Public schools open in the District of Columbia on Sept. 8. A box in some editions of yesterday's Metro section contained an incorrect date. (Published 8/31/87)
Montgomery County Executive Sidney Kramer, his initiative to revitalize downtown Silver Spring threatened by citizen opposition, has launched an information and public relations blitz to build support for his plan.
Kramer is inviting Silver Spring civic leaders and residents into his Rockville office for coffee, cookies and a give-and-take talk on what his proposals mean for their neighborhoods. He has ordered his top aides into the community for similar meetings, directed his public information office to prepare a mailing to about 25,000 Silver Spring households and will hold a brown-bag lunch with the press on Tuesday.
For the first-term executive, the stakes are high. The redevelopment projects in downtown Silver Spring are among the most ambitious in the metropolitan area, and promise the radical conversion of a sleepy commercial district into a thriving business center six miles from the White House in the Maryland suburbs.
With Silver Spring a priority of his administration, Kramer is backing changes in county policy to permit added development and thousands of new jobs in a community of about 32,000.
On Sept. 12, the eve of County Council hearings on how much development to allow in the deteriorated downtown, Kramer will go to Silver Spring for a three-hour session with citizens.
"There is apprehension in the community about this issue," Kramer said in an interview last week. "People are worried. They are worried about the traffic and they are worried about the unknown. And, quite possibly, that is my fault in not getting out enough information to let people know what the facts are."
Civic associations representing neighborhoods near the downtown are concerned about the scale of the proposed development and are worried that massive traffic problems will result, congesting the downtown and spilling into their neighborhoods.
A vigorous and often emotional debate has resulted. Fourteen civic groups have joined the Silver Spring-Takoma Traffic Coalition to oppose Kramer's plan.
Coalition members have blanketed the Silver Spring area with informational fliers, posted signs warning of gridlock, met with hundreds of residents and even marched in the Takoma Park Fourth of July parade to make their point. In the best Montgomery County tradition of active citizenship, the coalition has hired both an attorney and a traffic engineer to scrutinize Kramer's actions.
Kramer's informational campaign is clearly a counterattack. He said opposition stems from misinformation in the community. "Get all the facts, hear my plans and then make an informed decision," Kramer advised.
The claim of misinformation rankles coalition president Pat Singer, who said it is an attempt to discredit her group because Kramer "doesn't like the information we're giving out, and because we're organizing citizens." She said administration officials cannot cite one false statement made by the group.
Singer, however, expressed some satisfaction that the group's efforts have provoked a response from government officials. For example, she said a traffic protection plan released last week was in direct response to questions they raised about traffic effects on neighborhoods.
Under the plan, 11 neighborhoods surrounding downtown Silver Spring would be eligible for special protection from heavy traffic created by new development. The proposal would allow installation of stop signs, turning barriers and one-way streets to prevent cut-through traffic.
The plan can take effect only if the council adopts Kramer's plan to increase the number of jobs permitted for the downtown. County regulations now try to ensure that local facilities such as roads and schools are adequate to support development. Traffic capacity now permits only 4,500 additional jobs in Silver Spring. Kramer wants to permit 13,500 additional jobs.
He says developer Lloyd Moore's plan for a massive development of stores, housing, hotel rooms and offices at Colesville Road and Georgia Avenue is the last chance for a vibrant downtown where people work, live and shop. "There would be people on the streets at night and it would be an exciting hub," Kramer said.
He stressed, though, that his highest order of priority is to the people living in Silver Spring. "We will protect and preserve those neighborhoods," he said.
Reactions to the meetings have been mixed.
Howard L. Sribnick, chairman of Woodside Park Civic Association's transportation committee, said he found meeting with officials helpful and reassuring.
Dan Houck, president of the Sligo-Branview Community Association, said he went away even more concerned because of the county's position that some heavily traveled roads, such as Dale Drive, Flower Avenue and Franklin Avenue, are not eligible for protection.
Public Information Director Vicki A. Lathom estimated the cost of the informational campaign at less than $10,000. She said the mailing would cost about $9,500 and the county has been providing refreshments at some meetings.
There would be no radio or television promotion of the executive's plan, Lathom said, calling it inappropriate.
"You can't sell Montgomery County people; it is insulting to even try. You lay out the basic facts and let them decide," she said.