There were some tense moments at last night’s Montgomery County Planning Board hearing on the White Flint Public Hearing Draft plan. Explosive photos, misbehaving technology and tightly-enforced time limits combined to worsen already-sour relations between the biggest landowners and the biggest and most active neighborhood association in southern White Flint.
Carol Alderson, a resident of White Flint Park-Garrett Park Estates, was the fourth speaker after the government agencies, and she popped up a series of pictures on the gigantic wall screens. She was the first to offer significant graphics and she and the staff had a little trouble getting her pictures to show up right away. This seemed to take away from some of her time, and with Chairman Hanson’s firm grasp of the agenda, that mattered down the line.
The pictures were of water run-off and the effects of a blocked drain from White Flint Mall. Vast lakes of muddy water appeared in her front yard, and ran down the street; the street itself was submerged in some of the pictures. “It’s hard to see because it’s under water,” she said. Riveting pictures, including ones of her husband standing chest-deep in murky, green water, struggling to clear a blocked drain. It looked like the Amazon (the river, not the bookseller) running through a particularly dark forest, except with an occaisional car peeking through.
The pictures dated from 2006 and 2007. Alderson said she complained to the mall management, but nothing was done. Then she complained to the Park and Planning staff, and was told there was nothing to be done, and she would have to take it up with the mall. When she took it up with the mall, they put sandbags in place, but didn’t clear the drain. The Planning Board was shocked, and Board Member Amy Presley immediately pressed staff on the problem; “first we’d heard of it,” reported lead staffer Piera Weiss.
Alderson was in the process of explaining the pictures and what happened afterwards, when her time ran out. She was saying that the mall management began to take notice of her complaints when she “started working with the Advisory Group” to the White Flint Sector Plan. I believe she would have continued to explain what the mall then did, but we didn’t get that far.
Representatives of the mall were very upset after the pictures were shown. One told me that they had fixed the problem as soon as it was brought to their attention in 2007. He said he would be writing a letter explaining the situation and sending it to the Planning Board (the hearing record will stay open until January 26, 2009).
Everyone who has worked with the White Flint Plan process knows that there were already significant bad feelings between those property owners and the surrounding community in southern White Flint. Now the mall representatives feel that they were unfairly attacked, maybe even “sandbagged” by someone they had talked to repeatedly, but had not known was going to present those pictures.
Will the bad blood sabotage the White Flint planning process? Given the competing areas screaming for government attention, and the economic downturn affecting both government and private interests in the area, the plan may already be in danger. The effects of this episode may linger long after the projector was turned off.