When the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission proposed two years ago to build bicycle paths that would connect Bethesda's Parkside Condominiums to Rock Creek Park, residents of the complex feared that the paths would attract outsiders, and consequently increase crime in their secluded community.
The plan was scuttled then, but now Montgomery County planning authorities are considering revised proposals. Parkside residents have renewed their opposition, this time based on environmental concerns.
At issue are three proposed hiker-biker trail connectors that would link Parkside to the main bike path in Rock Creek along Beach Drive.
The three proposals have been recommended by the county's parks department to the Montgomery County Planning Board as alternative routes to one of the trail connectors, from Weymouth Street to Rock Creek, that was proposed in 1983. Parks department officials, however, have not recommended the alternatives because of Parkside residents' initial concerns about crime, an assertion that was contested by Montgomery County Park Police at public hearings on the original plans.
Rather, the parks department, after a recent environmental study of the affected area, has determined that the Weymouth path "would cross a validated wetland area" and would "adversely impact this sensitive area," according to a summary recommendation by Parks Director Donald Cochran.
Rock Creek Park bends to the south and east of Parkside, a 954-unit condominium community of garden apartments with several wide, dead-end streets and broad sidewalks. On the west, Parkside is bordered by Rockville Pike, and to the north by Garrett Park. Currently, Parkside residents must walk down Rockville Pike or another busy street, Strathmore Avenue, to get to the park.
Cochran said that the alternative trails would provide a safe and convenient means of access to Rock Creek not only for Parkside residents, but also for those living in Garrett Park.
Moreover, residents of Kensington and Parkwood, across the creek from Parkside, also would be able to use the paths to get to the recently opened Grosvenor Metro subway station on Wisconsin Avenue, next to Parkside.
Two of the three proposed trails would end at the same point on Weymouth as the original but then would circle north, thereby skirting the primary wetland, Cochran said.
The third alternative, initially proposed two years ago along with the Weymouth trail, is located farther south, near Montrose and Wisconsin avenues. That trail would cost $103,000 to build, while the other two spur trails are expected to cost $110,000 and $120,000.
The planning board is expected to act on the proposals at a meeting next month; a final decision rests with the National Capital Planning Commission, which reviews construction projects on federal property.
The governing bodies of the towns of Kensington and Garrett Park support the concept of the proposed trail connectors, but have not specifically endorsed any of them.
However, the Parkside Condominium Owners board of directors contends that the two trails proposed near Weymouth "would cause permanent damage to a valuable wetland, destroying the area as a relatively safe haven for unusual park plant and animal life," according to a letter submitted to the planning board on behalf of Parkside residents.
The six-member board also opposes the Montrose Avenue trail, claiming that the area is deeply wooded and that a bike path "would put additional stress on the park's plant and animal community.