Grove takes Leggett's plan to task
County aims to be unseen and unheard' at Casey properties
The secluded town of Washington Grove — population less than 550, tree-count in the thousands — is pushing back against a county plan to build an array of industrial facilities to its southern border.
It has been more than a year since Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett named Casey 6 and 7 — two vacant, brush-covered lots northwest of Shady Grove Road's intersection with Crabbs Branch Way — as an integral piece of his sweeping plan to move more than a dozen county operations off of lands coveted for a pair of multi-decade, multi-billion-dollar redevelopment plans between Gaithersburg and Rockville. With the $30 million purchase OK'd in December and designs well underway, Leggett (D) promises to ease the impacts on the town, one of the county's two dozen sites listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
But Washington Grove leaders feel spurned as the project pushes forward and insist that their goal is not to stand in the way of progress.
"We took the Kool-Aid and went along with what [county officials] were telling us, and all of a sudden we felt like we got slammed in the face," said Mayor Darrell Anderson. "We're willing to help them out as much as we can. But we're not going to help them out by destroying what we consider to be the essence of our community."
Casey 6 — 19 acres on the north of Interstate 370 — will get equipment sheds, salt storage domes and the county highway department's stacks of gravel, soil and other materials. The smaller Casey 7 property, 14 acres south of I-370, will hold the "Equipment Maintenance and Operations Center," where the county houses its heavy equipment fleet and Ride On's 200-bus depot. That will be a three-story, 110,000-square-foot complex, with one of the levels underground.
The $100 million construction is expected to go to the County Council next year for approval. Once approved, crews would break ground on the maintenance center in October 2010, while work at Casey 6 will consist of "mostly site grading," for the salt domes, said David Dise, director of the county's Department of General Services.
Those facilities are currently a few hundred yards away at the County Service Park on Crabbs Branch Way, a 92-acre industrial campus that has for years been central to redevelopment of areas around the Shady Grove Metro station along "Smart Growth" planning principles that promote a mix of residential, retail and commercial uses within walking distance of mass transit.
The county's Shady Grove day-laborer center will sit somewhere on Casey 7 across Crabbs Branch Way, Dise said. Leggett is also in "preliminary discussions" to buy a four-acre slice of an adjoining parcel — belonging to Roberts Oxygen Inc. on Ridge Road — to use for equipment and machinery storage.
Washington Grove is the latest community to see red over Leggett's "Smart Growth Initiative." While the plan has the backing of economic experts, business advocates and most county leaders, it has at every turn sparked outrage in the upcounty communities from Montgomery Village to the Kentlands to Shady Grove.
Earlier this year, neighbors of the Gude landfill fought off Leggett's proposal to move the county school system's bus depot there by exposing environmental hazards that would be worsened by the depot's construction.
At the GE Tech Park off Route 28 in Gaithersburg, Kentlands and Lakelands residents were able to ward off a police and fire/rescue academy but had to accept the public safety headquarters and liquor control warehouse.
Washington Grove's path is falling more in line with the experience at the Webb Tract next to Montgomery Village, Hunters Woods and Flower Hill, where a residents have won concessions on distance and buffers for the police/fire academy, the school system's food warehouse and two other large industrial operations.
The Grove's fears over the future of Casey 6 and 7 are compounded by the Intercounty Connector, whose western terminus will merge into I-370 at the Casey properties once completed. The 18.8 mile highway to Prince George's County "started the dominoes falling" for Washington Grove, Anderson said, by destroying 3,000 trees and blocking the town off to the south.
And with county operations to come at Casey 6 and 7, they are particularly troubled that they will be all but severed from the "urban village" planned at the metro station.
"We don't think they're going to un-buy it. We're just fighting for everything we're going to get," Anderson said.
With occupancy expected by February 2012, Leggett's project managers have hosted two planning charettes with Washington Grove residents this summer, with another to come next month.
Officials are working to accommodate some of their concerns by preserving forested areas where possible and bolstering the tree buffer next to the nearest Washington Grove homes. Pedestrian walkways will run through the future industrial park, linking Grove residents with the metro. And though Crabbs Branch Way will be extended north, it will be kept "as short as possible," and not connect to Amity Drive, Dise said.
Hoping to ease Washington Grove's worries about a compressed natural gas pump on Casey 7, officials vow that the fueling stations will be some 300 feet from the nearest home and be outfitted with standard safety systems to prevent discharge and ignition, Dise said. The gas tanks will hook up with Washington Gas Company's gas line along the railroad tracks, and not need fuel deliveries.
"We're going to strive to be unseen and unheard," Dise said.