When the Maryland legislature in 1922 created Section Five of the Village of Chevy Chase, it decreed: The heaving of stones, "riotous conduct, profanity, vulgar language . . . " even "whooping" are banned, along with any "vagrant, tramp, beggar . . . or persons of evil life." It would be a place, declared the legislature, not for swine or cattle, but instead where no one dare maim "any harmless bird" or "injure . . . flowers."
And so was formed what is known as a special taxing district. It is not quite a town, but a neighborhood commissioned by the state to collect its own taxes to take care of its own streets, collect its own trash, trim its own hedges, and to keep a close eye on the character of the 800-resident community.
Now, local officials there and in neighboring 66-year-old Section Three, also a special taxing district, fear the occasional efforts by the General Assembly to take away their state revenues, and have asked citizens to approve transformation of their zones into incorporated villages.
For 60 years, neighbors in Section Five have gathered at annual meetings to set their tax rate, and to elect a five-member Citizens Committee to oversee the local maintenance. And on 85 acres of quiet, narrow streets off roaring Connecticut Avenue, the birds still sing and azaleas bloom--evidence, committee members said, that their intimate brand of government has worked well.
To ensure that type of government continues, the citizens committees of both sections have set a referendum for Tuesday at Chevy Chase United Methodist Church at 7001 Connecticut Ave., where residents will decide whether they want to incorporate into full-fledged municipalities. It would be the first time in state history that a municipality was created by referendum, using the method established by the legislature in 1954.
John E. Higgins Jr., Section Five Citizens Committee chairman, said the purpose of changing the communties' status is to ensure that the communities will not change. "We have not tried to turn what is a kind of service thing into a terribly politically active entity," Higgins said. "This is viewed by many as a transition."
As municipalities, they would be empowered to pass ordinances. As special taxing areas, the communities are limited to governing only health and safety regulations.
The names of Section Three and Section Five would not change, but the Citizens Committee of each would be renamed the Village Council.
The real difference would come in the security municipalities enjoy, Higgins said. Over the years, the state legislature occasionally has threatened to disqualify special taxing districts from receiving state revenues that go to cities and towns.
There are nine special taxing areas in Montgomery County: Chevy Chase Sections Three and Five, Battery Park, Chevy Chase View, Drummond, Friendship Heights, Martin's Additions, North Chevy Chase and Oakmont.
Occasionally they fall victim to unintentional slights by state government, such as as the time, a few years ago, legislators forgot to include them as a category qualified to receive horse racing revenues. It wasn't a devastating loss--$300 to $400--for Section Five's budget, which hovers, along with Section Three's budget, around $100,000. But officials in both areas fear a similar fate could befall them in other areas, such as the income tax revenues that provide half the community income. Gaining municipal status also would make each village eligible for nearly $4,300 in federal revenue sharing money, according to Fredric A. Press, committee chairman of Section Three.
Assuring local government control would guarantee the continuation of a tradition throughout the Chevy Chase area, a community divided into five sections, including two that already have become muncipalities--Chevy Chase Village and Chevy Chase Section Four.
Residents throughout Chevy Chase have kept a close, and sometimes vehement, watch over traffic patterns, building applications, public transportation routes and rates--anything that could affect their suburban splendor. The community of turn-of-the-century and early 1900s homes grew out of a venture of Nevada U.S. Sen. Francis Newlands, who made his millions laying rails to cart the silver out of the Comstock Lode. Newlands laid street car rails and extended Connecticut Avenue from Dupont Circle, hoping to attract Washington's affluent to majestic homes in the cool, wooded hills just above the District Line.
Newlands was dead before the sales turned a profit in the 1920s, but the residents moving into the community carried on the dream of an idyllic existence.