A Freeze on Permits Will Not Solve
County's Building Oversight Problems
There has been a lot written about the building and development process in Montgomery County over the past few weeks. Editorials, articles, letters and columns have expressed outrage, anger, dismay, concern and perplexity over alleged inconsistencies in building height and setbacks in the new residential community of Clarksburg Town Center.
Fingers have been pointed and retaliatory actions proposed without a clear understanding of the issues. Montgomery County faced the prospect of a "freeze" on new home building that could have had devastating repercussions throughout the county. This would have affected the economy, the cost of housing, the plans and dreams of homebuyers, and the security and income of the thousands of men and women who directly or indirectly build the homes.
There are several issues on which all parties involved in this unfortunate situation are agreed. Everyone agrees that mistakes have occurred at Clarksburg Town Center. Everyone agrees there are discrepancies between building heights and the numbers that appear on different site plans and building plans. Everyone agrees that a flawed process contributed to these mistakes, and there is a growing consensus that the county has a complex, confusing and duplicative approval process that needs to be improved.
The Montgomery County government and the Maryland-National Capital Building Industry Association (MNCBIA) agreed shortly after the initial Planning Board hearings that immediate steps had to be taken to catch any more potential errors and violations. The MNCBIA has worked with the agencies to establish guidelines to review site plans and building plans before construction resumed. The MNCBIA and county government were also in agreement that a thorough review of the entire development planning process was essential to eliminate the confusion and complexity and multiple review steps involved with building a house. In other words, mistakes happened, solutions were being proposed and corrections that had a minimal impact on homebuyers were being sought. Putting an abrupt stop to building new homes and apartments countywide was not the acceptable solution.
Montgomery County is known far and wide as a desirable place to live. It is known as a county with a high standard of living and quality of life. Contributing to this quality are the homes that make up the neighborhoods and communities.
The builders and developers who build these homes, neighborhoods and communities comply with strict building codes and a complex regulatory process. They do not knowingly or willfully violate these codes and regulations. The focus of the county's elected and appointed officials should be on correcting the process as efficiently and quickly as possible with minimal disruption to homebuyers.
County officials have in the past described the building industry as the "economic engine that drives the county." The solution to the problems with the process is not to take precipitous action that shuts down that engine, and we appreciate that the County Council chose not to implement Bill 22-05 [which would have temporarily frozen the issuance of building permits]. We remain committed to moving forward and working with the county agencies as they address the review issues.
James M. Kettler
Maryland-National Capital Building Industry Association
Road User Dials #77 to File a Report
But Makes No Progress With Police
On July 3, my husband and I were traveling home from a crab house in La Plata, about an hour and a half's driving. Along the outer loop of the Beltway, a Montgomery County police car lazily changed lanes without a turn signal, traveling above the speed of most other motorists.
My husband and I exchanged cynical smiles, having seen identical patrol cars every morning and evening (providing the weather is clear) on Connecticut Avenue between Saul Road and Knowles Avenue just a few blocks from our subdivision. There they perch themselves, on the side of the street opposite the flow of traffic, trolling for easy marks going 5 miles per hour or so over the artificially low speed limit posted in that less-traveled six-block area.
Suddenly, out of the blue at Exit 14, came first one motorcycle, then another and another, each moving at an estimated 110-120 mph. They scared the living daylights out of every other driver on the road. A couple of cars even pulled over and stopped.
The motorcyclists created deafening noise as, one by one, about a dozen of them zoomed from both the left and the right past Exits 15 and 16, darted in and out of traffic, and almost sideswiped one vehicle. Some cyclists weren't wearing helmets. At their speed, one misjudgment would have meant death.
We weren't smiling anymore, cynically or otherwise. I had my cell phone in the passenger side. In the Washington area, signs dot the Beltway reminding people to dial #77 for police assistance. We'd never done it, but this seemed like a good time, especially since we had seen that police car not too far ahead of us. While my husband continued driving, I told the dispatcher the exit number and the problem (she could probably hear the racket over my voice). She said she'd patch me through to another department.
The line went dead. Since my phone bars were still up, I expected I would get a return call. Who ever heard of an emergency police line not having a caller's number? But the phone didn't ring. And the motorcyclists were long gone. They could well have absconded at the next exit for all we knew, so we felt we shouldn't call back.
We did halfway expect to see at least one of the cyclists pulled over somewhere, to hear police sirens or maybe the sound of a chopper. Nothing. The only excitement was one driver, who in the aftermath apparently got tired of everyone's stunted travel pace. He suddenly gunned his car to about 85 mph. We watched him weave in and out among three lanes of "slowpokes" until he was out of sight.
About two miles from our own exit point we saw a familiar ominous warning: "AGGRESSIVE DRIVER IMAGING." Simultaneously, we both burst out laughing. We got the message: Good citizens are easy; we don't mess with really dangerous folks.
The next time the Fraternal Order of Police, or some such entity, calls for donations, they will get to hear my message: Once I start seeing traffic cops seriously focusing on reckless behavior and other potentially dangerous situations -- such as large-scale stop-light outages and unlit underground parking garages at subway stops at night -- I'll take them seriously. Until that time, Montgomery County police will remain just another public nuisance for law-abiding citizens to deal with.
Why County Emergency Personnel
Were Against Proposed Ambulance Fees
I am grateful to [Council President] Tom Perez for recognizing that the administration's proposed ambulance fees were a disastrous idea as well as a political nonstarter ("Council Won't Revive Ambulance Fee," July 21), but one clarification is in order.
Volunteer emergency medical services workers did not oppose the fee on the grounds that it might have undermined local fire departments' fundraising efforts. We opposed the fee because it would have deterred people from calling 911 at the first signs of serious medical problems, and lives (as well as taxpayer money) would have been lost as a result.
Emergency Med. Technician
Volunteer Fire Department
We Cannot Expect Good Public Services
Without Paying the Taxes to Finance Them
Early Saturday morning, just a couple of days after last week's ferocious thunderstorm, I woke to the sound of Montgomery County trucks and crews going through the neighborhood removing fallen trees and branches. I went outside and spoke briefly with one of the county employees, who was very polite.
By the end of the day, all the debris had been cleared from my home and neighborhood. In addition, county employees had cut down tree limbs that were resting perilously on power wires in front of my house.
None of this surprised me. Over the years, when I have had occasion to deal with Montgomery County government, such excellent public service has been the rule. Of course, this doesn't come free. Although I don't like paying taxes any more than the next person, I recognize that if I want my county government to continue to provide comprehensive and efficient public service, I must pay for it. It is a tradeoff: lower taxes, fewer services.
Politicians who reflexively condemn any tax as too high will never get my vote.