Opponents of a recently approved, controversial residential development in Gaithersburg are challenging two incumbents in next week's City Council elections. The mayor, Sidney A. Katz, is running unopposed for a third term.
Citing what they call poor growth policies, community activists Jud B. Ashman and Michael A. Sesma were angered by the city's approval in early August of a plan for the Casey West mixed-use development on Metropolitan Grove Road in Gaithersburg.
"We have a county council that has over the past two years approved development regardless of if we have infrastructure to support it," said Ashman, 34, who runs a mail services company in the District. "We see the results in growing traffic congestion and overcrowded schools." Ashman said the city does not have the schools and roads to support the development.
The three-phase development will include 1,000 residential units and more than 1.2 million square feet of office and retail space on 125 acres west of Interstate 270. The developer is BP Realty Investments LLC of Potomac.
Ashman and Sesma are running against council Vice President Henry F. Marraffa Jr. and council member Blanche H. Keller. Voters will be asked to choose two council candidates Tuesday.
Marraffa and Keller said the criticism is unfounded.
"The people on those properties have all the right to build on them," Marraffa said. "Our role is to make sure we bring them in properly and make them into first-class communities like other ones we have in the city." He said the new Lakelands Middle School and a push by city officials for additional schools demonstrate a "concerted plan" to meet educational needs.
And more infrastructure is on the way, he said.
The state has provided financing for initial engineering of a possible interchange at Watkins Mill Road and I-270. The state is also considering whether to build a Corridor Cities Transitway -- a light rail or rapid bus line that would effectively extend Metro's Red Line north from Shady Grove to Clarksburg.
In the first phase of Casey West, 725 residential units, two office buildings and 50,000 square feet of retail space will be built, said Assistant City Manager Fred Felton. The second phase of the development, largely commercial buildings, is contingent on construction beginning on the Watkins Mill Road interchange. The third phase is contingent on the start of the Corridor Cities Transitway.
"We're going to phase it in, so that some of the infrastructure gets built [concurrently]," Marraffa said. "That's what I pride myself in, the ability to work with [the state and the school system]. I've done it for over 10 years in the city and I let my track record be my best witness."
Marraffa, 67, is a sales manager with ProSoft, a computer products company. He has served on the council for 11 years, on the city's Board of Appeals and on its Planning Commission, and he sits on the Maryland Physical Fitness Commission.
Keller, 64, a retiree from the U.S. Public Health Service, also has a long history in Gaithersburg. She was appointed to the council last year after former council member Ann T. Somerset got married and moved away. Until then, Keller had served on the Planning Commission for 18 years.
Public safety and affordable housing are Keller's top priorities, she said. She wants to increase the number of police officers on Gaithersburg streets in the next few years and push for more affordable senior housing and "workforce" housing for people in professions such as teaching and law enforcement.
Both Keller and Marraffa say the revitalization of Olde Towne is a key priority.
Meanwhile, Ashman and Sesma have started a Web site, www.mikeandjud.com, with a 10-point plan that includes pursuing an ordinance to ensure adequate public facilities, an increased emphasis on recreational or commercial development, and continuation of the City Council's pay-as-you-go, no-debt fiscal policy.
Ashman, an active member of several parent-teacher groups and founder of Citizens for Smarter Growth, said he would do a better job of advocating on behalf of the city for transit stop locations.
Sesma, 52, a scientist at the National Institute of Mental Health, said there is a larger problem underlying concerns that the public was left out of the city's decision to partner with the county on creating a day-labor center. "I want to make the city government as open and transparent as possible," he said.
Statements by the candidates can be seen at www.gaithersburgmd.gov. Click on "City Election 2005."