The Western Area Recreation Advisory Board voted 6-1 against recommending any changes to the restrictions imposed on the use of the roller hockey rink at the Potomac Community Center.
"My job is to represent the majority of the people. I looked at the rink; several of us were overwhelmed by its size," said Donna Bartko, one of the six members of the Western Area Recreation Advisory Board who voted against a proposal to lift the age restrictions at the rink.
Now, only players up to fifth grade or twelve and under are allowed on the inline hockey rink. The citizens advisory board was responding to a request to allow some time for players up to twelfth grade or 18 and under.
"I am sympathetic why the neighbors would not want the rink in their back yards, Bartko said."
The Board, which hosted a public meeting attended by more than 90 community members on Tuesday, May 28 to solicit input, voted 6-1 against a proposal to allow teenagers to play on the Community Center rink at its monthly meeting last Thursday, June 13.
But a final decision is still in the future. The county-wide recreation citizens advisory board will consider the issue in the fall; the final decision will come from the Department of Recreation.
Doug Stevens, a Potomac resident and inline hockey coach and father petitioned the Planning Board early this year, claiming age discrimination since the County has offered no other rink to house inline hockey leagues for teenagers. The Planning Board referred the issue back to the Recreation Department to decide.
THIS SPRING, the county lost 220 teenage roller hockey players, who had used the Wheaton Roller Rink for league play and practice, while the Wheaton Rink roof is in under repair. The repair is scheduled to begin this fall.
"Someone has to give for the next 18 months. Neighbors have already given. I am concerned once you open the gate, it is hard to close again," said Bartko.
Some 10 neighbors of the community center, including Jim Krzyminski who was invited to answer questions from the board, were present at the Board meeting.
While advocates of allowing older players on the rink attended the May 28 forum, none were invited to answer questions at the decisive meeting last week.
Six board members voted against the proposal while Peter Hauslohner, the chair of the Board, represented the sole dissenting voice.
Many residents in many communities endure some noise to allow youth recreation opportunities, Hauslohner said, offering the example of Saturday morning swim meets.
"I live one quarter mile from my swimming pool," said Hauslohner, who said Saturday morning swim meets in the summer are both early and loud. "It's annoying, no question, but when my kids were growing up, I valued it enormously. .…
"I'm not persuaded that raising the age limit will increase the noise. I see the injury generated by an increase in the age limit — although its not trivial or illusory — is relatively small given the benefit to the number of people of players in the community."
THE BOARD REFERED back to a July 16, 1998 letter from former Planning Board chairman William Hussmann to Graham Norton, director of Montgomery County's Department of Public Works and Transportation.
The rink was built without using county funds. While all needed building permits were obtained, and the Department of Recreation knew the details of the construction, the rink did not go through a required “mandatory referral” process at the Planning Board, which would have notified neighbors of the proposal and allowed an opportunity for input before construction. After complaints about noise and other problems in 1998, the rink was closed while the Planning Board reviewed the issue.
THE PLANNING BOARD recommended approval of the mandatory referral proposal for the rink under seven conditions.
One of the conditions was the installation of a three-quarter inch sound absorbing rubber mat that was to be placed on the inside of the rink boards to mitigate the noise from the rink. The recreation department, faced with problems attaching the rubber, instead installed sound muffling insulation on the outside of the rink.
Recreation officials believe they did comply with the conditions set by the Planning Board in July of 1998.
"Clearly the thinking was we'll put rubber mat on the inside, but when the rubber met the road — or the rink — they found adhesion problems. With the involvement of immediate neighbors, sound engineers tested [a different material] on the rear side and found that a difference in noise reduction was almost unmeasurable," between the interior and exterior padding, said Jeff Bourne, chief of the recreation department.
BUT THE WESTERN Area Recreation Advisory Board was concerned that all previous requirements be met before any changes at the rink. The board recommended that "until such a time that the original interior lining has been put in place, the board does not make a recommendation of lifting or changing the age restrictions."
The board asked Kryzminski at the meeting whether there was a difference to neighbors after the material was installed.
"We saw no discernible difference in the noise level. In my opinion, we were getting all the noise we experienced prior to work being done," said Krzyminski. "We feel the need to stay on top of this to ensure rules would get enforced."
Bourne said that all sound deadening materials, rubber matting, the use of a softer ball, is all "over and above actually code requirements."
"My sense is based on the language of the Planning Board decision and order, that the County certainly has the sense that it has complied with that item at least to the minimum of the requirement and in some ways it has exceeded that amount," Bourne said.
IN 1998, the Planning Board ruled that its majority "supports the concept of investigating the inclusion of some appropriate time within the rink's schedule to accommodate users up to the 12th grade. This would take place in consultation with the community, after all mitigation measures are in place, after there has been an appropriate amount of experience on the impact of the revised use and if another facility is not constructed in the near future to accommodate older skaters," wrote Hussmann, in 1998.
For now, teenagers will have to wait, play on portable boards set up at different locations, or travel to Laurel to play organized league games.
The Board's recommendation will get referred to the County-wide Recreation Advisory Board and formally to the Department of Recreation, the County Council and Park and Planning, said Bourne.
The Countywide Board, which begins meetings in September, could make its own recommendation, according to Bourne, likely in October.
"I heard them say very clearly, once the additional items are in place, their recommendation would possibly be reconsidered at that time. That gives some time perspective that doesn't have urgency," said Bourne.