Gwen Edsall is sorely tempted to put up a sign in front of Cloverly, her historic, 18th century home in Sandy Spring.
"It would say, 'PLANNERS GO HOME,'" she said, only half kidding.
"We don't want some guy who works in a tinted-glass office in Rockville to dictate our lives," added her husband, Richard.
The Edsalls are at one extreme of a local controversy surrounding the Montgomery County Planning Board's effort to draw up a plan for the Sandy Spring-Ashton area.
Some residents, like the Edsalls, fear that the planners' intervention will ruin the historic rural community. The foresee four-lane highways, high-density housing and increased commercial development accompanying the planning process, thus spoiling the tranquil town.
Other residents say planning is necessary to bring much needed improvements to the area. Dangerous roads need repairs, they claim, and low and moderate-income housing must be built so that senior citizens and children of long-time residents won't have to move out of the area.
But despite their differences, Sandy Spring-Ashton residents agree on one thing: They want the character of the historic Quaker community to remain the same.
Residents' concerns for the future of the community were apparent at a recent public meeting at Sherwood Elementary School. County planners heard citizens' comments on the county's "Issues and Alternatives" report, the first step in the preparation of a special study of the Sandy Spring-Ashton area, which will be part of the overall revision of the Olney master plan.
Sandy Spring-Ashton is being studied separately from Olney in response to residents who fear that their historic community might be "swallowed up" if lumped together with the more developed neighboring town, noted Planning Commissioner George Kephart.
The planners, with the assistance of an advisory committee of local citizens, defined a 5,664-acre study area including the communities of Sandy Spring, Friends, Brinklow, Ashton and the Brooke Road-Chandlee Mill area.
An estimated 2,550 to 3,400 residents live in about 850 homes in the study area. Nearly three-fourths of the study area is zoned rural residential, with each dwelling unit allowed a minimum lot of five acres.
"The community, after developing its own unique and historic character over the past 200 years, is facing the problem of preserving a cherished tradition, while encouraging a positive growth pattern," states the report, which outlines the major issues facing the planners and lists possible alternatives. Planning "must respect the past if these cherished traditions are to be preserved for future generations."
At this stage, planners have made no recommendations. Early, in 1979, a staff draft plan to develop the community is expected to be completed. After another public forum, a preliminary draft will be developed. A public hearing on that plan is expected in late spring, with the final plan to be sent to the County Council in the summer.
Probably the most critical planning issue is the future of Rte. 108, the area's main thoroughfare. A state highway study's proposal to widen the two-lane road to a four-lane divided highway would require the removal of most commercial structures north of Rte. 108.
Opposition to widening Rte. 108 appears unanimous among residents. Paul Cosdon, president of the Ashton Civic Association, summed up resident's feeling at the public meeting:
"Widening (Rte.) 108 would destroy Sandy Spring; it would destroy Ashton; it would destroy the rural character of our commuity; and most of all it would destroy our faith in county officials who are supposed to be looking out for our interests," he said.
The Edsalls, whose horses graze on their long front lawn that borders Rte. 108, are equally vehement in their opposition to a widened road and to the entire planning process.
"We worked all our lives to get out of the city," said Richard Edsall, a 46-year-old engineer. "When a community grows by itself it gets all that charm. The planners are going to spoil it."
The Edsalls moved to Olney 10 years ago because "it seemed like a good place to bring up kids," Gwen Edsall said. "We could look out our back window and see nothing - there were creeks to play in and fields to run in - it had a bittersweet oldtime charm."
But "they planned Olney to death," commented her husband, who said watching the community change around them was like living in a Kafkanovel. "That's what brought us here. Olney is dissolving."
While the Edsalls admit that low- and moderate-income apartments are needed in the community, they said that the push for this type of construction should come from builders who will seek the necessary zoning changes in response to community needs.
"We're being raped," Edsall contends. The only way to save the community is to "get up and scream."
Other residents are concerned that poor planning could destroy the community.
"People who made large investments in coming to this area might see the quality that brought them here destroyed," noted electrical engineer Jeff Franklin, who said he saved for 10 years to be able to purchase seven acres of land in Ashton.
Franklin, who designed and built his dream house in a secluded, wooded area, said the main reason he moved to Ashton in 1975 was its predominantly five-acre zoning.
"I was looking to get away from the encroaching population growth and this was the closest area to the city (D.C.) that is zoned five acres," he said. "If all around me they make half-acre zoning, it will negate everything I came here for. They're going to make it look like Rockville."
However, some Sandy Spring-Ashton residents welcome the planners.
"Some people resent Park and Planning, but planning is very necessary or we'll wake up one day and they'll be no more room for low- or middle-income people," said Carolyn Snowden, Sandy Spring Civic Association vice president.
A community activist whose Sandy Spring roots go back 200 years, Snowden said that while "none of us wants too much change, it's not realistic for the community to stay exactly like it was 50 years ago. Five-acre zoning is all right for rich people, but the people on Chandlee Mill Road can't be thrown out simply because they don't have the money to live on a five-acre estate."
Snowden said she favors mixed zoning that would "make room for everybody. We go the range from the very poor to the very rich. It's a healthy mix."
More than 100 young persons have already been forced out of the community because there isn't adequate lowor moderate-income housing, according to Snowden. "They are unhappy and would rather be back in their home community."
Steep property taxes based on assessments of expensive, five-acre estates may force some less wealthy residetns to give up land that has been in their families for centuries noted postmaster Bill Thomas, a 10th-generation Marylander whose Wuaker ancestors landed near the mouth of the Patuxent River in 1651.
"I'm proud of my family, but it won't buy me groceries," said Thomas, who makes less than $18,000 a year and owns a house on a half-acre lot. "If somebody built a $500,000 home next to me, my property tax could go up. The income criteria for land with five-acre zoning would be such that it would price the little people out of the area.
"A mixture of zoning ranging from half acre up to five acres would conform with the existing nature of the community. My concern is for the neighborhood, not for any particular group."
Planning could make a good community better, said Sandy Spring Bank president Willard Derrick, who represented area business interests at the public forum.
"I am interested in the community and don't want to see it change into an urban area," said Derrick, who has lived most of his life in Ashton. "We want to keep what we've got."
However, he said, small changes are needed - road improvements for safety and additional parking spaces for local businesses. "We should allow small expansion of areas that need it, to make it nicer than what we have now."
Planners are well aware of the controversy brewing over the Sandy Spring-Ashton plan.
"That's one reason it's being done as a special study - it has special needs," said project planner Nellie Maskal. "I think the main opposition feels we're going to come in and change things, but that's not so. It's up to us to come out with a good plan."