Maybe it is because of the increased population in the UpCounty. Maybe it is due to the increased frustration. Maybe it because residents see the huge opportunity the 2018 elections offer to the UpCounty to restructure the makeup of the County Council if one or more voices from the UpCounty are elected. Or, maybe folks are fed up with the traffic and are getting to the point where they need to let their elected officials know about it, but Monday’s Town Hall meeting with County elected officials attracted a very large turnout.
Monday’s event, which was held at Wilson Wims Elementary School in Clarksburg, attracted over 160 residents. Two people remarked that it was the best attended civic-minded gathering in the UpCounty they’d ever seen.
The Town Hall event was organized by the Coalition For UpCounty (C4U), a Clarksburg-based organization to advocate for issues that matter to residents and businesses in the UpCounty area of Montgomery County.
The event featured a panel of elected officials, including At-Large County Councilmembers Hans Reimer and Nancy Floreen, along with State Delegates Eric Luedtke (District 14), Aruna Miller (District 15), Kirill Reznick (District 39), and State Senator Nancy King (District 39).
While the big issue discussed was transportation issues — traffic in the UpCounty and the need for M-83 to be completed — the C4U also outlined a number of other concerns which residents of UpCounty want the County to address. Those issues included, education and need to for more and varied magnet and choice programs at UpCounty middle and high schools, an improved recycling program in the UpCounty.
It was pointed out in the C4U’s presentation that there is just one magnet program in UpCounty middle or high schools, while there are two magnet programs in middle or high schools in the Down County Consortium. The result is that UpCounty students are required to travel hours to attend these schools. When it comes to Choice Programs, there none in the UpCounty, while students in the Down County Consortium have 23 different program options.
Once the topic turned to transportation — specifically the fate of M83 — the crowd became more energized. Longtime UpCounty resident and proponent of M83, Charles Tilford presented a history of the status of the road dating back to when it was first proposed as a “Ladder Arterial” on the County’s Master Plan in 1967.
The latest chapter in the saga of M83 was the introduction of a resolution, written by Councilmember Hans Reimer, to instruct the Planning Board to not take the possibility of M83 being built into consideration when discussing future development in the UpCounty area. That resolution was introduced at the Sept. 19 meeting of the County Council.
“You guys need to understand,” said Sarwar Faraz, with the Coalition for the UpCounty, to the residents, gathered, “when these things are going on at the County Council you need to be aware of this. You guys have paid for this road. You need to be aware that this road is part of your development, part of your community. When your community was planned this was the road that was supposed to service you.”
He said the growth of homes and development in Clarksburg depends on M83 being built. “When (the County) creates these communities and fill them up with people and schools, and then take away the road it creates an island,” said Faraz. “Everyone is stuck on I-270. You are stuck on 270, not because nobody planned it properly but because the plan is not being implemented. You have to speak up. You cannot allow lobbyist groups to take away your right. M83 is your right. M83 should cost zero dollars because it has already been paid for it. You paid for it in your taxes and the cost of the homes which the developer added into the price to pay the County for the right to build the community.”
“M83 is not a broken promise,” said Faraz. “M83 is a betrayal of trust. It is 5.6 miles.”
Once the Town Hall Panel began, the topic of M83 was the first addressed, and Councilmember Reimer stepped up to explain his position and the need for the resolution which he had proposed to the County Council last week.
“I am opposed to taking away a solution and not having another solution in this place. Therefore, I am opposed to removing M83 from the Master Plan. I don’t think that is responsible or fair. It is not something that I would ever agree to do. But at the same time, I am concerned that there is no Council support to build the Master Plan alignment, and we would continue to add rooftops. We don’t want to add more housing and more development that only works if the Master Plan alignment (M83) is actually built. If there is no consensus to build the Master Plan alignment, why would we keep adding density that only works if it is built.”
Reimer said that he believed the better option than building M83 was the proposed option to improve and widen MD-355. “The option of investing in Route 355 with intersection improvements up and down Rt. 355 and improved transit service is the option which I personally favor,” said Reimer. “That solution may not meet all of your needs, and you can continue to advocate for the solution which you favor.”
While the two-hour meeting was not contentious, there were occasional outbursts from the audience as elected officials fielded submitted questions. Overall, it was pleasant and informative, if tense, meeting. Residents aired of concerns by and elected officials offered explanations.
Councilmember Nancy Floreen, who is not running for re-election to her At-Large seat on the Council, and not running for County Executive, told the residents that the resolution was a good thing, it means the road will stay on the Master Plan. “This is not as bad as it could be,” said Floreen. “Years ago I told the good folks in Montgomery Village who have opposed this road that we are going to resolve this one way or the other — either we are going to keep it on the Master Plan or we are not.”
“That is the big issue that has been debated in recent years. And the Council isn’t taking it out of the Master Plan, so that is a good thing. It remains a land use option that I hope to God, we will elect people who will ultimately make that happen,” said Floreen to large applause.
“Now, Hans and my other colleagues on the Council have come up with an option to keep it in the Master Plan, and I really think it is because they heard you. It is not a cabal by the Down County; it is that my colleagues on the Council are wedded to the idea of transit as a solution. And there is the plan for the transitway to come up here, and that hasn’t happened either. I can understand why you feel frustrated. That is why it is important for you to continue to have a voice going forward.”
The County Council will hold a public hearing on the resolution regarding M83 on Oct. 17.
Also in attendance were a dozen candidates for either the three open County Council at-large seats or the District 2 council seat representing the UpCounty, and candidates running for state delegation seats. The UpCounty has attracted the attention of folks who want to represent UpCounty residents in the future. Notably absent was current District 2 Councilmember Craig Rice.
Top: Monday’s Coalition for the UpCounty Town Hall held at Wilson Wims Elementary School was very well attended as local officials fielded questions from residents.
Next: Coalition for UpCounty’s Sawar Faraz speaks to Clarksburg residents during the Town Hall.
Next: Councilmember Hans Reimer addresses the Town Hall regarding the new resolution regarding the fate of M83.
Next: Councilmember Hans Reimer said he would not support removing a highway from the master plan without a backup plan.
Next: Over 160 residents and many political candidates attended the Town Hall on Monday.
Photos by Germantown Pulse.