There are a vast number of constituencies here - different ethnic and religious groups; blue-collar and white-collar; families, couples and singles; young and old; people who remember what Burtonsville was like forty years ago and those impatient to see it forty years from now. Never have they been fully represented by East County's civic structure. Aside from neighborhood and homeowners' associations, we've never had much organization on a larger level. And as devoted as the members of an HOA can be, they usually look out for themselves and ignore the greater context.
Citizens Involved, an "umbrella civic group" whose Eileena York became a mouthpiece for Burtonsville's long hoped-for revitalization, fizzled out after barely two years of existence. We have the East County Citizens Advisory Board, which does an excellent job as transmitting our concerns to County Executive Ike Leggett, himself a Burtonsville resident. But they make recommendations, not actual policy. And with eighteen members, they've got enough people to form their own civic association but too many to lead one.
What I would like to see is a regional advocacy organization unbound by the parochialism of local homeowners' associations and seeking to be as inclusive as possible. It should cover a wide area - the entire Route 29 corridor from Burnt Mills to Burtonsville, for instance - and seek representatives from as many neighborhoods as possible. In Olney, where the county wants to redevelop the town center, the Planning Department has convened an Advisory Committee composed of delegates from homeowners' associations, civic groups, and business and social organizations as well. As a result, the discussion won't be one-sided because you have groups with many, many different interests at the table.
One group that definitely needs to be included in any East County civic group is the residents of apartment complexes. Rental communities are stereotyped as being "transient," something Stuart Rochester constantly railed against, but by not engaging the residents who are there for the long run, you can't rally for the kind of improvements that would make more people want to stay.
Windsor Court and Tower Apartments, located on Castle Boulevard in Briggs Chaney, has done a good job bringing their residents and those of surrounding complexes together with the East County Community Day, held each August for the past two years. Spurred by the deaths of three sisters in an apartment fire, the event is an outdoor fair held in a parking lot. Attractions include a barbeque, performances by local musicians, a petting zoo, and booths offering goods and services. There is no hidden agenda; leasing agents insist that they wouldn't be showing apartments during the fair.
Right now, Community Day is a small event, tucked in the back of an apartment complex on a residential street many people may never go down. But it's well supported by the nearby Regional Services Center and could grow if moved to a more visible location - say, in the parking lot of the Briggs Chaney Plaza shopping center, which after last month's shooting in broad daylight could use some good publicity. It's an opportunity to showcase local restaurants; to "re-brand" the Briggs Chaney area for people more familiar with its reputation for crime; and give renters a chance to assert themselves as part of the greater community.
I've been reflecting a lot on the passing of Stuart Rochester, and what his loss truly means for those who live in eastern Montgomery County. And I come to the same conclusion that I had before: we need more voices in the conversation. Not just because he worked so hard that no one could replicate his efforts, but because no one can truly speak for the majority. If there's a hole in East County, I'm looking forward to getting it filled - by many people, from many places, with many ideas.