Family Gets a New Address In Bethesda -- Without Moving

By Miranda S. Spivack
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 17, 2009

It was painful enough for the Beyersdorfer family to learn that Montgomery County had approved a builder's plans to tear down their neighbor's house and replace it with two larger ones. But then, on May 29, came a terse form letter with startling news:

Effective immediately, the address for the suburban split-level the Beyersdorfers have occupied for 43 years is no longer 6211 Wedgewood Rd. That address now belongs to one of the two unbuilt houses next door. The Beyersdorfer house has been bumped to 6213.

It was, the letter said, simply a matter of public safety. The numbering system is designed to help emergency vehicle drivers easily find addresses, the letter said, and a sequential system is the best way to do that.

Or, as a county planning official told Anne Beyersdorfer one recent day as she questioned the decision, "sometimes you just don't have any options." And no, the county doesn't allow 6209 1/2 or 6209A and 6209B.

"That's just rude," Beyersdorfer said. "How can there be no options?"

The letter does acknowledge that an address change could be something of a hassle.

"We apologize for any inconveniences these necessary changes may present; however the safety of our citizens must take precedence," the form letter advised.

"The [Planning] Commission is responsible for ensuring that all newly assigned addresses in the County present a clear precise flow for public safety which is our number one priority."

But it's also about those new checks Beyersdorfer just ordered. And the names in her address book. Will the charities she favors still find her? If the mail carrier switches to a new route after the postal service's 12-month grace period expires, will the mail be returned to sender?

And it's about something a little less tangible, something the letter doesn't really discuss.

"It doesn't take account of the personal nature of these things," Beyersdorfer said.

The letter offers no recourse, but with a little sleuthing, Beyersdorfer discovered that there is something of an appeal process, or maybe a chance to get a little help with the expenses she will incur as she notifies hundreds of people that her address is changing.

On Monday, she reached yet another person at the planning agency, development review chief Rose Krasnow, who at least showed some sympathy, Beyersdorfer said.

"I don't blame her in the least," Krasnow said after the two conferred by phone. "You think if you buy a house, you own your address, but you absolutely do not own your address," she said. "It never makes anybody happy. " The county appears to have followed the same procedure for at least two decades, but no one could say for sure.

She said she sees about one case a year in which someone's address needs to change because of infill development, but she predicted it would happen more often as teardowns occur in older neighborhoods.

New addresses pop up several times a month in nearby Fairfax County, a spokesman said, but he couldn't tell whether that was due to an increase in new developments and new streets or infill construction such as in the Beyersdorfer case.

As it happens, none of the other houses on the block will be affected. The next house already was number 6215.

In Montgomery, the policy is to avoid fractions or letters in addresses, Krasnow confirmed.

"Fire and rescue hates that," she said, noting that a few older buildings with letters in their addresses have been allowed to keep them. Krasnow isn't optimistic that she can do much to help the Beyersdorfer family, though she is looking into the matter.

Pete Piringer, spokesman for Montgomery's fire and rescue agency, said he thought the department could find houses no matter what and noted that there are some A's and B's used in apartment buildings. But he also said that the department had agreed to the system used by the planning agency and that it can be helpful to have sequential numbers for addresses.

Beyersdorfer is not ready to call it quits or to give in to the notion that her address is changing. But she's not too hopeful that she can beat the system. Mostly, she said, she wants people to know the latest fallout of cultural change in the suburbs, an ever-evolving place that sometimes seems in danger of losing its sense of community -- the neighborliness that longtime residents of Wedgewood Road celebrate in block parties, by watching out for each other's houses during vacations and by helping out elderly neighbors.

"It does not bode well. People's quality of life is kind of excluded from the process," Beyersdorfer said.

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