Thursday, Jan. 31, 2008

Comments overflow at town hall meeting in Silver Spring

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County Council members told Silver Spring residents Wednesday they would work on providing more affordable housing, would not support the current proposal to renovate Sligo Creek Golf Course, and would continue investing in the community’s priorities despite a roughly $400 million budget gap.

The town hall meeting, held at the AFI Silver Theatre in downtown Silver Spring, was scheduled for only an hour, resulting in a long line of residents against the wall of the venue unable to address the council.

Those who did make it to the microphone, including a group of Piney Branch Elementary School students hoping to get a neighborhood swimming pool reopened, had a myriad of issues for the council.

The county should pass a rent control ordinance, a Takoma Park resident said. County Councilman Marc Elrich (D-At large) of Takoma Park responded that he was drafting a bill to begin that discussion.

Silver Spring resident Sheldon Fishman said the county’s traffic review process was flawed if it would allow a project such as the proposed renovations to Sligo Creek Golf Course to move forward in an area already struggling with traffic.

Councilwoman Valerie Ervin (D-Dist. 5) of Silver Spring said it was obvious the community was adamantly opposed to the county Revenue Authority’s proposed changes to the course, which would add a driving range and miniature golf. ‘‘And I’m with you on that,” she said, to applause from the audience.

In response to some residents concerned with how the county’s $400 million budget gap would affect Silver Spring projects, Councilwoman Nancy M. Floreen (D-At large) of Garrett Park) said the ‘‘doom and gloom” of budget cuts would not affect work in Silver Spring already under way, such as the Paul S. Sarbanes Transit Center and the Silver Spring Civic Building and Veterans Plaza.

To the surprise of council members, only one person addressed the council with concerns about the process behind choosing promoter Live Nation to open a music hall in Silver Spring. Joyce Bosc, a downtown Silver Spring resident, said the deal ‘‘just did not make sense,” and asked the last question of the night — ‘‘Where was the fair and open competition?”

‘‘I’m concerned whenever something this big and this important happens, and there’s not a fair and open process,” she said after the meeting.

County Council President Mike Knapp (D-Dist. 2) of Germantown said if the council had continued the discussion, the Live Nation debate would have taken up more time.

‘‘It’s in no way a done deal,” Knapp said of the music hall issue after the meeting. ‘‘I have no strong feelings one way or another, but I know the council is looking for some good answers. ... It’s the onus of the county executive now to put the pieces together.”

Council members said the issues they were approached with after the meeting were just as numerous — the school system’s budget, Washington Adventist Hospital’s proposed move out of Takoma Park, and the county’s transgender bill.

‘‘I got some, ‘What the hell are you doing?’ and ‘Please don’t let this happen,’” Elrich said after the meeting.

Knapp said it was a challenge for the council to pinpoint the priorities in ‘‘such a hotbed of activism.”

‘‘There’s rarely a single thing all of Silver Spring backs,” he said.

See it later

The meeting was taped for later broadcast on County Cable Montgomery (cable Channel 6 on Comcast and RCN, Channel 30 on Verizon cable service providers). For more information about broadcast times, call 240-777-7931.