Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Overflow crowd of residents opposes Little Falls Library moving to Westbard Ave. in Bethesda (Photos)

"We love this library"

An overflow crowd spilled out into the hallway at a public meeting last night at the Little Falls Library, where the future of the library was the topic. I counted at least 80 attendees at one point during the meeting, but could only count some of those standing in the hallway from my seat in the meeting room. Many had to stand along the walls of the room. Officials from Montgomery County Public Libraries, and the Department of General Services, sought to assure anxious residents that they have no plans to move the library to a new development on Westbard Avenue. But the possible move has been a central theme in Montgomery County Planning Department conceptual drafts of a new Westbard Sector Plan since last November.

With an update on that plan's draft to be unveiled tonight at 6:30 at Walt Whitman High School, residents were not placing much confidence in the library staying put. In fact, by the end of the meeting, many attendees were discussing how to organize the strong neighborhood opposition to such a move, and harness the large, vocal crowd that turned out in that effort.

MCPL Director Parker Hamilton encouraged them to do so, saying the genesis of Tuesday evening's meeting was the misperception that "you guys thought I wanted to move this library." "You are powerful," Hamilton told the crowd. "Let your voice be heard." She encouraged residents to attend tonight's meeting at Whitman, and tell planners they want the library to stay where it is. Library supporters should also "write many letters" to County Executive Ike Leggett and the County Council, she advised. "When Ike Leggett hears Friends of the Library, when the County Council hears Friends of the Library," Hamilton said, referring to the non-profit library support group, "they listen."

Friends of the Library President Jane Snyder said the existing library "is popular in the community. It is used heavily. There is a lot of support in this community for this library." Snyder said the building just needs updates, such as a new heating and cooling system, and a new roof. The current roof is leaking, she said.

Rita Gale of MCPL
describes the renovations
planned for the
Little Falls Library in 2016
Rita Gale, Public Service Administrator for Facilities and Capital Projects for MCPL, said a refresh for Little Falls Library is in the works for next summer, and that funds have been set aside in the capital budget. "We're not talking really grand" renovations, Gale said, but modest upgrades such as new carpet, paint, remodeled bathrooms, and moving shelving to create more seating areas with tables and chairs. Similar refreshes are in store for the Davis Library and the Aspen Hill Library, she said. Regular readers may remember she discussed the 7-year "refresh" concept at one of the Westbard charrette meetings last November. MCPL is moving away from 20-year overhauls, as the nature of libraries and media change so rapidly, Gale said then and last night.

The renovation would begin next July, and be completed by summer 2017, Gale said. That work would not require closing the library. Officials pointed to the renovation as evidence that they have no plans to move the library.

Greg Ossont of DGS
assures crowd the county
has "no current plans"
to relocate the library
"We have no current plans to relocate this particular facility. We are not currently considering relocating this particular facility," DGS Deputy Director Greg Ossont told the crowd at the start of the meeting. Ossont said Equity One, the developer with plans to redevelop multiple properties along Westbard and Ridgefield Road, did open a dialogue with the DGS regarding a possible move. "Candidly, the answer was, 'not right now'," Ossont said, characterizing the department's response. He said the current plan is to renovate the library, and leave it where it is. "We don't have a lot of money floating around," he noted.

Any consideration of moving the library could only come later in the process of the Westbard Sector Plan, Ossont said, and there would have to be a feasible plan and money for it. "Right now, there's no solution in place. How's it gonna work? Logistics are a huge part of it."

Bethesda-Chevy Chase Regional Services Center Director Ken Hartman concurred. He said Equity One wants to redevelop the Westwood Shopping Center in the next five years. That would require the capital funding to be put into the budget, and all of the planning worked out in that timeframe. And "even if everything goes against us," and the library is relocated, "everything still has to be programmed for a move," Hartman said.
"The County Council
is laughing at us"
Residents were not only skeptical of the promises, given the developer influence on the County Council, but also frustrated with planners' failure to listen to community feedback on the Sector Plan last November. "It's very hard to make anyone listen," one resident said. "The County Council is laughing at us," another said. "And then they do what they want up there."
"It's terrible what
you're doing"
A number of attendees stressed that the library move proposal never came from the community, but from the planners themselves. Planners emphasize the new library "as a community idea. And it isn't," a resident said. "We love this library." "We don't even want to discuss [the possibility of the library moving]," another said. "It's terrible what you're doing. I love this library."

One resident who said she has disabilities argued the current library is more accessible than newer ones in Rockville and elsewhere. "I can park right in front" of the entrance, she said. Underground parking for a potential library in the new Westwood Shopping Center development would be "not as safe, especially for females," she said.

Several parents noted that children can walk to the current library more safely than to one in the proposed "town center" on Westbard.

One attendee argued the building is historic. "This building and this site have such a history," she said. "It's true 50s modernism."

Overall, residents do not feel they are being heard in the Westbard process, or in the library discussion. "Emails are getting ignored, and the County Executive needs to know that," one said. She also suggested televising the meetings, for those who cannot attend.
Ossont responds to a
resident's comment
After listening to extensive resident comments supporting the current library, and complaints about the disconnect between residents and planners on that and other topics, Ossont promised to relay those concerns to the highest level.

Acknowledging the community opposition to moving the library, Ossont said "Ken and I will take that message back to the Executive."
"You have to counter
the hype"
Hamilton urged residents to "counter the hype" from planners pushing for a library move.

We won't have a sense of where the library proposal stands now until the latest draft is revealed tonight at Whitman. In that sense, it is premature to speculate. What I would write this morning could already be out of date by tonight, based on the new plan details. If it's still in there (despite previous community opposition), an examination of the newest plan and its ramifications can be made after tonight.

What can be said of the previous concept, is fairly clear. In order to facilitate high-density growth in the Westbard Sector, an urbanization that was completely opposed by residents at a November meeting, planners have to show a plan to accommodate students who would be generated from those thousands of new housing units.

In November, that was addressed on one plan concept by showing a new elementary school on the Little Falls Library site. Just one problem, though - that site is not big enough to hold an elementary school.

Will the concept survive in tonight's plan anyway?

We'll know in about 10 and a half hours.


Anonymous said...

This probably means I'm one of "them" destroying Bethesda's soul, but I just don't get it.

Even if they did move the library, which they at least say they aren't planning on, you'd get a brand new library a half mile down the road. Which would replace what they make seem like a place in shabby disrepair, with a leaky roof, broken HVAC, and in need of an interior overhaul. Sounds like a good thing to me.

Anonymous said...

A new building by itself loses its appeal when its "ease of use" declines. This library serves so many people who DRIVE there from the surrounding suburban neighborhoods and want open parking.
The developers may think they'll serve the new "urban" - hah! - residents of Westbard with the new library, but they are forgetting the majority of the library's customers.

Anonymous said...

I can't believe they are suggesting they will replace the leaky roof and improperly working heating and cooling systems. These are the character elements of this historic building that we are drawn to.

Anonymous said...

What was the average age of attendees? Based on the photo, it seems a lot higher than the average age of nearby residents.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

7:19 - don't you have anything else to do?

Anonymous said...

@ 7:24 AM -

Judging from the fact that you show up just five minutes after every Skeptics' post, it seems like you have quite a bit of time on your hands.

G. Money said...

What would really be nice is if they would replace the library with a second bowling alley.

Anonymous said...

I'm a Hull skeptic.