Ben Terner and Ted Grossman occasionally can be found kibbitzing across the counter in Grossman's hardware store in the Montgomery Hills Shopping Center on Georgia Avenue.
Terner, a lawyer with the D.C.Department of Housing and Community Development, and Grossman, a merchant, discuss all sort of things about their North Silver Spring neighborhood - who's new in town and who's moving out, how the community should protest threatened school closings and where the next commercial parking lot should go.
"It's a natural relationship between merchants and residents here," said the pipe-smoking Grossman, whose father ran A & A Hardware before him.
The small -town rapport typified by these men is partially responsible for an unusual community planning effort in North Silver Spring. There, in one of Montgomery County's oldest settlements where the tradition of public service and civic activism is well-honed, citizens in nine neighborhoods and one businessmen's association took the lead to shape their community's future.
Rather than waiting for the appropriate governmental agency - the county planning board - to draw up a master plan and introduce it for public hearing and citizen reaction, the specially formed North Silver Spring Planning Association worked three years to come up with its own proposal.
Professional planners guided and instructed the citizens, much like teachers would students. But what will soon go to the County Council for hearing and final disposition grew from the grassroots.
Such things come naturally in North Silver Spring, where neighbors have been joining in common causes for decades.
In the early 1920s, the Woodside Civic Association was organized. A few years later came Woodside Park Civic Association. Twenty years ago, neighbors between the Silver Spring business district and the Beltway joined to oppose the North Central Freeway that would have sliced through their backyards. They won.
"It was the only time I ever carried a picket sign," recalled John Fountain, a white-haired Woodsideresident. "That battle took a lot of money out of a lot of little people's pockets."
Now the residents are involved in the more subtle phases of preserving and refining the community. People like Pat Baranowsky, who charmed to Seven Oaks-Evanswood by the brilliant azaleas and ancient shade trees, and Ruth Pitlick, one of Silver Spring's own daughters who came home to raise her young family, have joined the movement.
Susan and Jerry Morris, who moved to Woodside Forest in August, were invited to the going-away party for the former owners of their house as a welcome to the neighborhood.
"It's like replicating the small-town atmosphere I grew up in," Susan Morris said. "I'm used to neighborhood merchants....It's important for our 6-year-old daughter that we have older ladies living near us, because we're not near our relatives. This is a place where people look out for each other."
North Silver Spring is a community of 12,000 residents, where the homes are a mix of styles and ages: There are elegant mansions, rambling Victorians, modest brick colonials and contemporary frame-and-glass houses. It's "a good combination of urban and suburban" life, said Lael Adams, a principal planner with the county planning board.
About a third of the residents are single, more than half are childless (either very old or young adults) and nearly a fourth are more than 60 years old.
A higher proportion of white collar workers live in North Silver Spring than Montgomery County as a whole and the single-family homes are more expensive - up to $125,000 - than other parts of Silver Spring but still varied enough in price (down to $60,000) to attract younger people.
In addition, nearly half employed residents of the North Silver Spring communities commute daily to the District to work. "As a transportation hub (including the newly opened Metrorail station in Silver Spring), it is more convenient than many parts of the District, even upper Northwest," Adams said.
Such communities, however, cannot dodge the impact of change around them. In 1974, possible expansion of the Silver Spring business district, development of high rises, deterioration of stately Georgia mansions suddenly ripe for outside speculators and increasingly traffic along once quiet streets became subjects of meetings of the Woodside Forest Civic Association.
There were other problems to resolve - providing a buffer from industrial zones to the west, access to the Metro subway and commuter rail, bike routes and pedestrian walkways across heavily congested through ways and new parks.
Woodside Park and later the rest of the neighborhoods - Forest Glen Park, Linden, NorthHills of Sligo, North Woodside-Montgomery Hills, Park Hills, Seven Oaks-Evanswood and Woodside - and the Montgomery Hills businessmen soon joined the discussions.
Representatives in the umbrella planning association developed 10 planning goals - ranging from "cohesive, secure" neighborhoods to revitalization of existing commercial centers and separation of through traffic from local traffic - and, with the professional planner's assistance, wrote up a 155-page draft master plan.
In the recommendations, for example, Georgia Avenue, which brings 80,000 cars into North Silver Spring on weekdays (more traffic than the Beltway carries) needs to have its "once high-quality image" restored.
In Montgomery Hills, a collection of service and convenience shops operated mainly by local residents, parking is seriously inadequate, pedestrian access across Georgia Avenue is hazardous and overhead wires, billboards and motley building facades combine to make a less than esthetic shopping, according to the plan.
Restriction of Metro station commuter parking on neighborhood streets, a pedestrian overpass at Georgia Avenue and Seminary Road, bus shelters for public transportation and study of Beltway noise levels are among the hundreds of other items the planning association recommended in its study.
"This was an unusual process," recalled Terner, who lives in Woodside Forest. "There was a lot of constructive activity and a two-way relationship between the county planners and the citizens." About 150 citizens got involved in the deliberations.
The system was so fair that disagreements were not always settled in favor of the professional planners.
For example, the staff recommended the upgrading of Second Avenue to a primary residential street that would act as a feeder road to main corridors like 16th Street.
The neighborhoods, however, urged that Second Avenue traffic be curtailed. "The planning board agreed with the community," Adams said.