An unexpected protest over an $80,000 sidewalk and curb project in East Bethesda has caused county officials to change their plans and agree to leave two blocks unpaved out of the original 17 blocks slated for improvement.
The county's action came after residents in the 4400 and 4500 blocks of West Virginia Avenue complained that the new sidewalks - "asphalt strips," by one residen's description - were unsightly and unwanted.
Thomas Minard, Montgomery County community development planner, said the discontent started from "about three of four people, but they radicalized a whole block." He said the project originated with the community, as an appropriate development funds.
But Vera Collins, who lives at 4415 West Virginia Avenue and let the recent protest against the sidewalks, said the county had not properly notified residents of the project. And she criticized the county for using federal money for a "shoddy" and unwanted sidewalk job rather thanmore pressing redevelopment needs elsewhere in Bethesda.
The project is being financed with part of the $2.3 million community development grant the county received from the federal government last year.
Margarer Harrison, who helped plan the project while she was president of the East Bethesda Citizens's Association, said curb and sidewalk improvements were two of the top priorities listed by residents in a 1974 survey by the association.
She said most residents were pleased with the new sidewalks and curbs, which have been in- stalled over the last six weeks. She said the community was notified of the project plans in eight association newsletters and a special flyer, and she attributed the adverse reaction to the work on West Virginia Avenue to a serious of events,
Because of protests from West Virginia Avenue residents after the flyer was sent out in June, the county planned to leave work on that street until last, when presumably residents would have seen and liked completed sidewalks on nearby blocks. But instead the West Virginia sidewalks was one of the first installed.
"It's a shoddy job. You should look at what they're doing and calling a sidewalk," Collins said. She said the sidewalk varied in width from one to four feet and at one point wrapped all the way around a telephone pole.
"By accident, they got a rather bad job done," Harrison acknowledged. She and Minard said the old curb on the street unexpectedly collapsed when the first layer of the sidewalk was being laid.
The county planned to fix both the curb and sidewalk, but after Collins and other residents gathered petitions opposing the sidewalk, officials decided simply to restore the curb and reseed the lawns, Minard said.
The incident leaves both the planners and the residents a bit unsatisfied.
Both Harrison and Minard said the sidewalk was needed, partly for the benefit of schoolchildren who walk to Lynbrook Elementary School and partly because of drainage problems in the 35-year-old subdivision.
"When a probelm like this hits a particular block where they don't feel they had a problem, it's difficult to decide whether to go ahead, or whether we should let them secede from the program," Harrison said. "We would prefer that they put the sidewalk in, for the good of the neighborhood. But they were so strong in their disappoval that we bowed to their wishes."
The West Virginia Avenue residents, meanwhile question the wisdom of spending urban redevelopment money in their neighborhood for a project they don't want.
"They (the county) took the word of the civic association, which is not representative of the community," said Kathrene Cosby, a West Virginia Avenue resident. "They've come into what we consider a fairly respectable neighborhood - and made a mess of it."