Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2007

Navy Med neighbors want say in military merger

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Some neighbors of the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda say their opinions are not being incorporated in the plans for the upcoming merger of the center and Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

The Coalition of Navy Med Neighbors said at a meeting Oct. 16 that the priorities of the county’s BRAC Implementation Committee didn’t reflect those of the communities.

The committee comprises more than 30 members from the neighboring business and residential communities, as well as officials with the county, state and federal government, and the military.

‘‘We have not been afforded the opportunity to review the analyses being conducted nor the preliminary discussions being reached with regard to our primary concern — traffic congestion in an already overcrowded and stressed area,” the coalition said in a letter presented to the committee.

Earlier this month, the committee submitted a list of traffic mitigation priorities to County Executive Isiah Leggett (D), who would in turn forward the list to state representatives.

The committee requested enhancements to mass transit, more pedestrian and bicycle access, and improved intersections along Rockville Pike and Wisconsin Avenue, Connecticut Avenue and Old Georgetown Road.

The coalition believes a traffic study regarding the feasibility of an entrance and exit to Navy Med from Interstate 495 should be included in the BRAC Implementation Committee’s priority list.

The letter states that seven communities — Bethesda Parkview Citizens Association, Chevy Chase View, East Bethesda Citizens Association, Glenbrook Village Homeowners Association, Locust Hill Estates Citizens Association, Maplewood Citizens Association and Stone Ridge School of the Scared Heart — felt slighted, and those communities represent more than 3,000 residents. Chevy Chase Hills was not included in the letter.

‘‘We put this as our top concern because this is a main way to get cars off our arterial roadways,” said Ilaya Hopkins, who spoke on behalf of the coalition and represents the East Bethesda Citizens Association.

Navy Med is located on Rockville Pike, Jones Bridge Road and Beech Drive in Bethesda.

Others, however, say that the exclusion of the I-495 interchange was not because of a lack of communication with the neighborhood associations, but rather feasibility.

‘‘We had an incredibly short window of time to submit funding requests,” said Phil Alperson, Montgomery County’s BRAC coordinator. ‘‘The problem was [I-495] had never been studied. The state wanted projects that were ready to go.”

Every plan on the committee’s list of priorities had been studied extensively, and the projects listed were ready to begin if the state approved them.

Alperson admitted, though, that the interaction between some of the community groups and the rest of the committee could have been better.

‘‘We did have some communication problems, but we’re ironing those out,” he said. ‘‘When you have these kinds of boards their opinion is always important, and I think the list generally reflected the community concerns.”

From the perspective of the Navy, while the community perspectives are important, there are other concerns as well.

‘‘The perspective of the Department of Defense is straightforward: We are at a time of war,” said Capt. Michael Malanoski. ‘‘This is a very complex project, and I want you to know that we’re all hearing you. But it is imperative that this is done as quickly as possible without halting care.”

While the coalition did express some frustration, it was more toward the process than the committee itself.

‘‘We all, especially Stone Ridge [School of the Sacred Heart], love having the Navy as a neighbor,” Hopkins said. ‘‘We’re all frustrated by this project together.”

The next meeting of the BRAC Subcommittee is Nov. 20.