Nearly 200 Silver Spring residents turned out yesterday morning to hear more about Montgomery County Executive Sidney Kramer's redevelopment plans for their community -- only to find, to their anger, that Kramer wasn't there.
"This is an outrage," exclaimed Brian Williams, saying he thought Kramer had wanted to hear the questions and concerns of the people who will be affected by any changes.
"Having you folks come in to be propagandists while he is off someplace . . . is an insult to the citizens of this area," Williams told key Kramer aides who directed yesterday's three-hour session.
Meg Riesett, planning and policy director, told the crowd at the Silver Spring Armory that Kramer was disappointed he could not attend the meeting, but he had made an out-of-town commitment many months ago.
Two aides said Kramer and his wife were on a vacation cruise on the Mississippi River and will return Sept. 21.
Anyway, Riesett said, a letter from Kramer telling residents about the meeting clearly stated that his staff would conduct the meeting. "But I apologize for the misunderstanding," she said.
The crowd wouldn't be mollified, and the executive's absence became a lightning rod for Kramer critics who have become more vocal in the months since he proposed adding thousands of jobs to development limits in Silver Spring.
Kramer said the new jobs are necessary if there are to be retail and housing projects in Silver Spring, while some residents say the added jobs would worsen already serious traffic problems.
George Zouck, a Dale Drive resident, pulled out his copy of Kramer's letter, which had been mailed to about 25,000 households, and asked, "Don't you think if you get a letter from someone inviting you to a meeting, the person who did the inviting should be there?"
Jeri Lyn Ray-Shelley, a Woodside Park resident who opposes Kramer's redevelopment plans, called his absence "real irresponsible . . . . I'm sorry he had plans, but this meeting was set up two weeks ago and he should have changed them."
Several residents said they weren't bothered by Kramer's absence, reasoning that staff members with hands-on responsibilities probably had better information.
The meeting, part of a public relations campaign Kramer ordered to build support for his plans to allow more jobs and development in the deteriorated downtown, comes on the eve of a month of County Council public hearings and deliberations on the issue. The council will tour Silver Spring tomorrow and hold hearings on Tuesday.
While there is general agreement that Silver Spring needs to be revitalized, traffic concerns and the character of the community were the concerns of those at yesterday's sometimes unruly meeting.
"Is there a way to have a downtown for Silver Spring . . . not a White Flint, not a regional mall, but a downtown for Silver Spring?" asked resident William Poling. He said traffic caused by massive development would overflow into neighborhoods, and the county-proposed measures to control it are "fingers in a dike."
And there were concerns that Silver Spring would lose its identity, becoming another Bethesda or Tysons Corner of towering office buildings and gridlocked streets. "There is a wonderful diversity here of people and colors and flavors . . . don't homogenize it," said resident Irving Spitzer.
Said one woman, "Bethesda has been a disaster . . . so forgive us if we don't believe you that Silver Spring will be better."