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Property Owners Wary of Proposed Road Project

Residents of the Seven Locks Road corridor scrutinize road improvements options.

Many local residents around Seven Locks Road enjoy walking and biking to the educational and religious institutions along the corridor.

Some residents, including some who live at an assisted living facility and some who live in Scotland, often rely on walking or public transportation for daily needs.

But Seven Locks Road has also been the site of many fatalities and injuries, leading some civic associations to advocate for road improvements and the addition of walking/biking paths.

But at a recent meeting about possible improvements, some homeowners expressed concern about possible impacts to their properties, and to the environment.

About 50 residents attended a public workshop on a potential sidewalk and bikeways project along Seven Locks Road from Montrose Road to Bradley Boulevard on Oct. 25 at The Heights School in Potomac. Residents looked at three sets of large maps representing three courses of action for the 3.3-mile strip of Seven Locks Road.

The first set of maps, “Concept A,” showed the roads as they currently exist with no changes. Concept B showed the changes that would be made if guidelines from the master plan for pedestrian and cyclist facilities were applied with no regard to the current development along Seven Locks Road. “Concept C” was an altered version of Concept B that minimized impact to adjacent properties.

Aruna Miller of the county’s Division of Capital Development is project manager for the Seven Locks Road proposal. She said that civic and homeowners associations along the Seven Locks corridor approached the county about the need for more facilities for pedestrians and cyclists. Three fatal car accidents have occurred along that stretch of Seven Locks Road since 1997. One involved a pedestrian, one involved a cyclist, and the third was a head-on collision between two vehicles.

Miller said that traffic counts at the intersection of Seven Locks and Gainsborough roads in January and February showed an average of 211 pedestrians and 171 cyclists each day between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. The proposed facilities would provide both a road shoulder for “commuter cyclists” and an off-road path for recreational cyclists.

Miller said that the project is still in an exploratory phase and that no cost estimates have been made. After public feedback is gathered, Miller and her team will recommend one of the three concepts to the Capital Development director. They will also meet with the Planning Board and the County Council’s Transportation and Environmental Committee. By spring 2007, the Council will decide whether to take the project to “phase 2,” in which 35 percent of the design plans will be prepared and submitted for final project approval.

SOME PROPERTY OWNERS in the audience expressed discontent about potential impacts to the environment and their property, as well as what they considered insufficient notice of the public meeting.

“The word ‘improvement’ kind of troubles us,” Floyd Swanson said to Miller. “It’s a euphemism for tearing out the road.”

In an interview afterwards, Swanson, who lives in Inverness Village off of Muirfield Drive, estimated that the bikeway proposal could “take down 35 to 40 huge oaks” near his neighborhood.

“We’re concerned that putting in a bikeway and walking paths will take down a large number of trees, intrude on our property and take away the natural environment,” he said. “I don’t know any bikers who say they want to give up trees for bikeways.”

The workshop participants were invited to fill out comment cards expressing support for Concept A, B and C along with their reasoning.

Most residents preferred a road improvement plan that takes current development into consideration (Concept C), or they wanted no road work at all (Concept A). Concept B was extremely unpopular, largely because it would impact 11 buildings (including Summerville Assisted Living) and 19.2 acres of private property, whereas Concept C impacts 13 acres of property and no buildings.

Miller said that the project leaders are not leaning toward a particular project, but she acknowledged that doing nothing (Concept A) is rarely a recommendation, and she and other planners seemed to favor Concept C over Concept B. At one point during the public workshop, Miller referred to Concept B as the “worst-case scenario.” Transportation planning specialist Bob Simpson said Concept B “adheres strictly to the book of standards,” and he added that the team would “seriously consider” modifications like those in Concept C that avoid impacting the assisted living facility.

JERRY GARSON is co-chair of the Seven Locks Civic Association, an amalgam of smaller civic associations and homeowners associations in the area. He suggested that the concerned property owners who turned out for the meeting were not representative of the community as a whole.

“Anyone who has land is always concerned if you’re taking an inch of their land,” he said, “but most of this [proposed work] is in the [county’s] right of way.”

Garson said he supports Concept C because it incorporates pedestrian and cyclist safety without unduly compromising current development.

“We’ve had a series of accidents and fatalities on Seven Locks over the years,” he said. “The sight lines aren’t good. … We think this will help a lot of people.”

Some others who attended the meeting were concerned that the proposed project is unwarranted, financially wasteful and environmentally damaging.

Property owners Fahad Amjad and Ron Stern said that commuters in automobiles far outnumber pedestrians along Seven Locks Road. In Concept B, the line of disturbance runs right through the middle of a rental house on Stern’s property in Hilltop Estates. He said that encouraging more pedestrians and cyclists to cross the intersection of Tuckerman and Seven Locks would slow rush hour traffic even more.

“In order to provide for the convenience of 1,000 pedestrian trips, they’re going to inconvenience 100,000 car trips,” he said.

Amjad and his wife Maryann Gluodenis own a townhouse in Inverness North. Under Concept B, the townhouses in the building next to theirs would come down.

“I’ve driven Seven Locks during rush hour for the last two years, and most of the traffic is going to I-495 or I-270,” said Amjad. “This is putting money into a project that most people will not use.”

“I’m a teacher, and lack of affordable housing pushes [many teachers] out of the county,” she said. “We finally got the house, and now they might take it away.”