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Votes

Build Up This Wall

Search for relief from beltway noise leads some homeowners to call for special tax of $831 a year per house.

Nina Weissberg has moved to another state, but she still wants to see soundwalls built on the beltway.

“I have a personal stake,” she said.

Weissberg had been one of the community leaders who had been fighting for soundwall to be built in the communities of Evergreen and Carderock South, which straddle the Beltway.

Weissberg and others met with state and county highway officials on May 7 to discuss the prospects of building the walls.

“It took us two years to get them to meet with us,” she said.

The only reason that she was able to get a meeting was that she and the community hired an attorney, David Brown, to help them, Weissberg said. “Because we were getting no response from the state or county, I strong-armed these communities into hiring an attorney,” she said.

At the meeting, the officials declined to make any concrete offers, instead they asked that residents draft a “Memorandum of Understanding” in which would lay out what the communities expect and what they are willing to contribute.

“We’re waiting for comment back on that memorandum of understanding,” Weissberg said. The “memorandum” was sent to state and county officials on May 28.

“We did receive the proposal,” said State Highway Administration spokesperson Kellie Boulware. “No decision has been reached,” Boulware said, adding that the state does not have a time frame for issuing its comments. “As with any project, funding is a concern at this time,” Boulware said.

Sen. Brian Frosh (D-16) has been working with residents in their drive for the soundwalls. His office has also sent communications to the State Highway Administration, but they have not yet received a response from them.

His staff is contacting the SHA to ask why they have not received a response.

Frosh praised the residents’ willingness to pay for a portion of the cost.

“They’re really walking the extra mile,” Frosh said.

The proposal calls for placing the communities in the queue for soundwalls, with residents agreeing to pay a portion of the construction costs.

The current proposal identifies 77 homes which would have a special assessment placed on their tax bill. The assessment would amount to $831 per house per year for 20 years.

“There are certainly more than 77 that will get benefit,” Weissberg said.

Frosh says this would be a good investment for the property owners.

“If you build this sound barrier, you can increase the value of your home,” he said. “If you’re not eligible and you can find a way to get the county and state to pay for part of it, and you pay over 20 years, that’s good.”

Construction would begin a few years after the assessments start. “[Residents] said ‘yes’ to this two years ago at a meeting without even knowing the dollar amount,” Weissberg said.

State regulations would mandate the construction of soundwalls if a highway is widened. Since there is currently discussion of widening the Beltway to add HOV, or carpool lanes, this may prove to be a factor.

The agreement has a clause in which states that if the Beltway is widened homeowners would no longer bear financial responsibility.

“The day they widen the Beltway, this assessment ceases,” Weissberg said. Residents could also be refunded a portion of the assessment already paid if the widening occurs with a certain time frame.

Weissberg is still willing to play a part in the fight for soundwalls, but she is not optimistic.

“I could see this Memorandum of Understanding sitting on their desks for two more years,” she said.

After fighting for two years to even get a meeting, she is worried that homeowners might not be willing to make the phone calls and send the letters as they had done in the past.

“I think people are exhausted. People have just given up,” Weissberg said.

Additionally, the money which had been used to pay for the attorney has run out. “He said he’ll still make a call for us occasionally,” she said.

Weissberg herself, now a resident of Leesburg, Va. wonders how much more she can put into the effort. While she says she will still attend community meetings and explain to the residents the terms of the memorandum, she won’t be going door-to-door anymore to rally support.

“If there isn’t motivation from the neighborhood, I’m out of it,” she said.