Residents and municipal officials in the Gaithersburg area joined in opposition last week to Montgomery County's proposed long-term plan for the region, saying it fails to deal adequately with the effects that development has had and will have on their communities.
The proposed master plan now under consideration is the first overall revision since 1971. Critics said its liberalized zoning abandons earlier aims and promises that local officials, long-time residents and new residents said they were counting on when they shaped their own community plans.
Planners from Rockville and Gaithersburg jointly objected at hearings before the Montgomery County Planning Board that the new plan threatens to draw new businesses away from the downtown centers local officials have been preparing for intense commercial development.
Citizens organizations in the West Shady Grove area turned out heavily for the hearing, voicing objections that the board would allow further development there without doing something to solve traffic pressure already jamming Route 28 west of Route 270 each day at rush hours.
And individual residents as well as citizen groups criticized what they said would be an ultimate effect: wiping out the county's last farms and any remaining, undeveloped areas.
Developers of sites in the Shady Grove section said at the hearings and in interviews they are also seeking to clear up traffic problems. Jay Alfandre, developer of a proposed project of more than 700 houses, said developers intended to make sure the roads are able to handle additional commuters, have contributed to government road widening projects and intended to widen some sections themselves.
Planning Board Chairman Norman L. Christeller said the board will begin work sessions on the master plan April 18. On April 25, planning commissions of Rockville, Gaithersburg, Washington Grove and the county will meet in Washington Grove to consider the plan and public concerns.
The most heated issue concerned what planners have dubbed, "opportunity areas," two zones listed in the plan where more commercial and residential development would be encouraged by establishing mixed-use zoning.
Most opposition came from the West Shady Grove opportunity area, the land between Rockville and Gaithersburg where carloads of commuters daily clog Route 28, which is the main road connecting I-270 and Shady Grove Road with burgeoning subdivisions to the west. County planning officials have recommended development-enticing mixed-use zoning there to attract businesses similar to the County Medical Center there.
The other, the "Airpark Opportunity Area," would get more residential and "light industrial" development near the end of the airpark runway, according to the master plan draft.
"We don't understand who the opportunity is for in this opportunity area," said Charles Tilford, a representative of Goshen Commmunity Association, an organization of residents who live north of the county airport. "We feel fairly sure the opportunity is not for the citizens."
Tilford and other civic representatives urged the planning board to dismantle what he called "demand development," a force they said has been steering county government standards away from objectives officials set 12 years ago in a master plan that aimed to keep businesses in the downtown sectors of cities along I-270 and to channel residential growth into wedges, preserving undeveloped farms, parks and "green space."
In a joint statement, the Rockville and Gaithersburg planning commissions said they were concerned that the county's proposal was straying from a "corridor cities" strategy set forth in a 1971 master plan. Gaithersburg and Rockville considered the strategy when municipal officials later worked out elaborate downtown revitalizatin projects that depend on attracting new business. They said the county's opportunity areas may put the cities in "development competition" with outlying areas.
The Shady Grove West area "was to be predominantly a low-density residential area with supporting services," according to Jeffrey Rubin, head of Gaithersburg's planning commission. "We maintain that it is imperative that the integrity of the existing individual cities be retained in order to avoid excessive sprawl."
Rubin noted the county has slated "a staggering $74.6 million" for new road projects in the next six years. "It would seem far more reasonable to direct limited resources towards road projects needed to resolve current traffic problems," he said.
Rubin, along with Carlos Caban of the Rockville Planning Commission and residents of the West Shady Grove Opportunity area all joined in urging the board to do something about traffic jams on Rte. 28 before allowing denser residential zoning west of I-270.
Residents of Dufief, Westleigh and other communities asked the board not to give their area the denser zoning the proposed master plan currently calls for. They have contested plans by Alfandre, developer of a site that was once part of the Washingtonian National Country Club golf course, to build more than 700 units just northwest of Muddy Branch Road and Route 28.
The residents stressed that they were not opposed to houses going up on Alfandre's land, or that it be annexed into Gaithersburg, as he currently has requested. What they did object to, and stressed more than anything else, is the heavier density he has requested. Traffic on Route 28, they said, was already overwhelming.
"How much more frustrating can your daily trip to the office get before you've finally had it?" said Diane Arrison of Westleigh Citizens Association.
"How much more can we take? We can't take any more. There's already a problem with no end in site," Harvey Perry, another Westleigh resident said, reminding chairman Christeller of an invitation offered last January.
"We invited you to come to my house one morning and have a cup of coffee and see how had it gets," Perry said. "That invitation is still open."
Christeller nodded, "I've been up there."
"I'm concerned about traffic as a developer," Alfandre said. "You can't market if you have severe traffic problems. There's a lot of developers out there putting up a great amount of dollars to take care of this.
Alfandre said besides putting some of the money from house sales directly into county road costruction funds, land companies are widening parts of public roads themselves as they build their projects.
"As development comes along, roads are going to be built to alleviate the traffic problems," he said.