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
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
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.
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|
Acknowledging the community opposition to moving the library, Ossont said "Ken and I will take that message back to the Executive."
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.