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But Kemp remembers well the years in Washington, and now that he has settled his family in the peace and quiet of a Montgomery County suburb, he said he doesn't want low-income housing projects intruding on his community and his hard-won lifestyle.
"I believe in low-income housing," Kemp says, "But I believe in it the right way."
To guarantee "the right way" in his Colesville community, Kemp recently joined one of a growing number of community organizations in opposition to an already embattled proposal for a housing development, to be called Broadmore. The county's Housing Opportunities Commission (HOC) hopes to build the housing with $2 million in federal funds on a 25-acre tract bordering Randolph Road near the Colesville Gardens neighborhood.
The development's 48 low-income town houses could provide homes for at least a few of the 6,500 families and individuals on the county's waiting list for subsidized housing. The Broadmore units would be rented to families who earn less than $17,400 a year after taxes, and they would pay no more than one quarter of their income as rent.
But members of four influential civic groups in the surrounding neighborhoods have objected to HOC's plans and have fought them, with increasing intensity, since the commission announced the project in mid-June.
"Our goal is to stop Broadmore altogether," said Dan Wilhelm of the Greater Colesville Citizens Association.
Wilhelm and other area residents have gained some influential political allies in their opposition, and may achieve that goal.
Broadmore must be under contract by Sept. 30 or the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) will withdraw the federal money, and HOC staffers admit that several obstacles remain.
Not the least of these is the opposition. The residents argue that the development will bring in renters with little respect for the surrounding property, and that these tenants will "destroy" the racially and economically mixed community residents have worked to attain.
Others say a cluster of subsidized housing in the neighborhood would stigmatize those who lived there and aggravate traffic, noise and pollution problems.
"We're trying to maintain the integrity of our neighborhood," said Al Shanefelter, a member of the Tamarac Triangle Civic Association. "HOC just can't march in and take it away from us without us standing up and fighting."
To that end, the civic groups -- with a leadership of about a dozen individuals and a combined membership of more than 1,000 -- have mounted what some Montgomery officials are calling the county's most heated battle over public housing in recent years.
The opponents have sent letters to almost every county politician, and have received sympathy and support from at least one, County Executive Charles W. Gilchrist. In an Aug. 12 letter to HUD, Gilchrist echoed their calls for alternatives to Broadmore, such as "scattered site" housing, in which the county would buy homes throughout the area for use as subsidized housing.
Members of the community organizations have also contacted Maryland's senators, congressmen and governor, and have received pledges of support from Lt. Gov. Samuel W. Bogley, U.S. Senators Charles McC. Mathias Jr., a Republican, and Paul S. Sarbanes, a Democrat who lives in Montgomery County, as well as Rep. Michael Barnes, also a Montgomery Democrat. A letter from Sarbanes to the community groups says he has asked HOC executive director Bernard Tetreault to review the Broadmore proposal carefully, and that he has assigned a member of his staff to serve as a liaison between civic groups critical of the project and HOC.
The opponents have prepared 15 bills they hope to have introduced in the state legislature. Some would make such a project by HOC much more difficult in the future, by compelling the housing agency to hold more frequent public hearings before it plans a low-income development. Others would lengthen the time HOC allows for comment on subsidized-housing plans.
Recently about 10 civic leaders from the Colesville and Tamarac neighborhoods met with HUD official Terry Chisholm, who oversees the agency's activity and finances for Montgomery County. They spent almost two hours explaining their objections to the project, starting with their fears for their neighborhood and going on to the way HOC has "tried to rush through" the Broadmore development.
Since the project was first announced, residents have criticized HOC for revealing the plan only three months before the Sept. 30 deadline, and at least three months after the agency learned they would get the HUD funds. HOC has attributed its schedule delays to "bureaucratic red tape."
According to Alfred Coleman, a Tamarac Triangle member, and Shanefelter, who were both at the meeting, the residents asked Chisholm why the county has never performed impact assessments -- reports on the project's effect on community schools, roads and natural resources -- for the Broadmore subdivision.
"He didn't know why," Coleman said. "But he said he'd check."
HOC spokesman Joyce Siegal said the agency had made impact assessments by writing and telephoning the area's sanitation and water departments in addition to the local school board, and that all organizations responded that Broadmore would not be "a trouble spot."
At the close of the meeting, Chisholm promised to review carefully all of HOC's actions on the project. "He said he would closely scrutinize the entire development," a spokesman for HUD said.
"We were very encouraged," Kemp said.
HOC staffers say that just as pressing an issue as the campaign against the development is whether the commission can soon agree on contracts with the Lotto Construction Inc. and Petit and Griffin, the subdivision's developer and builder. HOC chairman Harold Kramer said the negotiations have been held up by discussions of whether Lotto will build single-family, moderate-income houses on the site, to place a buffer zone between the low-income units and the rest of the community -- a condition on which the opposing residents and HOC agreed when the controversy first heated up at the beginning of the summer. At the time, the opponents saw the decision to add single-family houses, which neither HUD nor HOC is bound by law to do, as a significant victory.
According to Kramer, Ray Lotto, head of the company, has orally agreed to build all the low-income units, and start construction on 30 of the 60 single-family houses requested if the efforts to stop the project are unsuccessful.
But Kramer said HOC feels it has no guarantee that Lotto will build the other 30 houses. "It's a tough market out there right now for selling homes," Kramer said, "But we have to have that agreement before we go on."
Lotto has said in the past that he will finish all 60 single-family houses because of the huge financial commitment his company will already have made to the project.
Kramer said after the last meeting, HOC asked Lotto to put in writing his promise to build the entire mixed tract. Talks on the development will continue in the next week, he added.
As for the Sept. 30 deadline, HOC hopes the opposition has bought time. "My understanding is that now that HUD is reviewing the project, we would get a few extra weeks," Kramer said, adding that HOC needs at least two weeks of October to get the development and its contract settled.
Neighborhood organizations also are playing for time. "We're hoping that Lotto will realize it's crazy to build those 60 homes; he won't be able to sell them," Shanefelter said.
And, members said, they are hoping HUD comes to their aid even before Lotto has any realizations.
"If HUD stops the project," said Shanefelter, "we'll say 'thank you very much.'"