|Where Small Area Planning Opened Chasms, We Need to Build Bridges
By M.L. Faunce
The Deale/Shady Side Small Area Planning Committee rolled down their sleeves last week, after some 18 months of work. During that span, members asked locals what they liked about their community, what they didn't like and what they hoped for 20 years hence.
As a committee member, I listened along with my 15 colleagues and with them sought expert advice. When the going got tough, we had help. Bill Papian of Shady Side showered us with attention. His deep interest and wise words guided us on many occasions. County planners and staff from the Department of Planning and Code Enforcement were all over us, in the best sense, enlightening us and keeping track of our decisions. All involved - planners and committee members - made sacrifices, missing kids' ball games and ballet recitals, keeping pets waiting and wondering.
A score of interested citizens missed dinner, too. Folks like Ross Moreland of Shady Oaks; Bill Kitzmiller of Tracy's Landing, the Dickersons and Connie Hirschman of Deale, Debbie Fischel of Lothian, Dean Hall of West River - and many others. They waited and waded through hours of discussion for the few moments at the very end when meetings were opened for public comment.
Our work still wasn't easy. We debated weighty issues of land use and zoning, environmental concerns and community needs. We shook our heads at the loss of life on local roads and scrutinized our economic base. We sought common ground. We looked into our hearts, voted our consciences and wrote our reports.
All along, we heard people say 'keep the small scale and rural character of our communities. Preserve our natural resources.' That's why we voted to limit commercial growth to areas already zoned for that purpose. Downzoning proposals gave some of us serious heartburn, and we compromised to soften the impact on property owners. We opposed rezoning that might have meant more houses per acre. We asked for citizens committees to give communities a voice.
But in truth, we sometimes found it hard to step back from our own firmly held beliefs.
At the final meeting, Audrey Mae MacWilliams, 50 years a Churchton resident and a committee member, offered these bittersweet words about what we'd been through: "I want to thank everyone involved. I think I've made some friends, and maybe lost a few."
Looking down the aisle separating the two sides of citizens in attendance, I realized that chasm reflected the reality of her statement. A sharp e-mail from a fellow committee member questioning my own actions confirmed the gulf between us. I wondered: Did our disagreement rise from the one issue the committee was instructed not to address? The issue that, in fact, none of us, then or now, had control over, that divided our community and drew a line in the sand: Safeway.
Inevitably, change will come to our little corner of the world. But no matter whose vision prevails in the next 20 years, what will define us as a community is how we handle our differences.
The committee's work is done, but hard work is still ahead for all of us: the work of healing a community local legend Miss Ethel Andrews, who lived to be 108, once called "the sweetest place on earth."
The Deale/Shady Side Small Area Planning Committee didn't call for a bridge in its recommendations. But that's one vision we might want to add as we head into the future. It's time to move on, to heal and to find a way to meet in the middle for the community life we can't afford to lose.
The Planning Advisory Board, citizens appointed countywide, will hold a public hearing on our proposals. Property owners affected by downzoning proposed for their land can take their case to the board. The board will send its recommendations to the county executive. Finally, the county council will weigh in on the final shape of things to come for the Deale/Shady Side area.
Read the full text of The Deale/Shady Side Small Area Plan at the Deale Library and on the Planning and Code Enforcement website: www.aapace.org
Contributing editor M. L. Faunce chaired the Economic Development Subcommittee of the Deale/Shady Side Small Area Planning Committee.