There's trouble right here in River City. It starts with "T" and rhymes with "P" and stands for Pool . . . esville. That's right, Poolesville, Maryland. *(FOOTNOTE)
* With apologies to Meredith Willson, who wrote the book, music and lyrics for "The Music Man." (END FOOT)
For more than a decade, growth has been the central theme of many battles in this small rural community 20 miles northwest of Rockville.
A recent election for town commissioner, which was decided by a 385 to 319 vote, fueled further public discussions on the future of Poolesville.
In this election - as they say in this tiny town - an "old-timer" beat a "newcomer."
The old-timer was Charles Elgin, a 67-year-old, third-generation Poolesvillian, who served as town postmaster for 34 years.
The newcomer was Kerrigan Clough, 31, who came to Poolesville with his family three years ago and works for the Environmental Protection Agency.
Elgin was pleased by his margin of victory. He said it was especially significant in light of a previous election in October, involving other candidates, which ended in a tie.
That election was re-run in December. It was decided by three votes and followed by charges and counter-charges - including a charge of election fraud. Although the state's attorney said no evdience of fraud was found, the loser still has a suit pending in circuit court concerning town election procedures.
The growth versus no-growth argument has often been blurred in Poolesville.
Elgin said he is for moderate growth: "Poolesville needs some growth to survive.
We shouldn't become a Rockville or Gaithersburg, but we need growth to offset the costs of running this town."
"I rode around all day on a tractor trying to decide whether or not I would run for town office." said Elgin, who says he wants to pull townspeople together and eliminate animosity in the community.
He said newcomers "want to shut the gates to growth." He believes, however, "the die was cast back in 1969" when the townspeople first opened the door to developers.
His opponent, Kerrigan Clough, said if he had won, he would have worked to limit town growth to fewer than 1,000 additional people in the next 10 years. He said he does not plan to run in the November election for town commissioner.
Poolesville, which began in the 1700s with a log cabin built by John Poole II, [WORD ILLEGIBLE] in Civil War history and was once the center of trade in upper Montgomery County.
The town no longer has many of its original buildings because of several fires about 50 years ago. The rural values of the town, however, have remained intact. Poolesville is a place where townsfolk take pride in the lack of crime and the fact that, until recently, most residents knew each other.
Poolesville is outside Rockville at the end of a ribbon-lime country road that dips and bends through lush forests and pastureland. But the quiet rural setting is the staging area for controversies on more issues than - as one Poolesvillan neatly put it - "you can shake a stick at."
The trouble in this "River City" ranges from last winter's dispute over high electric bills to a debate over strategies to resolve a current building moratorium and a controversy over a proposed shopping center. There also is a $1 million lawsuit by filed housing developers, who now charge that the town should pay for water and sewer lines the developers installed.
"If I had known there were all of these controversies, I don't know if I would have moved into Poolesville," said Sandi Broadwater, 34, who came from Wheaton in 1975.
"The town tried to grow much faster than it could," she said. "I was raised in the country. I had to go eight miles to shop back then. I now feel that if I wanted a shopping center, I would have stayed in Wheaton,"
"These are things to bicker and bitch about - it's just small town politics," said Roy Selby Jr., who owns the only grocery store in town and admits that recent development in Poolesvllle has helped his business.
The growth issue surfaced in 1969 when old-timers - who, in a number of instances, were related to the original town settlers - discovered they had water and sewer problems that would cost about $1 million to fix. The state ordered the town to build a sewer system to replace septic tanks that were insufficient in the rock-laden area. State officials said the septic tanks were polluting the town wells.
As a result, the townspeople reluctantly opened the door to the first wave of growth. The old-timers felt they could better absorb the high costs of the water and sewer system if they spread the cost over a larger number of people.
The same year, the door was opened to developers, who bought land that was incorporated into Poolesville, and the town population grew from about 340 prior to 1970 to its current figure of about 3,200.
Eugene E. Halmos, who was former president of the town commissioners for 14 years and is the editor of one of the town's two newspapers, said there is a "syndrome" in Poolesville where newcomers want "to pull up the gang plank after they have arrived."
"Our financing formula was based upon growth. The original townspeople had no objection to growth."
Now a building moratorium, due to a lack of sewer and water and opposition to development, has "brought growth to a screeching halt," said Halmos. He says the financing formula for the town no longer works.
When residents - both old and new - were interviewed, the definitions of desirable development were just about the same: enough to pay the town bills, but not so much as to create a major city, or commercial section in town.
However, working out the fine details of how much town growth is needed to put Poolesville in the black has led to quarreling among residents.
Charles Kohlhoss, a fourth-generation Poolesville who operates a gas station and car repair shop across the street from town hall, admits he would like to see a small shopping center and "maybe a theater." He quickly added, however, he wants Poolesville to remain pretty much as it is.
"Most people who drive out here and see only a couple of shops and two service stations say they feel sorry for us. But we chose this place to live and we like it."
Kohlhoss, whose grandparents formerly owned a hardware store and a hotel adjacent to his gas station, had views that were similiar to those of newcomer Robbie Hart. She runs the town Welcome Wagon.
"I think we need some growth, but not fast and furious. The new shopping center will help. I would like to see department stores."
Marty Lynott, who owns a proposed 93,000-square-foot shopping center - part of one of the town's growth controversies - said he expects to receive site plan approval soon for what he calls his "Williamsburg-type shopping center."
Lynott said he has received better cooperation from town officials since last June when he dropped a million-dollar lawsuit against the town in which he contended that the town had reneged on a promise of water and sewer allocation. His project has been on the drawing board for more than four years.
Another issue that has resulted in debate in the small community is the problem with the town sewer and water system. Town officials say that the 1,100 homeowners each pay approximately $80 on tax bills toward the system that was constructed in the 1960s.
Town officials say the system is currently operating in the red and is now under a state order to be improved. State officials say more wells will have to be dug to increase water pressure. Local officials say the water system does not provide adequate water pressure for proper fire protection.
Still another issue is a $1 million lawsuit filed by those responsible for one of the town's two major housing developments. Addrew Devlin, and other parties in the suit, contend that town officials agreed to install a sewer and water system paid for by the town, but instead, the development company had to install the lines and pay the town for hookup costs. The suit has been in court for a number of years, say town officials who deny the charges.
Another issue is a proposed Community Life Center (CLC) at the public high school. The issue, which no longer commands the attention it once did, was part of struggle by townspeople to have the county accept the community life concept for Poolesville. Part of the community life concept, according to its backers, is a strategy to have the town high school provide county services to rural residents.
According to Philbert Moore, a spokesman for the CLC task force, the 35-acre high school has been recently designated as a community school - where private groups can now participate in activities, and the school library is now open to the public as the result of an agreement with the county.
Moore said both a health center and a swimming pool are currently in the planning stages.
In Poolesville, where an estimated 75 Montgomery County policemen live, there is a small town atmosphere and an abundance of homes that cost about $60,000.
As a result, this town has become a magnet for both rural enthusiasts and middle-income wage earners.
Despite its rural character, the town is constantly reminded of the nearby urban areas, especially during rush hour and because of its proximity to Dulles Airport. The quiet rural style of the community is shattered almost daily by the thunder of supersonic Concorde jets, which rattle china and shake window panes. Most residents say they have "gotten used to the noise." One resident said cows used to run like "a storm was coming on" when the Concorde first flew over.
"It's a sleepy little community that rolls up its sidewalks when the sun goes down . . . You are not afraid to let your wife jog at night," said Robert B. Hellmuth, a Montgomery County policeman who gave a reporter directions to town.
"I live there and I love it . . . When you get there you will probably want to live there, too," he added.