In Md., a Neighborhood Vanishes

Half of the houses in Montgomery County's Cashell Estates neighborhood have been bought by the state to make way for the ICC, which will run smack dab through 10 of the 18 houses. Video by Nikki Kahn/The Washington PostEditor: Anna Uhls/washingtonpost.comVoiceover: Shani George/The Washington Post
By Katherine Shaver
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, May 24, 2008

A few miles off Interstate 270, in the heart of bustling Montgomery County, a once-thriving neighborhood has taken on the feel of a ghost town.

Half the homes are vacant, their windows broken or boarded up. Driveways are strewed with debris. "No Trespassing" and "Beware of Dog" signs dot trees. Banging sounds come from empty houses where burglars pry copper pipes from the walls.

The culprit is not foreclosure but the imminent arrival of the six-lane intercounty connector that will slice through the Derwood neighborhood. This week, highway workers demolished a brick house and will soon raze five more on Garrett Road.

That will leave Mike Vechery's house alone at the end of the road. A short walk to the local park will become one mile after the state reroutes his residential street around the highway. His address will change. And his property value, predicted Vechery, who works in real estate, will drop by more than 35 percent.

"I've lost my road. I've lost my neighborhood," said Vechery, who lives in Bethesda but had considered moving one day to the five-bedroom home, which he rents out. "I'll have the ICC in my front yard and side yard, but they don't want to discuss anything. . . . It's going to change the whole way of life here. That's something they haven't really recognized."

Across the planned highway route, Kim Asbury and her parents are hoping to stay in their home of 44 years but will soon have six lanes of traffic and concrete sound walls cutting them off from all but two of their remaining neighbors.

"It's just devastating," said Asbury, 38, whose parents are fighting in court to save their house from demolition. "Before, you felt secure and knew your neighbors. Now, we don't know who's coming and going, or if someone is coming to break in. It's a very uncomfortable feeling."

This is life in Cashell Estates -- or what's left of it -- as work crews have begun building the intercounty connector. The highway's construction, scheduled to last five years, will be heard and felt by thousands of residents along an 18.8-mile swath of central Montgomery and northern Prince George's counties. But few communities have taken as direct a hit as Cashell Estates, a quiet, 60-year-old neighborhood of midsize houses, large lawns and towering oaks.

The toll highway between Gaithersburg and Laurel was long planned to run about a half-mile from Cashell Estates, which is off Redland Road about five miles northeast of downtown Rockville. But three years ago, residents learned that state highway officials had changed the route to cut through their neighborhood to reduce the environmental harm to nearby Rock Creek.

In the past two years, the state has condemned and bought nine of the 20 houses on Garrett and Overhill roads, requiring families to leave homes that some had lived in for 50 years.

Although those left behind kept their homes, they say they now fear a worse fate: being stuck in a decimated neighborhood that will soon be cut in two by a highway and concrete sound walls.

The vacant houses are now state property, and highway officials say those who tamper with them are trespassing and stealing. But neighbors say that hasn't stopped a steady stream of strangers from helping themselves.

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