To many residents of the Potomac area in western Montgomery County, the idea of more public facilities is practically anathema. Existing water and sewer lines have already brought too many homes into the area, they say, and the arrival of rapid rail transit nearby will only mean suffering through more traffic jams to get to it.
Across the county far to the east, the sentiments are frequently the opposite. Eight years of sewer moratoriums have stymied home building in the wide-open fields, and thoughts of subways and traffic congestion are about as remote as the "iron horse" once was to the Indian.
And to the north, along the prime growth corridor, residents already are complaining that 1270 is fast becoming the "world's longest parking lot."
Recently, if only for a day, the west and the east, along with the north and the south, some special interest groups and professional planners, got together in a shirt-sleeves retreat to mull over the subject about which they rarely agree - the county's growth policies.
Since the county began changing from a rural community to a suburb, growth largely has been guided by the location of water and sewer lines. But in the future, planners say they intend to direct development according to new master plans for most regions, growth policies set by the elected officials and the increasing citizen attention to how their taxes are being spent.
The question planners are wrestling with now is the staging of future growth - where and how soon should it occur?
The Montgomery County Planning Board asked 80 business, civic and political leaders at a "Growth Policy Chautauqua" about what levels of public services would be desirable in the future and who should pay for these facilities.
This is what the planners heard:
The most deficient public facilities in the county are subsidized housing and employment, roads, traffic, mass transit, parking, water and sewer facilities and water quality.
The top six services, in order of importance to the people, are water and sewer, traffic control of public transportation traffic, bus-transit, education, police, fire and assisted housing.
Two-thirds of the participants said the county should maintain its current policy of limiting annual debt service for capital facilities to a fixed percentage of the assessable base, while fewer than a third said the county should consider expanding the amount of debt service to provide more adequately for future growth.
A slim majority said the county should allow for some lowering of current levels of public service as the county becomes increasingly urbanized.
More than three-quarters agreed that housing in Montgomery County must be allowed to develop at higher densities to expand the tax base to help offset the effects of inflation. But just over half said large areas of land currently zoned low-density single-family should be replanned and rezoned to accommodate higher densities.
Despite all the computerized mapping devices, bell-curve calculations and mathematical simulations that professional planners use, "there really is no scientific way" to determine the proper ratio of private development to public services, explained Royce Hanson, planning board chairman.
"At least this way we can get a feel from interested citizens about what kind of balancing act we need to maintain," he said.
By December, the planning staff will issue a detailed growth staging plan, a set of alternative for the politicians to weigh, based on citizens' views, four years of growth policies and the planners "what-if?" projections.
The staging concept implies that once a desired level of public service has been established, sufficient public funds will be spent to keep pace with private sector growth, or private development will be restrained so as not to exceed the available supply of public facilities.
Yet the participants were nearly evenly divided over what would be the appropriate means of financing new public facilities.
Twenty-six of them said that to maintain the desired level of public services it is more desirable "to assure sufficient funds (to pay for public facilities) to keep pace with the private sector growth," while 28 of them said it is more desirable "to restrain private sector growth so as not to exceed the available supply of public facilities."
To this chicken-or-egg dilemma, Joseph Rodgers, an engineer replied. "It is not established that growth either costs or provides revenue to the county. Your real concern is how much taxes can we afford to pay? We need the public services for the people who are here. We are far behind in delivering them now. The effect of refusing to have growth is to drive up the cost of housing and the cost of services."
Others argued that the cost of public facilities to accompany new growth greatly exceeds the increased tax revenues that residential and commercial development brings to the county [TEXT OMITTED FROM SOURCES]