The Montgomery County Council has postponed action until spring on one of the few controversial items in this year's capital improvements program - whether to acquire four acres of land from Geico insurance company in Friendship Heights for use as a public park.
Although the proposed Brookdale Park has strong support from residents in its area, county executive James P. Gleason and the county planning board have gone on record in favor of deleting the project from the program. The park would consist of 2 1/2 acres of land on both sides of Dalton Road and the project includes a 1.6-acre narrow strip of land that would connect the park with Willard Avenue and Western Avenue. According to the program, the park would be able to accomodate 50 persons.
In recommending disapproval, Gleason said that the cost of the park "could amount to more than half the entire local park acquisition budget in the year in which it is scheduled. Only passive uses would be possible in this small area surrounded by intense development."
However, at a public hearing Feb. 2, residents of the area argued in favor of the park, saying it was necessary because it would add to the quality of life. They also said they thought the Council had gone back on its promise to acquire the park.
The Friendship Heights Sector Plan approved by the Council in 1974 said the park "is programmed for acquisition and development by the Maryland National Park and Planning Commission in the fiscal years 1976 and 1977. Last year, however, the Council delayed acquiring the land, citing a lack of funds.
At the public hearing, Norman Knoff of 4701 Overbrook Rd., Bethesda, testified, "It is suggested that the projects should be deleted because they are too costly. We believe it is too late to raise cost considerations."
David Norcross of 5327 Allandale Rd., Bethesda, said, "I feel sincerely that your own (the Council's) credibility might be suspect if the park promised for Brookdale is not provided."
At a work session, the Council voted to dalay making a decision on Brookdale Park until the close of the state legislative session, when they would know how much state money to count on.
But two Council members indicated they do not favor acquiring the land now. Because Geico has refused to negotiate to sell the land, the only way the land could be acquired would be through condemnation.
In a written statement explaining his opposition to condemnation, Councilman Neal Potter said, "The difficulty with condemnation is that the criteria for valuing land in a court case is 'the value of the land at its highest and best use.'" He told the Council, "If we go to condemnation, we've got to cough up an awful lot of scarce bucks for minimum public benefit." He recommended that the project be retained in the capital improvements program for future acquisition and development "while making it clear that a reasonable price should be achieved by negotiation."
Councilman Norman Christeller proposed that acquisition be delayed for six years with the stipulation that that the county would be ready to negotiate advance bonds to purchase the plot in the event Geico agreed to negotiate. He suggested that acquisition be accelerated in the event of a proposed change in land use that would affect the proposed park.
Currently, the land is reserved as green space as a requirement of a special exception permit granted Geico for parking on land zoned for residential use.