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Votes

Changes Good and Bad Mark 2004

Potomac Residents dealt with changes in schools, housing proposals, drownings in the Potomac and tragic traffic accidents in 2004.

At the beginning of 2004, Seven Locks Elementary School appeared to be on track to receive an expansion and renovation and the Board of Education was looking at two pieces of land owned by the school system--one on Kendale Road and one on Brickyard Road--to possibly declare as surplus and turn over to the county for the purpose of building affordable housing.

In February, that changed. The Board, delaying a decision on the Brickyard site, decided to build a new school on Kendale Road, ending plans to renovate Seven Locks and perhaps paving the way for closing the school and turning that site over to the county.

A coalition of Seven Locks parents and neighbors has vehemently opposed the plan, testifying at School Board meetings and community forums, even as design plans for the Kendale school move ahead. The construction is fully budgeted and the school is expected to open for the 2007 school year.

The debate about building on Kendale intensified in August when neighbors and parents appealed to the State Board of Education that they were not adequately involved in site selection, feasibility studies, and architect selection.

In November, opponents of the Kendale plan testified at school board capital improvement plan hearings, saying the Kendale school would be too big, with a core capacity of 740 students, and the site is difficult to access and ecologically sensitive. They say that the money budgeted for the Kendale school could easily pay for needed renovations at Seven Locks Elementary as well as renovations at Potomac Elementary, easing overcrowding there.

But proponents of the new school, including school board members, say it is the best way to address overcrowding and that no plan currently exists to scrap Seven Locks Elementary.

MONTGOMERY COUNTY PUBLIC SCHOOLS has now released data concerning lead levels in the water for 185 of the county’s 192 schools and educational facilities. Schools throughout Potomac and the rest of the county have elevated lead levels in samples from various water sources.

Chuck Brown, spokesman for Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC), said that results for all 26,000 samples WSSC received from Montgomery County Public Schools were delivered to the schools on Sept. 15. School officials at first said that they did not have all of the samples but later said that they did have the samples and were releasing results in batches.

At Seven Locks Elementary School, one in three water sources yeilded a reading higher than the EPA-set action level of 20 parts per billion (ppb). MCPS contends that the high readings often come from sources not designated for drinking, but at Walt Whitman High School the higest reading among water coolers alone was five times the action level. The highest lead level in the county was 40,206 parts per billion at Benjamin Banneker Middle School in Rockville, a reading of more than 2000 times the EPA standard.

Schools have implemented flushing procedures while awaiting a decision from MCPS about long-term solutions to the lead problem.

A YEAR OF CHANGES to the Chinese Immersion Program at Potomac Elementary School ended with the decision in November to retain the Potomac section while opening a second section at College Gardens Elementary School in Rockville. At the same time, the Potomac section will regain the "boundary preference" wherein students living in the Potomac Elementary service area are offered seats in the program and only leftover seats are made available to other students in a county-wide lottery.

The new section at College Gardens Elementary School will be completely filled by county-wide lottery, like most immersion programs in the county.

The Chinese Immersion Program was available only to Potomac Elementary students from its inception in 1996 through 2003, and opened to two students from outside Potomac Elementary’s boundaries in the 2003-04 school year. Following a Board of Education decision in February, the program was opened up to students throughout the county for the current school year.

A group of Potomac parents filed an injunction in May that temporarily put the lottery on hold and later appealed the decision to the State Board of Education but in both cases the Montgomery County Board of Education’s decision to create the county-wide lottery was upheld.

In November, School Superintendent Jerry Weast released a group of Capital Improvement Plan amendments that included the proposal to open the new program at College Gardens and restore the Potomac section's exclusive status. All of the amendments passed.

No students currently enrolled in the Potomac program will be forced to leave then-board President Sharon Cox said in November.

BEN OUYANG HAD SOME RESERVATIONS about accepting a position as assistant principal at Walt Whitman High School in 2003 after several years as a guidance counselor. He feared failing Whitman’s principal, Dr. Jerome Marco, and told Marco so.

OuYang remembers Marco’s response: “It’s my job to see to it that you don’t fail.”

Students, teachers and administrators had similar stories to share about Marco, who retired in May after 29 years as principal. Whitman honored Marco during its homecoming weekend, dedicating Jerome M. Marco Stadium for the Oct. 1 football game, and honoring Marco at a ceremony in the school auditorium two days later.

The tributes to Marco came a month after the release of last year’s SAT results, in which Whitman’s average score of 1234 was top among Montgomery County public high schools. Whitman now enjoys a national reputation for its academic opportunities, including 24 Advanced Placement classes.

“I always thought that kids could do more than we could ask them to do,” Marco said. “I always asked my staff to push, push, push.”

Whitman teachers and administrators described Marco as being extraordinarily supportive of their efforts. “He was sort of an ideal administrator,” said Susan Wildstrom, a Whitman math teacher. “When there were conflicts, he always wanted to hear our sides of the issue. … For a new teacher, it’s nice to have an administrator who is a defender of teachers.”

“You never, ever said that you were too busy for anyone. How did you manage all this, Jerry?” said Jerry Weast, superintendent of Montgomery County Public Schools.

Marco was succeeded by Alan Goodwin, who was principal at Pyle Middle School in 2003-04 and was previously an assistant principal at Whitman.

“I might have gone another 20 years,” Marco said. “I enjoyed what I did. I never had any qualms about getting up every day and going to work.”

SOLOMON KING, A 16 YEAR OLD JUNIOR at Thomas Wootton High School, died at Suburban Hospital Nov. 13 after being hit while walking on Travilah Road with two friends at around 6:30 p.m. the previous evening.

The three were walking eastbound when a westbound vehicle veered off the road, clipped a mailbox and then hit Solomon, grazing one of his friends.

Nearly two months later, neither the hit-and-run vehicle nor its driver has been located. Police describe the car as a dark 4-door Honda with dark, tinted windows, possibly a 1998-2000 Accord. The right-front section of the vehicle may have damage from the collision.

In December, friends and neighbors of Solomon King dedicated a playground in his North Potomac neighborhood in his memory. They have offered a $20,000 reward for information leading to the capture of the hit-and-run driver. The Montgomery County Police say that their investigation into the hit-and-run crash is ongoing and will not be closed.

A $10 million project to add sidewalks to the section of Travilah Road where Solomon died is on schedule to be completed the summer of 2007.

FIVE MEN INCLUDING two Winston Churchill High School students were arrested for the Sept. 6 rape of a 19-year-old Potomac woman in her house on Falls Chapel Way.

Montgomery County Police have given the following account of the incident: During the early morning, four suspects — Shmouree Fordyce-Williams, 19, of the 12000 block of Gatewater Drive in Potomac, Kevin Curtiss Croker of the 8800 block of Watts Mine Terrace in Potomac, Chris Benbow of Upper Marlboro, and Gujan Asimlee Lee of Washington DC — entered the victim's home armed with a handgun, demanded money and marijuana from the victim, and then raped and sexually assaulted her before leaving with a wallet, a stereo, several laptop computers and other items. The victim was examined and treated at Shady Grove Adventist Hospital with injuries consistent with sexual assault, according to police reports. A fifth suspect, Daniel Smith, 18, of the 9700 block of Pleasant Gate Lane in Potomac, had taken a key to the residence for the purpose of entering at a later time, said police. He went to the residence with the other suspects, but did not enter the house, according to police reports.

The suspects who entered the home were indicted on different combinations of charges including first-degree rape, first-degree burglary, first-degree sexual assault, and use of a handgun in commission of a felony.

Two teenage girls were robbed at gunpoint in the parking lot of Avenel Swim Club earlier the evening of Sept. 5. At first police said the incidents were unrelated, but they police said it later became clear that at least one of the suspects was present at both events.

ROGER MANDEL GREENBERG, 62, of the 11500 block of Seven Locks Road in Potomac, was arrested and charged with first-degree murder by Montgomery County Police on Aug. 24 following the murder of Dr. Joyce Hadl of the 2800 block of Washington Ave. in Chevy Chase on an uncertain date earlier that month.

Altaf S. Zartdinov, 63, of the 7900 block of Foxcrest Court died of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound 4:50 a.m. Oct. 8. A handgun was found near his body. Zartdinov and police including a highly trained emergency response team were locked in a seven-hour standoff outside his home near Cabin John Shopping Center after a family member called police.

THE 105-YEAR-OLD FIRST AGAPE AME Zion Church, which is listed as a historic landmark in the Potomac Master Plan, sustained approximately $500,000 in damage when an oil furnace overloaded on the night of Feb. 25. The church had been waiting about three months for a new gas furnace to be installed, said Judi Bankhead, the reverend’s wife.

Some 85 members of the Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service tried to save the church, but the fire swept through the building too quickly.

The church had recently been the object of discussion when the county considered a plan to add car-pool lanes to the Beltway and possibly widen it. The church’s location on Seven Locks Road at the Beltway underpass made it possible that, were the Beltway to grow, the church might have to move.

MONTGOMERY COUNTY COUNCIL unanimously passed a bill May 4 which will restructure the county’s Fire and Rescue Service. Currently, there is one chief of career firefighters, and 19 chiefs of the various volunteer fire departments. There is also a civilian Fire Administrator and a Fire and Rescue Commission. Each of these entities had decision-making authority in some situations.

Most of Potomac is served by Cabin John Park Volunteer Fire Department, stations 10 and 30. The chief of Cabin John, Jim Seavey, is a volunteer in Montgomery County, but holds a career position in the District of Columbia.

As it operates, the fire service is a hybrid system with almost every station, including Cabin John, staffed by both career and volunteer firefighters, and headed by a volunteer chief.

The county will now have a uniformed fire chief for the first time in its history and two division chiefs who will report to the fire chief; one of these will be specifically for volunteers. The volunteer-division chief, a paid position, will be chosen by the County Executive and approved by the County Council from a list provided by the volunteers.

Structurally, now the volunteer fire chiefs at the stations will have two people above them in the organization; previously, they had been autonomous, within guidelines for training and procedures established by the County.

The legislation took effect Jan. 1, 2005.

THE GREAT FALLS TAVERN, the road that leads into the park and the parking areas at C&O Canal National Historical Park will undergo major renovations starting this year.

The planned projects include adding a 3-foot shoulder to the entrance road, eliminating the parking closest to the Tavern and replacing it with re-graded green space, building a new restroom building in a new location, and making improvements to the Tavern and Tavern yard.

Park officials and officials from the Federal Highway Administration Eastern Federal Lands Highway Division met with community members Nov. 18 to gather input on the plans and discuss the environmental assessment for the project, which was released Nov. 8.

Tentatively, the Tavern project is expected to start in the fall of 2005 and continue until about August 2006 while the road project would start around spring of 2006 and continue until the summer of 2007. The tavern project will cost $1.7 million and the road project $2 million according to preliminary estimates. The money for both projects will come from federal appropriations.

IN AN OCT. 21 MEETING, the Maryland National Capital Parks and Planning Commission voted 3-2 to allow equestrian access to certain trails at Blockhouse Point Conservation Park currently only open to hikers.

The trails, which lead to Potomac River overlooks, are still closed to equestrians pending an implementation study by Park and Planning staff.

Planning staff recommended against the move saying that horses could carry non-native species into sensitive areas and hoof prints could cause erosion, especially after rain.

WESTFIELD SHOPPINGTOWNS, the developer that owns Montgomery Mall, is planning a 350,000 square foot expansion of the mall, which is losing ground to other high-end shopping centers such as Tysons Corner, the developers say. The mall is currently around 1.2 million square feet.

The company submitted plans to the Montgomery County Park and Planning Commission in August and the plans are undergoing a series of Planning Commission staff reviews. The first review took place Sept. 7.

The proposed project would create a crescent-shaped façade on Westlake Terrace that includes a new movie theater, high-end restaurants and new retailers such as Borders or a possible grocery store. Westfield hopes to secure all the necessary entitlements by February, 2005 and begin construction in July. The project would take about 30 months to complete.

The mall was last expanded in 1991, when it added the section that includes Nordstrom. When JC Penny left in 2001, Westfield replaced it with Hecht’s Home Store on the upper level and Old Navy and smaller retail shops on the lower level after failing to lure a high-end department store such as Niemann Marcus or Saks Fifth Avenue.

Most of the concerns about the development raised in community meetings center around traffic issues. With the Fortune Parc development at Seven Locks and Montrose roads stalled due to market conditions, Westfield may be asked to make some of the improvements that Fortune Parc’s developers were asked to take on.

THE BULLIS SCHOOL RECEIVED APPROVAL from the Planning Board for plans to add facilities and increase the number of students.

The school plans to expand their enrollment from approximately 600 to 900 students. Planning Board staff praised the school’s outreach to the community in the process of expanding their operations, noting that many applicants need persuading to discuss their plans with neighbors. “Bullis School didn’t need any persuasion,” said Callum Murray, Potomac team leader for Park and Planning.

Murray noted that some neighbors had initially been concerned about the intrusion of constructing a new building on the property, but that the school has planned to plant trees as mitigation. “These concerns appear to have subsided,” he said.

POTOMAC RESIDENTS WENT TO THE POLLS NOV. 2 in what appeared to be record numbers.

“Before 7 a.m. this morning, there were more than 100 people in line, and I have not seen that in my last 16 years of being here as chairman of this precinct,” said Vernon Ricks, who was handing out Democratic sample ballots in front of Our Lady of Mercy Church on Kentsdale Drive. “The lines have been out the door.”

Potomac citizens waited in lines that snaked out of polling stations for hundreds of feet in some cases. Voters arrived as early as 6:15 a.m. to be first in line. By the time the polls opened at 7 a.m., 200 or more people were waiting at many of the polling stations.

Winners in local elections were U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D) and U.S. Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-8) in Congress and Valerie Ervin (Dist. 4), Steve Abrams (Dist. 2) and Sharon Cox (At Large) for the school board.

In the presidential race, Potomac donors and volunteers made a big impact for both the Bush and Kerry campaigns. The $4.22 million raised in Potomac was tops among zip codes in Maryland and twelfth in the nation. Maryland ranked No. 11 in the country in total donations and the Washington, D.C. area ranked second nationally after New York.

MONTGOMERY COUNTY VOTERS struck down three ballot measures in November that would have made changes to the county charter.

Ballot question C proposed dividing the county into nine rather than the current five council districts and electing all nine council members by district rather than the current mix of five district and four at-large members. Eight of the nine present Councilmembers voiced opposition to the proposal but a large contingent of civic activists favored the change. The measure was brought to the ballot by a signature drive conducted by the Montgomery County Civic Federation.

Question A sought to take away all authority of the County Council to increase property tax rates above the rate of inflation. Since 1990, the annual rise in property tax revenues has been tied to the rate of inflation, but the Council is allowed override the cap with a “super majority,” seven out of nine council members. For eleven years, the county collected only the previous year’s tax receipts plus the percentage increase in the consumer price index. But for the last three years, the Council has voted to exceed the cap. Robin Ficker, a frequent political candidate, proposed the measure, which had the support of the Montgomery County Taxpayer’s League and the Montgomery County Republican Party Central Committee. But members of the County Council and School Board said that the change would put the County in a financial straightjacket and force cuts in needed services.

Question B, another Ficker amendment, proposed limiting the County Executive and County Councilmembers to three consecutive terms in office and lost only by a 52-48 percent margin. A similar measure proposed in 2000 limiting the officials to two terms also failed.

THE MONTGOMERY COUNTY COUNCIL approved one Council bill, five Zoning Text Amendments (ZTA) and one Subdivision Regulation Amendment (SRA) Nov. 30, aimed at strengthening the county’s affordable housing program.

The passage of the legislation is the end of a process that started in August 2003 when the Council staff began to research ways to improve the 30-year-old affordable housing program. Councilmembers proposed legislation early in 2004 based on the staff report, which was released in February.

The legislation will become effective April 1, 2005.

The measures all attempt to balance the need to fairly compensate developers for their work and to create and retain a larger number of Moderately Priced Dwelling Units or MPDUs, which are rental and sale houses and apartment offered at controlled prices by the county.

The changes will allow density increases and building height increases, even those that are not consistent with an area’s master plan, to make way for more affordable housing.

In most new developments and subdivisions, developers are required to build a certain percentage of housing units as MPDUs. However developers could “buy out” of the requirement with a payment toe the county’s Housing Initiative Fund, a system that critics said was too lenient and damaging to the MPDU program. The new legislation significantly limits opportunities for buyouts, without ending them completely.

FOLLOWING NEARLY EIGHT MONTHS of construction, the State Highway Administration completed work in June on the section of Falls Road southbound approaching River Road, known as Dunham's Jog. The site was considered a safety hazard, with all of the lanes shifting sharply to the right. The lanes have been straightened so that two travel lanes pass straight through the intersection while shorter left and right turn lanes exist for a brief stretch.

The project was the result of years of lobbying by Del. Jean Cryor (R-15) and then-Sen. Jean Roesser (R-15).

IN AN APRIL 13 ACTION, the County Council agreed to let Clear Channel Outdoor, Inc. place lighted advertising in the Plexiglas panels of 400 county bus shelters in exchange for removing 11 large billboard advertisements and building 100 new, non-advertising shelters for the county. Of the 400 advertising shelters, some would be newly constructed and others would replace existing shelters. Clear Channel would be responsible for the maintenance of all 500 shelters.

The proposed sites for shelters with advertising include Falls Road at Woodington Drive, River Road in front of Congressional Country Club, the corner of Falls and River roads, the corner of Seven Locks and Montrose Roads and the corner of Seven Locks and Tuckerman Lane.

Some residents have opposed the move, saying that the ads would be an eyesore and that the county does not have the jurisdiction to post ads on state rights of way, such as Falls Road.

UNDER SECRETARY OF TRANSPORTATION ROBERT FLANAGAN, the state is studying widening the Beltway by one lane for its entire length and making that lane, and one of the existing lanes, into toll lanes.

As another part of the project, the planners will study making some smaller, spot improvement to parts of the road and to some interchanges.

Members of the Maryland National Capital Parks and Planning Commision and the community have expressed concerns about the proposal, which has changed several times with regard to how the toll lanes would function.

WORK BEGAN IN EARLY DECEMBER on a connecting section of the bike path that runs along Falls Road between Stanmore Drive and Alloway Drive, which will eliminate two of the three existing Falls Road crossings.

The path will remain on the east side of the road between MacArthur Boulevard and Rock Run Drive and will still cross to the west side just north of Rock Run Drive. But following the construction, the path will be completely on the west side of Falls between that point and Potomac Village, eliminating the crossings just north and south of Oaklyn Drive near Cabin John Park Fire and Rescue Station 30.

How long the construction will last depends largely on the weather. Following the construction, the southbound passing lane in front of the fire station will be shifted slightly but will remain intact.

The project is expected to cost $954,000 and is funded under the county's Capital Improvement Program.

A Potomac man was killed crossing near Oaklyn Drive several years ago.

SINCE LATE SEPTEMBER, AT LEAST 18 YOUNG PEOPLE have been killed in 11 auto accidents in the Washington area.

Eight have died in Montgomery County since September, among more than 12 killed in 2004.

Among the teens killed were Sarkis "Sako" Nazarian Jr., a 16-year-old junior at Winston Churchill High School in Potomac. He was driving a 1997 Jeep Grand Cherokee on Travilah Road during the early morning of Nov. 13 when his car failed to negotiate the wet road and spun off rounding a curve, striking a tree. Excessive speed and alcohol were factors in the crash, according to police, and Sako was not wearing a seat belt.

In September, Edward Steve Monterroza, 19, of Damascus and Elmer Alfredo Martinex, 18, of Wheaton died in an accident following drag racing on River Road, part of a weekend that killed five teens in Montgomery County in three separate crashes.

Walter Johnson High School junior Rod Bower of Kensington died in a crash on Democracy Boulevard May 22. He had not been drinking but was driving late at night and lost control of the car, hitting a tree.

Many of the crashes throughout the area have been attributed to excessive speed, alcohol, or both. Parents, schools, and legislators have moved to address the causes of the crashes and encourage safer driving. Community forums have been held at Churchill and B-CC High Schools. Later this month, the Maryland legislature will consider a bill introduced by Del. Bill Bronrott (D-16) that would limit the number of non-family teen passengers that new drivers would be allowed to carry in their cars. Montgomery County Police have stepped up efforts to curb teen drinking.

Last month, The Almanac published a special issue addressing many of the facets of the teen driving epidemic. See www.potomacalmanac.com.

AT LEAST FOUR PEDESTRIANS and one bicyclist died in accidents on Potomac roads in 2004. One of the pedestrians and the bicyclist were on Seven Locks Road.

On Sept. 27, Wolfgang Jakobsberg, 71, of the 11600 block of Milbern Drive in Potomac was bicycling on the shoulder of Seven Locks Road going south when he drifted into the traffic lane and was struck by a Lexus SUV that was also traveling southbound, according to police. Jakobsberg was taken to Suburban Hospital and died from injuries sustained in the accident.

The accident renewed calls for safety improvements on Seven Locks Road.

Hadrian Rasian Dumitirescu, 35, of Gaithersburg died Apr. 5 from injuries sustained when he was hit crossing Seven Locks Road at Scotland Drive March 30.

Preliminary planning for the addition of sidewalks is scheduled to begin in July.

In January, 2003, June Gray was killed crossing Westlake Drive. Another person was killed crossing Clara Barton Parkway.

SWIFT WATER RESCUE PERSONNEL recovered the body of 62-year-old David Humphries Wright of Rockville on Sunday, Oct. 17, according to Montgomery County police. Rescue personnel responded to a call after a kayaker thought he saw a body in the river. Wright had heart problems and appears to have fallen in the water after suffering a heart attack. Several others died in the Potomac in 2004.

John Panagos, died of leukemia Jan. 29 at the age of 82. Panagos was an innovator in the communications industry and a World War II veteran.

Donald C. Comlish, 68, died of congestive heart failure Sept. 2 at his home in Chesapeake Beach, Md. He had formerly lived in Potomac. Comlish most of his career the Air Transport Association (ATA) in Washington, D.C. as vice president of international affairs. After his retirement from ATA in 1992, he worked as a consultant in the airline industry until his final retirement in 1999.

While living in Potomac, the Comlish’s raised six children and were involved with them in many activities in the community.

Dr. Herbert P. Raabe, a Potomac, Maryland resident since 1968, died Aug. 25 in Rockville 10 days after celebrating his 95th birthday.

The renowned German-born scientist and engineer was the winner of many awards and an active member of the Potomac community.

MIldred Elizabeth Beall Burk, 77 of Potomac, died on Monday, Jan. 5.

Born Oct. 6, 1926 in Virginia to a railroad engineer’s family, Mrs. Burk met and married her husband, a native of Washington, D.C. when her family moved to the city.

For many years, Burk was an active member of St. Francis Episcopal Church where she served on the Altar Guild and participated in many other parish ministries. She was a Potomac resident for 39 years.

Anthony Mario Natelli died March 25 at Suburban Hospital after a cerebral hemorrhage. He was 67. Natelli was founding partner of Potomac Investment Associates. As such, he developed Potomac’s Avenel Development and the Tournament Player’s Club golf course, which has hosted a PGA tournament since 1987. Natelli was a long-time Potomac resident.

James Elbert Allen Sr., 88, died of heart failure, Jan. 11, 2004 at Shady Grove Adventist Hospital. He lived in Potomac.

Allen was President and Chairman of the Board of the former Henry B. Gilpin Company headquartered in Washington, D.C. A native of Largo, Florida, Allen hitchhiked to Washington, D.C. in 1933 from his family dairy farm with ten dollars in his pocket. He was an avid horseman.