Monday, October 19, 2009

of course burtonsville's settling (so what are we gonna do about it?)

Signs Along Route 198 (There Are So Many)
"Is Burtonsville settling?" asks Eric Luedtke, East County Citizens Advisory Board member. He was discussing the controversial ezStorage project that I can't say much about (it's currently going through the County Council), but I can confidently say yes: Burtonsville's been settling for the status quo, pushing away investment while complaining we don't get nice things here.

I live here and I don't go to Burtonsville anymore because there's even less here than there was when I left for college in 2005. But now I can head up to Howard County - and soon, Prince George's County - to enjoy the high-end shopping and well-paying jobs people here say they've been demanding since before I was even born. While our community leaders bicker about density and poor people, we're left with empty storefronts, vacant office buildings, and a line of cars heading north on Route 29.

Think the Burtonsville village center looks shabby? Tell that to folks who demanded "minimal changes" to the run-down Route 198 strip at a community charrette last summer. Burtonsville's shopkeepers said sidewalks in the village center weren't necessary and that a public green would "attract undesirables."

Meanwhile, local shops already ravaged by the Burtonsville Bypass lost the Amish Market, the only big draw it had. Civic activists complained that what would take its place was "massive" and "not particularly attractive." What we're getting instead is a strip mall called Burtonsville Town Square that won't even have a square and has already cannibalized the shopping center across the street.

Bethesda Lane Bad Panorama
Bethesda isn't just a bunch of expensive houses - it's a community that attracts and embraces economic investment rather than turning everyone away.

Meanwhile, our homeowners' associations fight a status quo war of their own, saying that building affordable housing will create open-air drug markets. They've lobbied to keep public buses from serving their subdivisions and said they don't want poor people walking through them, either.

And yet all this non-progress hasn't made traffic any better. Our neighbors who advised County officials on the 1997 Fairland Master Plan declared that transit-oriented development was "unworkable" here. Nevermind the success of TOD in places like Downtown Silver Spring or Rockville Town Square. In an already built-up area, no transit means no development, which means no amenities, which means more traffic as we drive to get the things we need.

"Burtonsville has had a chance to get some really nice stuff," fellow board member Tom Aylward said to Luedtke, "but it's been killed by the master plan and the ardent supporters of the master plan." East County's civic establishment has spent decades complaining that we're a "dumping ground" for poor people. They assume that if we just build enough expensive single-family houses we'll turn into Bethesda. But Bethesda has sidewalks, a clean, attractive downtown, and quite a few apartments as well, not to mention excellent bus and Metro service. I think we're missing something.

We should celebrate Burtonsville and try to hold on to the things we love. But as our NIMBY games slowly kill the business district, will we have anything left to save?


Rob Goldman said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Casey A said...

So the question is: how can we improve the quality of the debate on land use? Charettes are theoretically a good way to get citizens intensively engaged in planning decisions, but they are time-intensive and tend to bring out people who are already immersed in neighborhood activism (and often these tend to be people who are the most vociferous opponents of change).

Thomas Hardman said...

As for East County being a dumping ground for the poor, could be worse.

Aspen Hill, in lots of places, is getting Ghetto As Fuck, and to make it worse, the people who are making it that way clearly prefer it that way.

And g_d help anyone trying to make it something other than ghetto. Nobody else will.