The Montgomery County Council is expected to decide today whether to strip nearly 18 acres from about two dozen landowners along the route of the long-planned Montrose Parkway.
If approved, the measure would be the final land acquisition before breaking ground in September on the $68 million road that will link Interstate 270 and Rockville Pike. The 1.8-mile project has been on county drawing boards for more than a decade.
The county will begin construction regardless of the outcome of the vote, said Edgar Gonzalez, the county's deputy director for transportation policy. At issue, he said, is whether to immediately seize all the land for which the county and owners have not reached agreement. If the council approves the "quick-take provision," the county will assume ownership and it will be up to the courts to determine the sale prices.
Some property owners say county officials negotiated in bad faith and never offered a fair price for their land. The county also faces opposition from some in the community who fear the North Bethesda highway is a waste of money that will do little to relieve traffic.
The land in question does not include any homes or buildings.
One property belongs to the Old Farm Swim & Paddle Tennis Club on Montrose Road in Rockville. The county has been trying to purchase a half-acre piece of wooded land that serves as a noise buffer between the road and the fenced-in swimming pool.
Bruce G. Kay, president of the club's board of directors, said the county is not offering fair compensation.
"Our concern is that they've been using what we think are strong-arm tactics to take this land from us without using fair means to adjudicate fair compensation," Kay said.
The club is not in favor of the project but recognizes that there are a few benefits, Kay said. The county's plans call for building an access road alongside the parkway for the club, giving guests easy access to the club's facilities, he said.
Plans call for widening Montrose Road from four lanes to six between the I-270 interchange and Tildenwood Drive and then a four-lane parkway extending to Old Georgetown Road.
Steve Sorett, president of the Montrose Parkway Alternative Coalition, said the county, in its push to build the road, has overlooked environmental concerns as well as the views of neighbors.
"The county has done everything they can to cut corners and railroad this project through over the objection of the community," he said.
Manuel Zymelman is one of several property owners who have clashed with the county. He has refused to sell -- in part, he said, because of the county's tactics.
"They were bullying everybody," Zymelman said. "I felt like they said, 'Look, you either do this, or we'll do something worse by you.' That's not the way to deal with it, certainly not by an elected group."
Gonzalez said the county conducted its appraisals fairly, made several offers in most cases and has reached agreements with many property owners.
"Some of the property owners do not want to sell at all because they don't want the road to happen," he said.