Lake Barton Refilled After Floyd

Ducks once more dabble, geese swim and herons wade in Lake Barton, which two months ago was drained, to the dismay of those who live around it.

It was mid-September when the 11 acres of Lake Barton, on whose shore sits the 5,800-home community of Burke Centre, was reduced to a vast field of mud. Hurricane Floyd was approaching, and Fairfax County public works personnel opened the floodgates on the lake's 25-foot-tall dam as a precaution.

For a while, rain filled the lake as fast as water poured from the gates. But when Floyd departed, the county decided it was too windy and dangerous to send workers back out to shut the gates.

The next day, residents found a mud flat on which rested two exposed beaver dams and numerous fish, flopping as they died.

The county had a solution: Wait for rain to refill the lake.

That didn't sit well with some residents. "The only solution they've put forward is to walk away," said Eve Herold, who had moved to a house on Lakeside Oak Lane because of its water view. "That's not acceptable."

But the rains that had stayed away during a summer of drought returned. In the next two weeks, the Washington area got two additional periods of heavy rainfall. More rain in October brought the water level back to normal.

"The lake recovered almost without damage," said Ralph J. Conde Jr., a lake-side resident and chairman of a task force created last month to ensure that the lake isn't drained again. Except for the fish, which "died out quite a bit," the lake is again beautiful, he said.

"We were lucky," he added.

-- Peter Pae

Family in Need Still Waiting

Florence Shorter and her five grandchildren, who were profiled three months ago in a Washington Post story about childhood hunger, live in a cramped, cockroach-infested apartment in Northeast Washington.

She and two--sometimes three--of the children sleep on the living room floor. They eat dinner off newspapers on the floor because there is no room for a dining table.

A month after the story appeared, Mayor Anthony A. Williams's spokeswoman, Peggy Armstrong, promised that the mayor would find Shorter's family a better place to live.

"Here is a grandmother trying to raise her grandchildren. The city has a responsibility to help her solve her housing problem, and we will," Armstrong told The Post on Sept. 4.

But nothing has changed. A Department of Human Services employee recently warned Shorter that if she didn't get a bigger place to live, her grandchildren could be taken away.

On Friday, when a reporter called the mayor's office, Armstrong said the city is still trying to help. After the call, a worker at the D.C. Child and Family Services agency called Shorter and said the agency would determine whether she is eligible for a program to help families with inadequate housing.

Monica Testa, spokeswoman for the Capital Area Food Bank, where Shorter works in the warehouse, said she has called the mayor's office repeatedly with little response.

"We're just getting very frustrated," Testa said. "The mayor promised this personally. We haven't seen anything. Now his office is getting a taste of what people every day have to go through to get housing for their families."

Meanwhile, Shorter continues to struggle with her grandchildren in a run-down building where every unit is vacant except hers. Shorter, who is going to school to get her GED after work, is caring for her grandchildren because their mother is a drug addict on the streets.

She was somewhat encouraged by Friday's telephone call but doesn't want to get her hopes up. "I feel just really discouraged," she said. "My apartment is too small. I have to put stuff out on my back porch. There are roaches everywhere, and I worry about them getting in our food. I'm just sick of it."

-- Sari Horwitz

Athletic Club Plan Withdrawn

Montgomery County residents opposing an athletic facility near Norbeck Road and Georgia Avenue won a big round in court two months ago and now appear to have clinched the match. A developer withdrew his appeal and said last week the property has been sold.

The dispute over the proposed Norbeck Athletic Club pitted sports enthusiasts seeking space for growing hockey and soccer leagues against homeowners concerned about traffic and development.

The facility would have been built on 20 acres off Coolidge Avenue and provided a 2,000-meter (or about 1.25-mile) track, two basketball courts and three indoor fields.

Residents appealed a special exception for the facility approved in June by the Montgomery County Board of Appeals, and in September, Circuit Court Judge Martha G. Kavanaugh reversed the board's decision. By classifying the facility as "private" rather than "commercial," Kavanaugh wrote, the board "attempted to circumvent the zoning requirements."

Gil Willson, one of the project's developers, appealed the decision but two weeks ago decided to abandon the project, in which he said he had invested $150,000. He said the land has been sold.

The Norbeck area neighbors who mounted the legal battle said they are happy about Willson's decision and even happier about the reversal of the special exception--a rare event in Montgomery County, where they have long been criticized by civic organizations.

-- Fern Shen