IT'S NOT EXACTLY your everyday local housing quandary, but by purchasing a plush riding stable in the heart of its horse country, the Montgomery County Council is managing to ride out a heated dispute that had pitted horses against houses. The decision is to play landlord for both -- and, given the circumstances, the decision is a sensible compromise.
The idea of taxpayers providing $1.1 million to keep a fancy stable going surely blows the minds of many. "Only in Montgomery" may be part of the explanation, though, for there was serious if self-conscious local tradition behind the effort to save the stable. For two decades, the Potomac Horse Center in Gaithersburg has regularly been host to local, regional and national equestrian shows and is considered the best in Maryland. But it's been an operational loser for several years.
That was what tempted owner Frederick Harting to sell the whole tract to developers. But to head off that idea at the pass, as well as to preserve open space, the country's planning board proposed to buy the facility and lease it back to Mr. Harting for the next 10 years, for $32,000 a year plus a percentage of gross revenues. The county council then approved the purchase by a 4-to-3 vote. T that point, County Executive Charles R. Gilchrist, understandably concerned that the purchase "would reflect a serious distortion of priorities," vetoed the deal.
On Tuesday, council member Elizabeth Scull, who had voted for the purchase, said she wouldn't join in a vote to override the veto unless 48 housing units could be built on the site. After a recess, a deal was struck-- and the stable and the housing were in it. As council member Neal Potter noted, "If we acquired the property merely for riding, we were worried about a deficit. This farm is an asset for many fine uses and, now, recreation is only one aspect." He's right.