By 7:30 each workday morning, traffic on Rte. 28 in Gaithersburg is at a standstill.
Residents living along the two-lane road, which winds lazily past farms and housing developments, complain the three-mile trip to I-270 takes 30 minutes and is a commuters' nightmare.
A developer's plan to build 798 new homes and townhouses on 221 acres of land at Rte. 28 and Dufief Mill Road is meeting opposition from homeowners who charge that roads and schools cannot meet the demands from the existing population and would be overwhelmed by nearly 800 new families.
Some 400 families living next to the proposed new housing project have collected $9,400 to hire an attorney and a traffic engineer. They hope the two will bolster their effort to block rezoning of the land, rezoning which would pave the way for development.
Community activist Steve Friedman says, "We're strangled on our roads, our kids are crammed in our schools and until adequate public facilities can be provided the county shouldn't try to cram anymore on us."
Friedman's sentiments are echoed by other residents who say they fear the area is being "overdeveloped" and "destroyed in the process."
"This area [the Rte. 28 corridor] was once thought of as the boondocks," mused a frustrated homeowner. "It's not anymore."
"Development is inevitable," acknowledged Gerry Amarel, president of the DuFief Homes Association. "But we oppose development at this time because of inadequate public facilities."
Presently, children living in DuFief and Westleigh, an adjoining subdivision, attend Dufief School. The elementary school, Amarel said, is already nearing capacity. More school-age children in the area could force the county to bus children outside of the community, Amarel fears.
According to a county planning board report, state transportation authorities have no plans within the next five years to improve Rte. 28, leaving little hope for an early solution to traffic congestion.
Attorney Harry Lerch, representing seven citizens' associations who oppose the rezonoing of the land, from its current R-200, allowing two homes per acre, to PD-3, which permits three homes per acre, said he believes county officials are sympathetic to the citizens' concerns.
A request for sewer hook-ups by developers of the property, Miller and Smith Inc. of McLean, was recently tabled by the Montgomery County Council until later this month when County Executive Charles W. Gilchrist is expected to present an update of the county's overall water and sewer plan.
Although the Montgomery planning board recently recommended that the zoning change be granted, the board included several modifications to the housing project in its recommendation to the council.
One favored by the residents specifies that only 100 homes should be constructed and that any further development would be permitted only after roads are upgraded.
A small commercial area that citizens objected to was deleted from the project design recommended by the board.
Developer Gordon Smith, president of Miller and Smith, said he is "a little disappointed" by the opposition to his plan from the community. "This is a very modest proposal and is in keeping with the master plan for the area," he said.
The Potomac master plan adopted last August by the County Council recommended PD-3 zoning for much of the undeveloped land in the Gaithersburg area.
"Everytime you build a new community you're building next year's developments," Smith said. "People would prefer nothing be built next to them."
The issue will go before the county zoning hearing examiner on Dec. 12. The examiner's recommendation will then be sent to the council for its decision.
A major issue is the placement of homes in the new community, said Lerch, the residents' attorney. Plans call for 376 townhouses to be built along Rte. 28. About half are to be sold as moderately priced dwellings. Lerch said citizens fear the area will become "a sea of townhouses," and they favor mixing single family homes and townhouses throughout the project if it is built.
Resident Marilee Giebel, who testified at the council hearing on the request for sewer hook-ups, said she believes the community will win some concessions. "Perhaps we the people are being considered instead of big builders and developers."