lights very cautiously these days because you never know who's going to blow through a solid red on the other side of an intersection. Let's stop testing the few cameras that pass around various intersections in the county, and instead, permanently install them at major intersections. At the same time, stop the current policy of sending warnings to offending drivers and send the real traffic fines.

Steven J. Slater
North Potomac

Consider the Consequences

Montgomery County must address the philosophy of growth at a more basic level than the technical treatment of the annual growth policy. If a reduction in our enjoyment of life is the consequence of growth, we need to ask fundamental questions about the desirability of growth related to the quality of life. Why is growth itself seen as desirable? What growth level is too much?

The usual response to the first question is that increased tax revenue from business is a goal, since revenue pays for services. However, that quick response misses the point: Increases in business and the associated increased population require more services. This realization leads to a further question. Are we trapped in a cycle of increased services needing more revenue that needs more growth?

My request of county officials is this: Address growth as a long-term phenomenon with consequences for the lives of all citizens.

David C. Montgomery
Chevy Chase

A Plea for Open Space

I would like to see Montgomery County slow down the rampant growth that is overtaking the northern part of the county. Every green space north of Gaithersburg is being developed and filled with town houses, strip malls and discount shopping centers. All the roads are being widened to accommodate this unfettered growth. There is an old American view that growth is progress. I know it increases the tax base, and that delights the hearts of most politicians. Please stop and look at quality-of-life issues--open space, good air, room for wild life, clean water and less traffic. If development were more carefully planned and regulated, the need for more schools and more roads would be lessened. It's a self-defeating cycle to increase the population of the county, add to the tax base and then use the tax money to build more schools and roads. Sooner or later, there will be no quiet open areas left in the county except in the parks.

Nancy H. O'Connell

Reexamine Growth Ethic

County Executive Doug Duncan and the County Council must reexamine the "growth" ethic that has been featured so prominently in many recent discussions of county matters. Not every consequence of economic growth is beneficial. As part of their reexamination, the county executive and council would do well to institute a neighborhood preservation policy and to review and overhaul the process by which area master plans are revised.

Growth in its recent Montgomery County incarnation seems inevitably to involve large real estate deals and giveaways. The recently adopted Friendship Heights Sector Plan justifies its endorsement of the developers' position by waving the growth banner. High levels of development are proposed under the new plan. Area residents are most concerned about the increase in traffic that new construction under this plan would generate. If gridlock deters people from shopping or working in Friendship Heights, we will be saddled with an economic burden, not economic growth. Furthermore, these projects must be very carefully planned so that new development enhances rather than overwhelms the community. The current project review procedure is inconsistent and lacks adequate checks and safeguards to ensure that developers even adhere to the sector plan.

Because the county discounted community concerns during the Friendship Heights Sector Plan revision, individual developers are finding that there is much less local support for their proposals than they had expected. In effect, the county's current approach has put all parties in an unnecessarily adversarial position.

The County Council and the county executive must reestablish community-based priorities in considering the questions of growth.

Allison I. Fultz

Controlled Growth

My concern has to do with controlled growth, especially in western Montgomery County. I was under the impression that West of Quince Orchard Road along the Route 28 corridor that the zoning was not to change in favor of higher density development.

I built my house in 1991 and was told there would be no water or sewer in the foreseeable future. I am on well and septic tank. Upon petition to the zoning board and County Council, an exception was made and now water and sewer run down my street. Higher density development is going up across the street.

At the center of the Darnestown business district, a Food Lion is being built. The Darnestown Civic Association and others have been opposed to this, to no avail. We already can see the results of these changes in the number of traffic lights that have mushroomed along Route 28 in the last 18 months. Traffic during rush hour is becoming bumper-to-bumper, and this is in "rural western Montgomery County"!

Montgomery County has been a wonderful place to live. Let's keep it that way.

Norman Prince Jr.

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