When developer William Klinedinst proposed a 15,000 to 25,000-square-foot shopping center for the heart of Cabin John, he was welcomed by the tiny, residential community.
Commercial development of the so-called Touhey tract on MacArthur Boulevard at 77th Street was part of the Cabin John Park Citizens Association's self-designed master plan. They had already fought county planners who wanted to down-zone the tract and were ready to work with Klinedinst in developing the kind of shopping center that would meet the needs of Cabin John and nearby Carderock.
Residents of both communities drive between three and five miles to get to one of five shopping centers.
Even with the spirit of cooperation between communities and developer, the plans of MacArthur Boulevard's shopping center are in jeopardy. About a mile away (as the crow flies), at a point where River Road crosses the Beltway and heads for Potomac Village, Montgomery County's Master Plan calls for 2.3 acres of commercial development, and Joe Devereaux of Chevy Chase Realty wants to build a 60,000 to 70,000 square foot shopping center on 7.1 acres of land there."It would be something along the lines of Westbard Shopping Center, Potomac Village or Cabin John at Tuckerman Lane," he said.
If his plans to go through, there is little hope that MacArthur Boulevard would get a shopping area as well. "The River Road plan would be a death knell for us," said Judith Toth, a resident of Cabin John and delegate to the Maryland Assembly. Developer Klinedinst admitted that he would have to "rethink the whole thing. It would lessen our commercial approach because we wouldn't feel there would be enough interest for a return to come in."
The River Road plan (and hence, the MacArthur Boulevard plan) depends on Devereaux convincing the county to re-zone 4.85 acres from residential half-acre zoning to convenience commercial. The residents of communities that fan out from River Road near the Beltway and who would be among the customers for the proposed shopping center say they don't want it.
They argue that a 7.1 acre development is in violation of the Master Plan, which never contemplated a center that large; that there has not been any significant change in the character of the neighborhood nor has there been a mistake in zoning that would legally justify re-zoning; that traffic problems resulting from such a center at a Beltway intersection would be highly annoying, and that, most importantly, once re-zoning permeates a quadrant of the River Road and Beltway intersection, there is a real danger of rezoning of much of the vacant land all around the intersection.
"We don't want to see future commercial development produced by a foot in the door," said Ky Ewing, president of the Carderock Springs Citizens Association.
The citizens associations of Carderock Springs and West Bradley plus the Potomac Valley League, an umbrella organization of citizen groups, have put money into financing the lengthy legal battle against re-zoning.
According to Don Messenheimer, president of the West Bradley association, members have already been assessed $25 each and non-members have donated funds. Cabin John's association and the Montgomery County Civic Federation, a group of 60 civic associations, have given their morals, verbal and written support.
West Montgomery Citizens Association, a member of the county federation and a group representing home owners near River Road at Potomac Village, has taken its own stand and is backing the developer.
"We believe in neighborhood shopping centers as provided in the master plan," said Art Johnson who just stepped down as president of the association. "Potomac Village is overcrowded now and continual expansion of it is something we don't want.
Devereaux argues that his proposal is part of the master plan and that there is a tremendous need for commercial services. "There are 10,000 people within 1 1/2 miles not served by a commercial shopping center," he said.
The Montgomery County Planning Board recommended, by a 4-0 vote, approval of Devereaux's request. Now it is up to hearing examiner Stanley Abrams to make a recommendation to the County Council. Abrams is holding hearings on the request and will be reporting to the Council soon. The Council then votes whether to change the zoning.