For the past year, about 100 residents of the Montgomery Hills section of Silver Spring have fought a builder's request that the county close block-long Locust Grove Road, one of the community's few access roads to heavily traveled Georgia Avenue.
The battle, waged mainly through letters and petitions, is far from being over. It will be at least two months before a top Montgomery County official recommends to the county executive whether to approve the request from Crowell & Baker Construction Co. Inc., a building firm active in suburban Maryland.
The company wants to build a seven-story, 71,000-square-foot office building on two parcels of land on either side of Locust Grove Road, a prime business location just south of the beltway's Silver Spring exit and near the Forest Glen Metro stop now under construction. One parcel is owned William B. Wheeler, a Silver Spring attorney; the other is owned by Suburban Bank. The road would be closed to accommodate the planned building and parking lot.
As part of the development, the eastern end of Locust Grove Road would be sealed off to traffic to and from Georgia Avenue; the firm would build an access road from Georgia Avenue to the office building.
"They can't put up that building without Locust Grove being abandoned -- and that's what we're fighting," said Shirley Mallalieu, who has lived on nearby Lansdowne Way for the past 18 years. She and other residents say closing the road would deprive the neighborhood of one of only two main exits onto Georgia Avenue. "Our views have not been taken into consideration at all. We're pretty upset about this," she said.
Montgomery County hearing officer Alistair McArthur, who heard the abandonment request last May, will close the case on Nov. 30. He will then recommend to the county executive whether the road should be turned over to the developers. The County Council must give final approval for closing the the road.
"The developers have not attempted to deal with this community," said Harold Luks, a consultant who lives on Hale Place. "It's very convenient for people living here to turn onto and off of Georgia Avenue by using Locust Grove. It's a heavily used road because it's about the only access we've got." Residents also use Seminary Road to get to and from Georgia Avenue, but complain that it is often congested.
Last year, the developer's first abandonment request -- zoning parlance for closing the road--was denied because the firm had no site plan for the building and property. McArthur granted two extensions this year for the developer to submit a site plan, but the county's planners had not received any plan by early this week. David D. Freishtat, the building firm's attorney, said Monday that a site plan should be completed soon.
He said that if the county allows the road to be closed, a new access road and traffic signals will be installed near the old Locust Grove intersection with Georgia Avenue.
"There is strong support in the community to seal off Locust Grove and reduce the traffic through the community. Locust Grove could stay open, but that would be the worst possible option to take," Freishtat said. He said the county's master development plan also calls for closing Locust Grove.
McArthur said he hopes to rule on the request by January.