The Montgomery County Planning Board has approved a bicycle path that would connect north Bethesda's Parkside Condominiums to Rock Creek Park, despite objections from condominium residents that the trail would cause damage to an adjacent wetland area.
In a 4-to-1 vote this week, the board approved one of three alternative hiking and biking trail connectors that would link Parkside to the main bike path in Rock Creek Park along Beach Drive.
Final approval rests with the National Capital Planning Commission, which reviews construction projects on federal property. The planning board also voted to resubmit to the federal agency for approval two other spur trails farther south, near Montrose and Wisconsin avenues.
The board approved those two trails in 1983, but the plans later were scuttled by the federal agency.
Constructing the trails, as proposed by the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, would provide a convenient means of access to the park not only for Parkside residents, but also for those living in Garrett Park.
Parkside and Garrett Park residents now must walk down Rockville Pike or another busy street, Strathmore Avenue, to get to the park.
Moreover, residents of Kensington and Parkwood, across the creek from Parkside, also would be able to use the paths to get to the Grosvenor Metro subway station on Wisconsin Avenue, next to Parkside.
Many residents of Parkside, a secluded 954-unit garden apartment complex just above the Capital Beltway, recently renewed their opposition to the trails on environmental grounds after failing in their attempt in 1983 to convince the board that the paths would result in increased crime in their community.
In a letter submitted last November to the planning board on behalf of Parkside residents, the Parkside Condominium Owners board of directors contended that a trail connecting their community to Rock Creek "would cause permanent damage to a valuable wetland, destroying the area as a relatively safe haven for unusual park plant and animal life."
However, in voting to approve the trails, planning board Chairman Norman L. Christeller said, "I think the most important element here is the safety factor. . . . I think we've got to find a way to give Parkside and Garrett Park residents some other alternative" route to get to the park.
Jane Lewin, a Parkside board member, declined comment this week on the board's actions.
The trail that would link Parkside to Rock Creek Park was recommended last fall by the county's park department as an alternative to the original connector, from Weymouth Street to the Rock Creek path, that the board approved in 1983. Federal planning authorities later denied that proposal because of environmental concerns.
Park department officials said they believe that the alternate trail, which was recommended after an environmental study of the affected area, addresses those concerns. It would end at the same point on Weymouth as the original but then would circle north, thereby skirting the primary wetland, officials said.
The trail may cost $120,000 to build, including construction of an asphalt pathway and small bridges to cross identified wet depressions. The other two spur trails approved by the board would cost $20,000 and $5,000.
Board member Judith B. Heimann voted against the Weymouth trail, saying she thought that it would cost too much.